2.24.2007

hard work may be worth something after all

i heard about a study the other day that shouldn't have come as any surprise, but i found myself resonating highly with its findings. the study, outlined in this article, concluded that praising a child for ability may be harmful while praising a child for their effort is very beneficial.

jen and i have made some slight shifts to make sure that we're not encouraging ani to laziness or relying only on natural ability. as we have done so, i've been processing the whole things and realizing that i rely almost exclusively on natural ability. i have a natural ability to pick up new skills fairly quickly, aided by my curiosity and initial interest. however, once that initial burst is gone, i find myself "bored" with the new skill or task, but really more disappointed with the lack of quick and easy progress that i experienced in the beginning. thinking back on my young adulthood, i remember my high school cohorts and i boasting about our indifference toward school and our cynicism toward those who were striving for the top spots. i got pretty good grades. i tested well and knew how to structure an essay to say a lot without having to know a lot. i got praised for my marks and rarely had to work too hard for them. at the time it seemed like an ideal situation.

now, ten+ years later, i find myself amazed by stories of people just excel at something naturally. i've developed the idea that everyone who's really great at something was basically born with a natural aptitude and could only fail if they were really foolish or careless. i hate to admit it, but i'm impatient with people who are less apt than i in a certain area (especially when it comes to music) and i think that i believe that those who are currently not as good as me will never surpass me (which logic says is a ridiculous idea, but my emotions tell me differently).

i also find myself constantly frustrated with my performance in any number of areas because i'm not seeing quick easy progress. i play guitar and sing and have long desired to play shows and be in the performing community. however, the hard work necessary to prepare a set, book a gig and all the rehearsing and organization in between proves to be too much for me with my current attitude, so i chalk my lack of growth up to poor organizational skills and play the if-only game. (if only i had a manager, if only i had more time, if only i had a band who was really committed...)

i also flounder in my job. through the past 5 years in my current role, i find certain aspects of my job to be unconquerable. no matter what angle i approach these challenges from, the skills just don't come naturally to me. so i play the same if-only game (if-only i was working with paid staff instead of volunteers, if only schedules were easier to align...)

despite these feelings being so real to me, i've never been able to shake the idea that it's a fallacy. people succeed all the time in much more adverse situations than mine, so why can't i? do high level executives really have more time than me (ha!) does the fact that they pay their staff really make a difference? what about people who succeed in running vounteer programs? what about mother theresa who sold nothing, didn't pay her workers, didn't advertise and yet has become one of the icons of our time for social responsibility and justice? what did she have that i don't have? plenty of things, but none of them are on my if-only list. (if only i had no money, if only i lived among lepers in india...)

so today marks the public acknowledgment of this pattern and the attempt to shift it. believe me when i say i'm both excited and mortified by the process ahead of me. i'm excited because it opens up a whole world to me - anything that doesn't come quickly and easily to me is now attainable. it's also gonna force me to find a way to learn how to fail and move on. (in my current paradigm, failure is demoralizing and an indicator of a lack of crucial inherent abilities) in short, all the things i've "learned" through my adult life from friends, books, conferences, leaders and blogs like brazen careerist, are finally put into a context where they can mean something. no longer am i a prisoner to the things that come naturally to me. and no longer can i be the hero just because of how i was made. hmmm, interesting trade.

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