Goals worth achieving
I’ve written before that telling kids they can be anything they want to be is a lie that can actually prevent them from achieving their potential, but I’ve recently been noticing a similar but more subtle falsehood – that kids should be anything they can be, no matter what it would cost them. The problem with the first lie is that some goals are actually unachievable (I don’t have the citizenship to be President of the United States or the diminutive stature to be a professional jockey). The problem with the second lie is that is that some goals require so much from us that they may not be worth the sacrifice.
Let me give an example from my own life. I played rugby all the way through high school. I loved it, and I was pretty good, so when I went to university, I joined the varsity team team with a vague idea that I might even play for Canada one day. Just a few days of practice, however, showed me two things.
First, there were a lot of good rugby players out there, and some of them had physical gifts I just didn’t have. I realized that no amount of practise or working out or playing experience would ever get me to the point of playing for my country. It wasn’t perhaps beyond all possibility, but it wasn’t really an achievable goal. Any time and energy I spent pursuing it would almost certainly be wasted.
Second, although playing for the varsity first team was certainly an achievable goal, I wasn’t sure that it was worth the time and the energy it would cost me. To train and practice at that level would mean taking time away from my studies, and I didn’t feel like the goal was worth the sacrifice. I didn’t quit the team, but I decided that playing for the second team was good enough for me (despite some dismay from the coaches). I had a great time, met some fun people, made some fabulous memories, but never once stepped onto the field for the first team.
I have never once regretted that decision. Not even a little. Sure, it would have been great to play for the first team, but even decades later the cost to do so seems too much for the reward. Unfortunately, I see far too many parents, teachers, and coaches forcing goals on their children no matter what the cost, just because they show some aptitude to achieve them.
My eldest son, for example, is quite a skilled soccer player. Could he play professionally, make the national team, win a scholarship? I have no idea yet, but those goals still lie within the realm of possibility, however remotely. So the coaches from his rep team were distressed when he chose not to do the development program this winter, but just to play house league instead. They were concerned that he’d lose ground to his peers, that some of those big goals might become even less achievable. They told us that he had a chance to be really good, that he had natural talent he shouldn’t waste.
But my son insisted that it wasn’t worth it to him. He didn’t want to be a professional player. He didn’t want to spend three nights a week training. He just wanted to play soccer, even if it was at a lower level.
My middle son had a similar experience at dance class. His birth father was a professional dancer, and his two much older birth siblings are both taking dance in university. Dance is in his blood, and he loves it. But he also loves so many other things. He loves skateboarding, scootering, soccer, karate, ball hockey, and basketball. He loves so many things that he changes up his activities every semester, rarely choosing the same thing twice.
When we told his dance teacher that he wouldn’t be taking the next class because he wanted to do karate instead, she quite pointedly questioned our decision. She told us that there were too few boys in dance already and that he had the ability to do very well. She said that he needed to focus on one thing if he was ever to become really good at anything. She implied that we were bad parents for not making him follow one particular goal.
But he wouldn’t be happy focussing on any one goal. Setting his sights on being a professional dancer at this stage in his life would come at the cost of a happy childhood. Maybe he’ll make that choice some day, and maybe that choice will be harder because he chose to focus on it later than others, but he’ll have had a happier, more well-rounded life as a kid.
This is why I completely support my children in making these kinds of decisions, because they need to see the lie that they should strive after a goal just because it’s achievable, because they have the ability, because other people think they should. I want them to know how to weigh the cost of a goal, to consider the sacrifice that it will require, and then to do the things that are really important to them. I want them to put their time and energy and commitment only into the things that matter to them.
The truth is that we can’t do everything, and that everything we do comes at the cost of something else. I’d rather see them chose the things they love, the things that make them happy, the things that are good for them, their family, and for their community, than to have them achieve some grand goal at the cost of everything else that makes life worth living.