My daughter came home distraught one day when she was in the second grade. Over the previous weekend her class had an assignment to make a turkey out of construction paper and decorate it. She was upset because she felt hers looked terrible compared to all the other kids’ turkeys. She has always hated doing a poor job and it tore her up.
A few days later we got to see all the turkeys during a parent/teacher conference. My daughter’s looked like it was hastily made by a second grader at 7:15pm the night before it was due (and for good reason). The other turkeys looked like they had been painstakingly crafted by 35 year olds with serious scrapbooking technology and skills at their disposal. Not that I’m judging or bitter.
Actually, it provided the opportunity for some great life lessons about the value of doing your best and comparing your results to your own individual efforts, skills, and potential versus setting your self-worth based on the results of others.
Fast forward to November of 2011 and she was very excited about participating National Novel Writing Month. She was at the computer for a month straight, typing away at six in the morning before she had to get ready for school, in the evenings, on weekends, and begging to stay up late so she could keep working on it. I love to write and it would have been all too easy to take over so I stayed out of it almost entirely, answering questions when asked, but not much more. She did get some help from a 20-something family friend, mainly around formatting and getting it uploaded onto a self-publishing site. The story was all hers.*
I was proud of her perseverance, drive, and passion. It was pretty cool that she had written a 40+ page story. How many 5th graders could say that? How many adults could? Good stuff.
Then we received several proof copies and that changed everything. It went from being a words on the computer to a glossy cover, paper and ink, honest-to-goodness ISBN coded book. It was real. Authentically real. Really real. She had written a BOOK! Something I had always wanted to do, but never done. She did it at 10 years old.
And then it went live on amazon.com. Not just a really real book, but a really real book that others can purchase – just as authentic as all the other books. Don’t know why that makes it more real, but it does. I’ve shifted from pride to outright awe. A very, very cool achievement.
Lots of leadership and HR related lessons in all this:
- She’s a great writer. Far better than anyone her age has a right to be. Why? She loves to read and she loves to write. Her skill is not by accident. She’s exposed herself to good writing and she’s practised it. A lot.
- Commitment matters. Results happen when you are dedicated to achieving getting it done come Hell or high water.
- Likewise, self-motivation trumps all. I could not have forced, cajoled, commanded, or bribed the amount of dedication forged by her internal fires.
- She’s more enthusiastic about writing than, say, spelling. As much as she strives to do great work, she never lets perfectionism get in her way. Consequently, she gets stuff done.
- She cares more about her results than anyone’s opinion. She’s a fearless writer (and public speaker) so she makes it happen.
- It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t know what you’re not supposed to be able to do. No one ever told her that kids don’t write and publish books. Please don’t tell her now – she’s too busy preparing to write the next one.
- Physically holding the results – or a symbol of the results – is very, very powerful. It transforms ideas to reality. It makes the ephemeral SOLID.
- Confidence and self-esteem comes from effort not cheerleading. Trophies don’t matter. The bloodied-but-unbowed effort behind them does.
*In case you’re wondering… It’s called “Bo”. Here’s the description from the back cover: Horses are going missing left and right. Nobody’s doing anything. The sheriff is “dealing with other matters.” One morning, ten year old Lucy sees smoke coming out of the canyon. That night, she and her German Sheppard decide to check it out but as they leave the house they find two men stealing THEIR HORSES. What follows is the start of a great adventure.