Wednesday, July 14, 2010

it's your thing (part I of II)

A friend of mine was telling me about a recent workshop for writers. She said, in referring to the other attendees:
"writing is to them ... as I am to running."

Meaning they were all quite serious about the craft (my friend is a crazy good runner – she actually wins races). This stayed with me for weeks. And not because I am obsessed with analogies, although I did once score quite highly on the Miller Analogy Test. But because I realized, with stark clarity, that I have no " as I am to ... (thing)." I don't have a "thing." I can't keep trying to slip the Miller Analogy Test deal into conversation. Besides, they changed the scoring a few years back so my score is now both uninteresting AND irrelevant.

There is a story in the Bible about 3 people. God gives them each a talent – some use it, some squander it. One day I asked my mom what my talent was. She gave some very appropriate answers but nothing that satisfied my kid self. For many reasons – one being a lack of self-confidence – I never really figured this talent thing out.

The silver lining was that I imagined some crazy, latent talent was about to bust loose up in here. My talent would lead me to become a media sensation, with the YouTube video of me doing [talent] going viral instantly. Here are some sample headlines and a picture of Susan Boyle (because I thought that would be fun):
Kansas Woman Composes First Sympthony in her Thirties
– Only weeks after learning to read musi

NYC Ballet Begs 30-Something Phenom to Join: History is Made!

No Swim Experience? No Problem!
– Woman in her thirties swims English Channel after just one week of lessons.

However, all that can really be derived from this is that I am, in fact, in my thirties. Any latent talents are not going to simply burst forth on their own. So I, quite bravely, decided to take some action. I started piano lessons and I decided to set a real, bona fide goal around my writing (grow this blog, get something published).

So far, I haven't had any breakthroughs. I am holding out hope, however. Come on! If that  double rainbow guy can make it, why not me?

Well, I  can play, "I'd like to teach the world to sing" with proficiency.

But honestly I'm at that point of "well ... now what?"

I don't want my kids to be held back in life due to lack of self-confidence, I don't want them held back by anything. I want to offer the world as the proverbial oyster to my girls. But this mother is at the table with no freaking clue how to use the shucker.

This is an oyster shucker, found out the super cool>>>>  
So, what is this process of discovery all about?. How do we realistically pursue "things?" How do you nurture your own goals and in what ways do you encourage your children? And have you ever been at a restaurant and wanted to order something but weren't sure how to eat it ... so you ordered something else? (Double boxed wine points if you can tie that together in an existential way.)


  1. FIRST OF ALL, young lady...what the fricka fracka you talking about??? You have many "things." Just to name 3 that come to mind immediately (and yes there are more): writing, running, and wisdom (this is a rare gift and I only know 2 people under the age of 60 who possess the gift of wisdom and always know the exact thing to say). You've always felt your whole life you don't have a "thing", but to me its always so obvious that you have these outstanding gifts. Sis is sad to see you undermine yourself like that. I guess none of us ever see ourselves for what we really are.

    On a much lighter note, I have often gone to a restaurant and not ordered something because I couldn't pronounce it and felt too embarrassed. Like Big Macs and Chicken Nuggets. Luckily these mysterious titles come in value meals with numbers attached so I just saw the number. Crisis averted. No but really, in actual restaurants that really does happen to me all the time.

  2. Well, you didn't exactly tie them together existentially but I am still giving you double points for being funny and complimentary.

    In France they are called Le Royale with cheese, mother shucker (paraphrase of Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction)

  3. I will begin by telling you how honored I am to have been quoted in your blog!

    Next, isn't it ironic that Wendy's comments regarding judgment, etc are exactly the sentiments you are combating with your blog? If all mother's were sisters, would we be so hesitant to post a comment here or there?

    On to today's assignment: I don't have a thing either...I can't decide if I want one. My first response was yes, of course I want a thing...but the more I think of it, I'm not so sure.

    Oh, maybe I do have a thing! I think I might be the most indecisive person ever! Can that be my thing? If you've ever asked me where I want to eat for dinner, you know the lack of commitment to even a small decision might make YouTube because of its ridiculousness.

    Next, how do I encourage my daughter? I do so by telling her daily that she can do whatever she wants to do. For example, she wanted to go out for coach pitch softball, secretly I was concerned she was not ready for it. I don't want her to think I don't believe in her, I get excited, and I tell her how great she will be and how much fun she will have. I do it because I have to..I want her to believe in herself.

