It was all I could do, yesterday, to find relief from the dull pressure in my head and the threat of the tickling sneeze hoping to emerge from my nostrils. My eyes were glassy as I pushed through the pile of paperwork left upon my desk; remnants of the payroll tax paperwork frenzy from last week.
How do people trudge through the daily sludge? All I wanted to do was go home and pull the bedcovers over my head. A sneeze racked through my body and the phone never stopped ringing. I couldn’t find enough clipboards to accommodate all the deliveries going in and out of the shop. And the thermometer was at 64 degrees in the office. Where are the tissues, anyway?!
It is days like yesterday where I had to dig deep into my wellspring of motivation. It is the trait I admire most about others; the ability to internally motivate and do productive things with efficiency. Most of these people have a strong sense of discipline and routine. They can practice a lot of restraint. But there is a fine balance between strict discipline and enjoying life with flexibility and spontaneity. It is this that I seek…finding my center; my life’s balance.
Recently when walking my route with my husband, he decided he wanted to walk on the opposite side of the road. I resisted and internally threw a hissy fit. I do not take to change well; even something as minor as walking on the opposite side of the street. I forge my paths with a goal in sight. If I veer or am sidelined with obstacles I have difficulties overcoming this; obstinately trying to push ahead instead of discovering or creating a new way. The hubs is my opposite. He loves the challenge of finding alternative solutions; thrives on it, in fact.
Arriving at work the hubs had our early morning show on in the conference room. The Tiger Mom, Amy Chua has co-written a new book with her fellow Yale Law Professor husband, Jed Rubenfeld entitled, The Triple Package. They state that certain groups succeed, not due to just hard work, but due to ingrained cultural values. These groups include: Indians, Chinese Americans, Nigerians, those of Jewish descent…just to name a few. The three (triple) traits these groups have include: a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control. Thus a group feels they are: better than others, are motivated to work hard and perform to prove themselves and practice discipline and restraint to reach their goals. How can I tap into this? My cultural group is not represented in their list of successful groups. Both Amy Chua (Chinese American) and Jed Rubenfeld (Jewish) are products of their book’s theory.
The backlash was swift. Various big name newspapers and critics branded this as racist…increasing the divide between these various cultural groups. The authors claim data was taken from various studies and that if others understand this phenomenon then they too, can make the changes to breed success. It is a conversation that most people do not want to hear because it makes Americans uncomfortable; a lot like Chua’s other book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
Our bookclub read the Tiger Mom book when it came out several years back. I looked forward to the discussion; curious as to how our group would react. Within our ten members there are: three Caucasians, two Mexicans, two Indians, one African American and two Asians. Our demographic is diverse. But what I took home from our bookclub surprised me. The book offended most of the girls and, really, there was no discussion. I had wondered if they just didn’t want to talk about the touchy subjects of culture. Normally this group is not shy with their opinions. I had been disappointed.
But, as I had read the book in the bleachers at the local swimming pool, I also had this same discussion with two Chinese women, an Indonesian and two Japanese parents…all of us huddled together. The dialogue was heated; several in agreement with the Tiger Mom. Their children already attended an outstanding school district, took after school enrichment courses like Kumon; theory and compositional classes in conjunction with the Royal Academy of Music doctrine, swam countless hours with the competitive swim team and were active in community activities such as church or Girl and Boy Scouts. There was no time to dilly-dally for these GATE kids (gifted and talented education) needed to be two years above their grade level in math and science. At the time our eldest children, except for one who was in a high school IB (International Baccalaureate) program, were twelve. They were contemplating the PSAT and SAT courses to ensure Ivy League acceptance for said 12 y/o’s and my head swam. W-O-W! Who knew? This was why Asian kids were above the curve.
In reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers the underlying theory differs. He has an interesting section on how the Chinese characters are written and how it logically fosters an easier grasp of numbers and mathematical concepts; thus allowing Chinese kids to excel. But also in his book he talked of putting in time; the magic number being 10, 000 hours. In a poor, inner city NY burough, an academy had students arriving early and leaving late; all of their hours spent studying and learning. The success rate was off-the-charts.
People lament the lack of downtime for children as their lives become busy with after-school activities. Ideally this downtime would be spent outdoors, socializing with kids in the neighborhood; playing ball. But these days downtime is an individual effort, indoors on computers or iPods/tablets texting and instant messaging. Though I don’t advocate filling my schedule chock-full of busyness (I actually am teaching myself to fight this tendency) I also don’t see the value in time socializing over technology. When did hanging out with people, face-to-face, get trumped by electronic devices? One evening as the hubs and I sat with another couple, we all made the conscious effort to put the phones away and actually have conversation. It actually took some willpower to not check the messages. This is the state of socialization today.
Where is the balance? It is rare to find the child that seeks to get involved in the community, to coordinate transportation to help others. My kids are not allowed to walk home from school from an after school activity; due to our school’s policy (for safety reasons). Perhaps it is the community in which I reside, the mini-vans, SUVs and luxury cars queuing up with automatic trunk/door openers and parents grabbing “heavy” backpacks to place in the car for their child. It makes me wonder where our children’s generation is headed. Will they know what to do without Mom and Dad?
I have always followed the rules, the blueprints of success in our educational system. I value education and make sure my children have good attendance; scheduling vacations and appointments to not conflict with their instructional time. As parents we are told if your child takes algebra in eighth grade the chances of heading to college are higher. If you cultivate reading in your household your children will be above the curve. But what about art? Music? CHARACTER? How do you teach kids motivation and the desire to want to GIVE BACK to their community? I know most parents coordinate these type of things for their children…food drives at Thanksgiving, donating or purchasing clothes for those in need during the holidays. But there are over 363 more days where these needs are not being addressed.
It is this wellspring of motivation that I search for. Is it innate or can it be learned? Do they see from our parental example and if so, how do we cultivate it?
Every day cannot be extraordinary. I need to teach my kids that the ordinary sludge is reality. We need to learn coping mechanisms to deal with the boring; to put one foot in front of the other. We take this for granted as a society. Our instant gratification and sensationalism tendencies allow us to forget the mundane and we only feel our worth when achieving something great.
I am becoming a champion for the little things that go unnoticed. I won’t give a trophy, bribe my sons with material items or constantly tell my boys they are the best. But I will acknowledge their efforts to let them know I am paying attention. Sure, I’d love straight A’s but I value the hard work and perseverance of my sons as they struggle and continue to push through the challenges life brings. They cannot always be the best but as long as they give things their very best, to find their competitive nature, it teaches my boys the ability to self-motivate; to strive.
But I also want my sons to learn to flex; unlike myself who struggles with transitions. It takes me longer to bounce back from adversity and I admire those who can freestyle through life; reaching the wall, arms straight and fingertips out. The stroke, freestyle, appears effortless but a good swimmer understands the physical properties of water. One learns how to glide through it with as few amount of strokes and kicks as possible; to not fight the wash as you flip-turn at the wall. You dive deep, stiff as a board; the aerodynamics propelling you through the rough water.
I dive deep into my wellspring; searching for my motivation and body center. If I can master how to ride the every day ups and downs; I’m one step above the curve.