Category Archives: How do you define success?
As Canada Day approached, I wondered what approach I would take this year. I’ve written a few posts about it, and I started to think I’d covered everything. Then the principal of my son’s high school gave me the inspiration I needed during his speech to the 2015 graduating class.
“As a Principal, I am often asked about what it is like in schools these days. It is a wonderful privilege to be able to share your truth. You are stronger, smarter and more socially conscious than generations before you, including mine. You are notably more inclusive and the magical way you make room for each other is a beautiful thing to witness.”
When he spoke those words to the auditorium, heads nodded in agreement. One gentleman in the back called out, “Hear! Hear!”
The graduating class that sat together with ease and acceptance—representatives of all those different races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, genders and sexual orientations—is a microcosm of Canada at its best.
People magically making room for each other. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
The second phrase that caught my ear:
“In the school context you have made great efforts to grow each other. But, you have also reached far beyond the school. You have gathered and delivered aid to refugees half a world away. In countless ways you have toiled to benefit others in need, raising money and awareness. In many cases the benefits have gone to people you will never meet. I have long been interested in the very notion of a public good, the idea that our base instincts could be moderated by a compelling commitment to each other and to a time we will not see.”
The graduating class that worked together to grow each other and the world—organizers of all those fundraisers, educational events and benefits—is a microcosm of Canada at its best.
People moderating base instincts to make a compelling commitment to people we will never meet and a time we will not see.
Oh, Canada is not perfect, but we are magically, compellingly working toward a worldwide public good.
Read the speech: Bell High School, Ottawa Canada
Some other Canada Day posts:
My son graduated from high school yesterday. We couldn’t watch him celebrate the completion of his schooling without recalling the day it all started all those years ago.
He was ready and excited. He had been to “School Bus 101″ to get comfortable with the big yellow bus, so he waited for it impatiently on that first day of kindergarten. When it came, he bounded confidently up the steps and waved at us through the window. That was reassuring to us parents, but we weren’t ready to let him go just yet. We followed behind the bus, and when it arrived at the school, we lurked in the bushes to watch. Our son ran off the bus excitedly, and then he saw and heard all the kids that had already arrived in the playground. They were loud, and running all around, and there were a lot of them. Our son stopped dead.
“Uh, oh,” I said.
The lump in our throats and in the pit of our stomach grew as we watched him deal fearfully with his new situation. In “Parent Time,” a millennium or two passed before a teacher came to take his hand. In “Real Time” it was probably about a minute. Our son held the teacher’s hand until the bell rang and they went into the school.
When he got home at the end of the day, we asked him, “What did you think of school?”
“Too much kids,” he said.
The phrase became a recurring theme as he grew older. When he withdrew from circumstances where there was a lot of noise or too many people, my husband and I would look at each other knowingly and say, “Too much kids.”
By the time he got to high school, that began to change. He engaged more often with more people. A few weeks ago he was completely at ease at the microphone in front of much kids as the master of ceremonies at the athletic awards banquet. He received many awards for his participation, including athlete of the year. Last night at the ceremony he and a friend received awards for organizing extra-curricular activities for much kids.
After the ceremony, the crowd emerged into a central hall. Hundreds of people crowded together into a too-small space. My son and his friends moved with ease in the pack of people. My husband and I were the ones who said, “Too much kids.”
It was gratifying to see how our son had left fears behind.
He wasn’t the only one I noticed though. When my son was a pre-schooler I spent a couple of years as a pre-school playgroup leader. Some of the kids I supported in their potty-training years graduated last night too. One girl, who clung to the pre-school leaders and never uttered a word, is now going into pre-med. Another boy, who cried for at least a half-hour every time his mother left, waved to the crowd as he bounded across the stage. One boy, who hid under a table when he got overwhelmed, plans to be an engineer. It was gratifying to see them leave behind the fears they used to have and unfold into confident people ready to take on the world.
Graduations mark the end of stages of life, but they also initiate new challenges. Every new challenge brings with it new and different things to be afraid of. All the people who walked across the stage last night will have to keep overcoming new and different fears.
It’s a life-long process, isn’t it? Graduations are a good reminder that all of us have to keep overcoming and unfolding.
I wonder, what fears keep me holding a teacher’s hand? What fears make you hide under a table?
How you answer that question might determine your level of success, according to Stanford psychology professor, Carol Dweck. Her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, looks at why some people achieve their potential while others do not.
Early in her academic career, Dweck studied why some children gave up in the face of failure and why others persevered and went on to overcome obstacles. She discovered that the difference lay in the child’s belief about why they had failed: Those who believed they failed because they lacked an inherent ability gave up, but those who believed they failed simply because they hadn’t tried hard enough became even more motivated to keep trying.
Dweck’s studies apply to education, sports, careers, hobbies and personal relationships, and there’s another layer to this too.
Some students didn’t want to be seen to fail. For them, looking smart was far more important than learning anything, so they only took part in activities in which they knew they would not fail. They avoided any experiences that would require them to stretch and grow. Other students didn’t worry about appearances and took risks because their failures gave them a chance to learn.
In other words, some people want to showcase abilities they believe to be inherent, and other people want to enhance abilities they believe they to be malleable.
The good news is, Dweck discovered that people could change their beliefs and enjoy the benefits. When they learned to embrace failure and keep trying, they improved performance.
There’s hope for all of us who have ever said, “I can’t do math to save my life,” or “I’m no artist.” Perhaps we just need a few more failures and a little more perseverance.
Read more in Standford Alumni
Most work days I go for a lunch-hour walk around one of Canada’s iconic sites—Parliament Hill.
I arrive at the east slope of the hill and descend to where the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal meet. The view of the water and of Nepean Point where Samuel de Champlain holds his astrolabe aloft is motivation enough to descend, even though I know eventually I will have to ascend.
I discovered something interesting during this daily walk. Like me, many people choose to go down and up this hill every day, but unlike me, they choose to do it over and over again.
Down, up, down, up, down, up.
Some of them do it as part of a torturous “boot camp,” so they carry a medicine ball, or drag a sled with a heavy weight behind them, or tote a heavy pole over their shoulders. Down, up, down, up, down, up, with extra weight to make it more difficult.
The decision to make life more difficult when we have the option of coasting seems counter-intuitive. Don’t we all long for the easy ride? Life is challenging enough, one would think. Do we really need to make it harder?
We do, actually, because choosing the easy road early in life leads to a hard road later in life. If we want to run and jump and bend and stretch in our later years, we have to run and jump and bend and stretch in our youth. Life requires hard stuff early on, so we can enjoy good stuff later.
Life is full of ups and downs—some chosen, some thrust upon us. Training for the uphill grind is a good idea.