    I never want her to reflect on her childhood and think, "If only mom and dad had thought I could do that..." I believe in her, and I know she can do whatever she wants to do. It's my job to make sure she knows it too!

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. I truly believe 99.9% of the most dangerous mistakes girls make are directly related to a lack of self-esteem. My #1 goal as her parent is to foster a healthy self-esteem in her.

    The woman who chooses the old beau (you know, the one who doesn't treat her quite right and there's no real spark, but he is better than nothing) over a blind date is choosing the safer item from the "menu"...

    Personally speaking, I tend to choose the safer "menu" item with relationships of a different sort. I tend to do this with friendships...I don't seek friendships with new people, and tend to stick with what I know. I'm ok with this. I have a small group of really close friends. I like it that way. However, your analogy has me thinking. How many super great people have I passed up along the way because I was too scared or embarrassed or whatever to venture out there and strike up a conversation with the new mom at the park?

  4. Uh, yeah. Have to agree with Tara here. You are a runner, a writer, and wise beyond your years. I also have to add you are a fantabulous mother, a dog lover, and from one external processor to another....I have to say you are one of the best. In fact, that could be our new "thing" or hobby. We would have to come up with a better name for it...external processing is too, well, you know. Bitching or venting have such negative connotations. We could have specific clothing that we wear when we practice our "thing" like golfers wear plaid pants. Then we could set forth and process a myriad of topics and issues. parenting issues, marital issues, perceived personal failures and successes, oil spills, discussions about black holes, pedestrian rights, why some places of business do not offer public restrooms...really we could do some significant good here. You in?

  5. Okay, color me sheepish. I so didn't post this to fish for compliments, but geez everyone, thank you! And I LOVE the idea of external processors with their own name, space, and clothing line. And I think we should stick with that name, it sounds really official. Remember those old, pre-computer word processors-maybe that could be our icon/logo.

    Shellody-can I change your thing to Personal "House" calls? Personal medical care delivered at all hours. That's a helluva thing.

    Anyway, thank you for your concrete example of encouraging your daughter. To get even more specific-did you she approach you about joining softball to begin with? Do you generally wait for her to show interest or do you take the lead when introducing her yo something? Do you play to her strengths or do you ever purposefully put her in something that she would not naturally gravitate towards?

    I am super on board with you about developing self esteem. I consider that one of my most important jobs and intrinsically linked to building a sisterhood mentality. Sports, lessons, extra-circular interests are a great way to foster that. Kay (the vino winner) has older kids and it is easy to see the the benefits down the road of all that good stuff and how successful they feel but getting started with younger kids feels daunting. I don't want to push or overdo but want to start early.

  6. trying to remember how the boys' activities started. We felt it important that they were involved in something sportish and of course music. I think we did lead them by asking what kind of instrument would you want to play? Not DO you want to play one. We, of course, always played a wide variety of music in the house and had many interesting musicians around the house on a frequent basis. OK, so my husband is a musician and that all happened quite naturally for us. But I think right now small doses of things would be good for your little ones. A concert here, a little league season there, an art class or a language class thrown in the mix. You will start to see what they enjoy, what they take seriously, what feels good to them. We never forced an activity. Younger son spent his first season of soccer chasing butterflies and practicing different ways of running. (not anywhere near the ball, just running...knees up high, backward, bouncy, whatever) Now he is quite the star player. I think he started playing because his big brother plays. Big brother plays because favorite uncle plays and so on. Neither boy enjoyed art classes despite both of them loving to create art. The classes were too structured, the teacher was too specific in his/her assignments. Turns out they just want to make things. So we set up a table in the basement where all things arty can happen...or not.
    guess I would suggest to look at it like a buffet. You would allow your kiddos to choose their favorite things off of the buffet and enjoy. You also might suggest they try something new or different. The goal is to try to encourage them to try new, instruments, sports, dance classes. They will figure out what they like and let you know.

  7. So it seems that you are suggesting a I just throw out some fun and enriching stuff and then let it evolve naturally. Hmmm, that sounds like it could be a whole approach to parenting. Not that I am willing to desert my current system of methodical over-planning and then worrying about GETTING IT WRONG. But I am interested in hearing more, maybe we can discuss it over some wine... Seriously though it is good to know the trajectory of how it occurred, from bouncy running to confident and successful big kids.

