ta-dah!

When my girls were little, I quickly noticed that they based a large percentage of their feelings and reactions on mine.  This was most evident when they were learning to walk.  Anytime they wobbled, tripped, fell down, or even just startled themselves, they immediately looked to my face for a response.

https://i0.wp.com/www.drgreene.com/wp-content/uploads/Big-Heads-and-Baby-Falls.jpg

If I heeded my natural impulse to rush in and begin fussing over them, looking for injuries and cooing, “Oh, poor baby, are you okay?  Are you hurt?” they would take that as a cue that something was wrong – or should be.  Immediate result: terrified wailing, screaming, and gnashing of what few teeth they had.

It didn’t take me long to see that a better way was needed.  Instead of projecting worry, I trained myself to treat every fall like the world’s greatest magic trick.  Whenever they took a tumble, I would hold my breath, throw my hands in the air, and exclaim, “Ta-dah!”

To everyone’s great relief, it worked.  The girls were distracted, I was at peace, and we were all able to move forward with whatever business had been at hand.

Fast forward to today and the great thorn in my fourteen-year-old’s side: Algebra.  Well, it’s not really Algebra that’s the problem; it’s the teacher’s method.  He’s a super nice guy and his students love him, but he only teaches to one learning style.  He lectures and gives quizzes and tests, and that’s it.

My girl is a visual and kinesthetic learner.  She needs graphics and models and most of all, lots of tactile practice.  In the absence of those tools, she struggled mightily through the first semester of that class, barely passing by the skin of her teeth.  Even though she scored no grades lower than a 98 in every other class, she takes each mistake and under-performance in this one as a personal condemnation.  She must just be “bad” at math.

This week, I had the idea to talk to her about this class in terms of a new strategy.  Among some other tools that we sought out, I dusted off the old, “Ta-dah!” approach and challenged her to use it herself every time she makes a mistake on a problem in this class.

As always, my words to my daughter immediately took on an unexpected resonance for myself.  I get enveloped in self-defeating cycles in my work and aspirations every day.  Each time I miss a task, break my diet, or even just oversleep, I face the choice of whether to pick up and and move on, or take it as a “sign” of futility and an excuse not to try again.

I read just this week in the Harvard Business Review that cultivating a positive attitude toward failure is a great contributor to ultimate success.  “In fact, evidence suggests venture capitalists often see failure as an asset—not a liability—in an entrepreneur’s record. Why? Because failure suggests a tolerance for risk, a perseverance to succeed and, most important, a passion to push the envelope.”

What works for babies and pioneers can surely work for me too, right?

Forgot to put an important date on the calendar?  Ta-dah!
Procrastinated through two-thirds of my writing time this morning?  Ta-dah!
Snapped at my mom, put my socks on backwards, and dropped everything I touched today?  Ta-freaking-dah!  (Also maybe some chamomile tea at that point.  Or a cocktail.)

And now, for my next trick…

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. -Maya Angelou

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
-Maya Angelou

fallow ground is HARD

Hosea 10:12

It’s the first Monday of the New Year – how are those resolutions coming? 

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, the people I know tend to fall into one of three categories:
1. The super-disciplined, who can and do make self-improvements on a regular basis regardless of the season.  These guys see goals as personal challenges, and weakness as a nemesis to vaporize.

2.  The adamantly content, who spend the first week of every new year actively and loudly eschewing resolutions.  They know that they’re not going to change, so they’ve decided not to want to – and they really want you to be free as well.

3.  The earnest but struggling, who go through a self-imposed cycle of shame every year.  I tend to be among them.  December 31st, for me, is a day of hard assessment.  January 1st brings elated motivation and an illogical sense of optimism.  Then somewhere around January 15th, when all of my efforts have come to few if any visible results, I begin to slip.  By February, I am publicly mocking myself so that everyone knows I failed again – but I’m really okay with it!

That’s because breaking up my fallow ground, as the Bible puts it, is hard work.  In fact, gardening is the perfect metaphor for my efforts, because it is equally deceptive.

Gardening magazines and books all feature lovely, idyllic photos as their centerpieces, don’t they?  Most display peaceful images of cultivated yards complete with bright, healthy blooms and lush greenery, outdoor furniture staged in relaxed positions, and perhaps even a bonus water source or bird house.  Catalogs of gardening tools show us smiling ladies patting the dirt with grace and surrounded by shiny, clean instruments – all artfully arranged to demonstrate how simple and rewarding the task is.

Lies.

I’ve seen farmers and gardeners at work, even helped a family member or two with their horticultural endeavors, and it is not pretty.  The picture we should see, if some one truly wanted to prepare us, would be of a profusely sweating gardener, gritting her teeth, armed head to toe with heavy duty garments and implements.  Her skin would be sunburned and spotted with calamine lotion, her hair a tousled mess under her protective headgear of choice.  She would look more like a soldier heading into battle than a relaxed grandmother.

We rarely see pictures of the work, only of the results.  Therefore, our expectations are skewed and when we don’t see those results right away, we believe it’s a personal failing.

There is good news for us, and bad news, and they are both the same: It’s supposed to be hard.  People, like plants, don’t grow overnight, and we need a lot of help and cultivating to come out right.  We will do well to stop comparing ourselves to the rest of the world’s yards and instead dig in where we are.

To that end, here are three resources I am using to stay motivated in the battle.  I pass them on, hoping you will find encouragement, too.

1.  Almost anything that Steven Pressfield has to say, but especially his book called The War of Art.  Best quote:  “The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.  Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”

2.  I am reading the Bible all the way through for the first time in about 15 years.  My aunt gave me a wonderful schedule for doing this, available by subscription through Samaritan’s Purse.  Instead of slogging through chapter by chapter in order, it breaks it down into different sections daily (Tuesdays are history, Thursdays are poetry, etc.) – so much more conducive to success.  You can find a similar breakdown here.

3.  Tim Ferriss is my go-to guy for goals involving radical life changes / pursuits.  He’s a maniac for health, and his approach is not for the faint of heart – but if you can stick with it, it will get you where you want to go fast.

Here’s to a productive 2013 for us all.  May we yield at least a few blooms or fruits for ourselves and our loved ones by the end.  If so, all that sweat and grime will be totally worth it.