Who would ever choose to fail you ask? Well, we all do. Every day. When we make choices about where to spend our time and effort, we are focusing on the things that are important to us, and not giving time and effort to the things that are not. However, when you are 11 and easily distracted, you may not realize you are making a choice. Heck, you probably didn’t realize there was even a question.
Right now, one of my 11 year-old sons is experiencing failure. He has failed at things before, but this time I actually saw it register on his face that HE and only HE was totally responsible for this failure. It is going to sound like bad parenting, but his Father and I have been hoping this day would come. The day he would recognize his own fall, his part in the process and his failure to achieve his goal. In the past, he has always chalked it up to a one-time occurrence – EVEN when it was in the same situation or about the same subject. He has been unable to recognize his choices are causing him to fail. But today, things seem different.
Here’s the story. Fifth-graders at our Elementary school get to run for student council as representatives of each grade level. They fill out an application and if approved are assigned a grade level to represent. Then they are allowed to create posters and place them in the school halls, write a campaign speech, and present their speech to the grade for which they are running. My boys have been talking about running for student council since they were in second grade. Some of the students they most admired were student council representatives. These kids weren’t just the cool kids, but they seemed – I don’t know – more grown up than the rest of the grade. I liked that my boys admired these leaders and encouraged their dream to run.
Now that they are fifth-graders, the time came for elections. Michael asked every day after elections were announced if we could get poster supplies. When we were short on time, he worked on his speech instead. He had goals for the speech, and ideas about the posters and his campaign. Christopher, although also excited, seemed more laid-back about the whole thing. He struggled to come up with ideas. When Michael had already gotten approval for his speech, Christopher was just starting. Honestly, I’m not sure he would have started at all if I had not nagged him to work on it. Once approved, I asked to see it and really it was no more than an outline of items he wanted to say. “What sports I play, make it the best year, not promise things a can’t do…” and so on. I asked him what parts of his speech would be of interest to the third-graders he was trying to represent, and he shrugged his shoulders. I asked him to practice and was able to get him to read his paper once.
The morning of the elections, Christopher could not find his speech. He looked through his backpack, but found nothing. Our morning routine did not allow time for a complete home search, so we were off to school without his notes. When it came time for speeches, he – along with 8 of his fifth-grade peers – lined up in the gym and took a good long look at the podium. He was second in line. Once the first candidate was finished, he knew his ship was sunk. This candidate had a tutu, crown, props and a well prepared and practiced speech. Christopher was gonna have to wing it. As he approached the podium, his hands went into his pockets. He mumbled his name and a quick greeting to the third-grade audience. He then promptly forgot most of what he had planned, said a couple of things about making it a great year and listed off his favorite positions in the sports he played. He remembered to ask for their vote and that was that.
When he took his place along the wall with the rest of the candidates, the look on his face was evident. He had no chance of winning. All of the other candidates were ready for this day and he was not. I felt his embarrassment. I felt the failure myself, but I also felt vindicated. He had been arguing with his Father and I for a very long time about how much time and effort it takes to succeed at something – at anything really. He spent at least an hour the day prior to these speeches playing video games instead of practicing for this moment. He had “forgotten” science homework, but still had time for the X-box. Does it resonate with him now that the time he spent playing directly affected his performance on this project? As is always the case with young ones – only time will tell.