  8. Wow, see what happens when you come late to the party... so many interesting things to comment on, I don't know where to begin!

    Not to embarrass you by jumping on the gush wagon, but I just have to confess that as I read your writing, a recurrent thought runs through my head and it goes a little like this... "I *love* her!" Now I know this borders on inappropriate in traditional social functioning, but darnnit, it's the truth and I'm all about transparency... external processing, whathaveyou. (my t-shirt size is medium. :))

    I think having a 'thing' (Little Bill anyone?) could possibly be overrated. I've always enjoyed a lot of passions and have often lamented in the past that I wasn't really good at just one thing, rather than above-average in a bunch... the jack, never the master, etc. More recently, I'm beginning to embrace my jackofseveralhood and realize how insufferable I might be if I actually were really, really good at just one thing. The ever lingering 'room for improvement' used to leave me insecure, but now I realize it helps keep me humble. I've always liked the line from Desiderata that says something like, 'comparing your abilities to others' is futile, for there will always be those greater and lesser than yourself.'

    And that is what I hope to convey to my kiddos. I want them to do the things that bring them joy, not necessarily the things they excel at. The two may overlap, but I put joy over excellence any day. I've been thinking a lot about this lately since I'll be embarking on an adventure in teaching elementary art this fall. I just want the kids to express themselves and have fun. I want to encourage them to appreciate the joy that art offers, more than drawing a cat that looks like a cat. The previous teacher entered the kids in a lot of contests and I've heard several times that the school has always had a high percentage of "winners." I have a hard time with art being "judged." It's so subjective. Of course we have principles and elements of art and things to look for that make a "successful" piece of art, but in my mind, especially at the elementary stage, successful art is simply expressive art. If a student truly puts their heart into it, that's what I'm looking for. On the other hand, I know that some of my favorite paintings were produced under the teaching of a very strict professor who pushed me to slow down, plan out and really think about my work. And I don't want to take a "win" away from a student who might excel at art, just to protect another student from potentially having his/her joy robbed because they might lose. I am on a huge tangent here, but I would appreciate input from parents. I guess contests, winning/losing, etc. are facts of life and there are lessons to be learned in losing gracefully, perseverance, etc. Hmmm.

    I hope that my kids will never be afraid to try something out of fear of failure or ridicule, be it art, soccer or new foods. I unabashedly mispronounce just about every dish I order at Tellers and love trying new things. I believe we miss so many of life's offered treasures by playing it safe and chasing the "nice little life." I'm ready for adventure... to take my part in the bigger story, to truly live life to the full. Dead Poet's Society and all that.

    For myself, my kids and everyone I meet, I pray that love of the Lord is (or becomes) our "thing." Putting my focus on Him rather than myself somehow brings everything else into focus. O Captain, My Captain. :)

    Love, anj

  9. Where to start. Number #1-I love you! I seriously have so much love in my heart as I read through all these responses and am reminded of how blessed my life is; all these wonderful friends to help me parent, live my best life, and remind me about focus (scream!).

    Your thoughts on a "thing" are particularly interesting to me as a bystander to your family's enormous talents and gifts. It reminds me that "excel" is in the eye of the beholder and that words of your comparison quote could not be more true. I hope my kids will jump in with both feet to what interests them and never compare themselves with others, rather just chase their joy. A "thing" doesn't have to garner a headline or an invite from the NYC ballet to be successful in the joy giving and life affirming department. What a great perspective.

    I don't envy you your conundrum with the kiddos. That is such a fine line to walk. You want to instill a love and a passion, never squash a spirit, but at the same time push enough to challenge. I too would really love to hear from other parents on this, particularly parents who have kids old enough to have had experiences with this kind of thing and different styles of teaching. And my sis-she teaches music to this age group, I would love to hear her thoughts and approach.

    And finally...I second your emotion. This is my one wild and precious life and I am going for it, what "it" is and how it looks is still a work in progress. I think back to my friend's comments to my "chasing a good time" post-he said "what if fun chased us?" and ever since then I try and see all the ways, big and small, that fun, adventure, success, learning opportunities, etc are truly chasing me. I am just working on being awake, aware, and brave enough to recognize and carpe diem Robin William's style.

