Perhaps you were a curious, effervescent 8 year old. You adored your books and your teachers. You excelled at academics and got straight A’s. Your parents were thrilled by your accomplishments and told you how smart you were. Teachers appreciated your helpfulness and praised you for your grades. The attention was well-meant but excessive. It felt good, and yet, you questioned the truth of it; you felt that there was so much more you could do. As the years went by, you got used to being at the top of the class and good at everything you tried. It was easy to excel. You could wait until the last minute on any assignment and still get an A.
Then things changed. Here are three possible scenarios. Do you find yourself in one of them?
• You became increasingly uncomfortable. The pressure to achieve was overwhelming. The praise continued. You didn’t believe it but you relied on it. You felt like a fraud. Some day it’ll all come crashing down. And it did. You attended a high-powered college. Suddenly, you weren’t the smartest one in the room. You had to study. You didn’t know how. Your worst fears were realized. You started to lie about your grades and identify as a loser.
• You hit high school and started to question the meaning of life more often. School seemed pointless. You stopped handing in homework. Your grades dropped. None of your peers seemed to care about the melting ice caps; they stayed glued to their iPhones. (Actually, this was probably before iPhones. Maybe even before the internet. You’re how old? But you get the idea.) You became lonely and disillusioned. You were appalled at how you were disappointing your parents and teachers but you didn’t know what to do or how to explain what was happening. They wondered why you were suddenly “lazy.”
• All went well through high school as you continued to achieve but were terrified of failing. So far you’d never failed at anything but you feared the inevitable. So you chose a safe college. One where you knew you wouldn’t be challenged academically. And you weren’t. You could procrastinate and still get A’s. But you felt shame at your choice and wondered what would have happened if you’d chosen the university that frightened you. Where would you be today? You worry that your anxiety will always control you and it’s too late to change your future.
Do you recognize yourself in one of these scenarios?
You aren’t a loser. You aren’t lazy. It’s not too late.
These are the hazards of praise and “too much” smartness. It’s what can happen when we don’t understand how to help our precocious kids navigate through the school system and through life.
But it’s so tricky.
There isn’t a simple solution when you’re talking about a rain forest. How could there be? All of those thick, tangled vines and flying monkeys.
Well, OK, the monkeys aren’t flying.
The things you need to know: Your worth as a human is not based on your smartness or your achievements. You are lovable because of your kindness, your compassion and your sensitivity. Your you-ness.
Don’t believe me?
Take a moment. Sit down with your child self. Look at his or her eager, idealistic, adorable face. Breathe. Hold this child close and say: No matter what you accomplish or don’t accomplish, you are a dear, kind, sensitive soul. No matter what you achieve or don’t achieve, you are loved. Achievements may come. Achievements may go. Love is the point.
Now embrace that child’s tender sweetness. And know your own heart.
To my blogEEs: Let us know in the comments if you’ve had similar experiences, how they’ve affected you and how you manage your fears. What are your questions, feelings and thoughts? And thank you, as always, for reading.