  10. PS-Bravo for your phenomenal existential tie in on ordering food and living life with gusto. All that and a Walt Whitman quote-you are sure to be racking some major fc-er points for my next fantabulous give away.

  11. Yikes, Anj, that is a tough one. I am definitely picking up what you are putting down. Music & art are similar in what makes them so wonderful--any & every kid can develop a passion for them and not just a kid who is super duper talented in one area. They are accessible to all humans. Even if someone can't play an instrument, that person can still be just as passionate about music by listening to others play instruments. A person might only be able to draw stick people, but could be moved to tears by looking at a painting (which is the case for me).

    In my classroom my #1 goal is just to get the kids to love music. Yet I've had to give solos to kids before and break the hearts of all the children who didn't get selected for a special solo. That broke my heart, too. I don't have a good answer on this one...If you guys figure it out, send me a memo! I'm nowhere even close to cracking this case!

  12. Shellody aka Pimp Momma Shell aka House IIJuly 24, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    Personal house calls...sure! I'm not sure if it's my thing, but it sure beats indecisiveness.

    I love the art/music stuff from Anj & Tara. I have absolutely ZERO artistic talent, but I appreciate art and music a great deal. My husband has a great deal of musical talent (dare I say, it's his "thing") which allows me to appreciate it (and him) even more than I would otherwise.

    Ideally your "thing" should be your passion...not just something you are good at, but something you love to do.

    As far as what I expose the kiddo to--yes, sometimes I wait for her to express interest, but other times I choose something that I feel will bring her growth. At this point, she is too young to have a comfort zone, so I don't really use that as a guide. I just choose things that I think she will enjoy either now or later. Remember, this is the kid who got a keyboard (piano-like, not computer) for her 1st birthday, and a violin when she was four. She can't play either one, has never taken a lesson, but they are there when the time comes. I do try to be careful not to present her with TOO much..I don't want her to be so busy doing what mom wants her to do that she doesn't have time to explore for herself.

    Anj said exactly what I was going to say in my first post, but couldn't figure out how to say it...I don't know if a "thing" is necessary. I think I like having a wide-variety of "things". Let me see if I can figure out how to say this...let's just imagine that the "things" in our life have a finite amount of time/energy that can be spent on them. If we spend all of our time/energy on just one "thing," do we rob ourselves of the opportunity to grow in other capacities? Some may CHOOSE to spend 100% of the given time/energy/etc on just one thing, but that doesn't mean that's the right choice for all of us. I have chosen to spend my given time/energy on a few different things...I don't think that means my "things" are of any less importance, just a different path than, oh, let's say Lance Armstrong and his "thing."

    Speaking of Lance Armstrong...his ex-wife wrote a fantastic book. It is called "Work in Progress: The Unfinished Woman's Guide to Grace." It's a FANTASTIC book. It is spiritually based, but even if you aren't in to that sort of thing (note--not "thing"), it's very good. It sort of speaks to this conversation, so I thought I'd mention it...

  13. I just have to publicly (is this considered publicly?) thank my friend "House II" for yet another house call. Shellody/House- you are not missing anything by not striking up conversations with strangers in the park. Best just to hang on to your old friends and be super available for their freaked out and irrational phone calls seeking free medical advice.

    Love your Lance Armstrong analogy. The super focused one thingers are usually very elite types at the very top. Most of us just feed our souls with activities we enjoy and what a blessing that is. I am just learning to be brave enough to try and enjoy things and make sure my kids don't have fear getting in their way. Which they won't, because as you mentioned they don't have comfort zones yet (see part II of this series).

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I am making a personal resolution to at least have a go at every book recommended to me. I am trying to get open in lots of ways and this has been such an amazing venue for me, I get so much growth producing feedback, book titles, and thoughts and ideas to plagiarize.

  14. Thanks all for your well-taken thoughts... I guess I'll just have to feel the students out when the time comes and see how God leads me to proceed. The book reco sounds fabulous! It falls in-line perfectly with Oswald Chambers' devo I read today, so I must share an excerpt:

    "What is my dream of God's purpose? His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the end of the purpose of God. God is not working towards a particular finish; His end is the process - that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God."

    You can read the rest here:

    Peace in the midst of turmoil. That sounds pretty darn delicious.

    Love, anj


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