Flipping Ambition: Helping Your Child Achieve More by Effectively Slacking Off (Part 1 of 5)

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Flipping Ambition: Helping Your Child Achieve More by Effectively Slacking Off (Part 1 of 5)

School and work. Cello lessons. Play dates with Jimmy; ballet time with Janie and a soccer game every Saturday. Welcome to the overstuffed world of you and your kids. As the role model for your children, your busy-bee life shows them that scurrying from one activity to another is the way you’re supposed to live.

While you may think the o-so-busy schedule of you and your kids goes a long way in proving just how ambitious and skillful you all are, it instead goes a long way to prove just how crappy you can be at a lot of little things. Put another way, if you and your kids spread yourselves too thin by trying to accomplish or excel at an unrealistic amount of things, you’ll usually end up getting really good at and accomplishing very little.

It’s also a ripe breeding ground for stress and anxiety.

This series of articles is aimed at helping you alleviate stress and anxiety in you and your children’s lives while pumping up ambition by showing you doing less can actually accomplish much more. For real! You’ll learn the dangers of spreading yourself and your children too thin, how to weed out your unnecessary activities and how to switch your focus to things that really matter.

You’ll then see how it’s beneficial and incredibly possible to accomplish the goals you and your kids want to accomplish without spinning in stressful circles with too much to do and no real direction. Sounds good? Let’s roll.

Think of your life as a garden. When you start cramming all types of flowers mixed with vegetables mixed with cactus mixed with trees in too little space with too little nourishment it’s not going to go too well. You end up with a garden so confused and overwrought that the only thing that thrives may be the weeds.

Don’t let you or your children’s lives become a miserable weed patch. The first step to preventing that patch can be figuring out what ambition really is.

What is ambition, anyway?

Part of the problem is the whole concept of ambition, or what many people think it means versus what it really is. One of the definitions of ambition is simply “the desire to achieve a particular end.”

We also learn, and society tends to focus on, an alternative definition that says ambition is “an ardent desire for rank, fame or power.” In the modern world, that rank, fame and power comes from titles like “Super Mom” and “Renaissance Kid” and “Dad Who Does Everything.” OK, perhaps no one really uses the title “Renaissance Kid,” but you get the idea.

Go back to the age-old concept that being a jack-of-all-trades makes you master of none. Herein lies your garden packed with weeds and slouching with half-grown stems that never have the energy to blossom.

It’s not your fault. Nor is it the fault of your child. Society has become a major impetus in this unhealthy and anxiety-ridden push is to expect to accomplish extra-ordinary amounts of stuff all in the name of ambition.

After all, how ambitious can you be if you actually have time to do what you feel like doing instead of the next item up on your schedule. Another fallacy says if you or your kids’ schedules are not packed to the hilt, perhaps you or they are not well-liked enough or popular enough or caring enough to have invitations for zillions of things to do.

Ambition has come to be defined in today’s day and age by doing more, more and more. The outcome is often enjoying and accomplishing less, less and less.

Enter the bucket list

The obsequious “bucket lists” are a prime example of so-called ambition gone awry. Bucket lists are the seeds that are going to fill your garden, and some people may have an overload of seeds. While a bucket list, used wisely, can serve as a useful tool for achieving goals or scheduling family time, it can also serve as an overloaded list of, to put it nicely, crap.

Many people pack their bucket lists with things they think sound good or things they actually believe they should want to do, but the reality is often much different. Do you really want to spend the time, effort, training, expense and travel it would take to successfully climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

But it sounds good, looks good, and proves you are ambitious, right?

The same thing goes for any bucket lists your children may have created or, worse yet, you may have mandated for your children. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent if your kid has not been swimming with dolphins or reading Shakespeare by third grade. A kid is not a failure either way.

But those bucket lists may serve to make children think they are failures. Stress and anxiety can become an intimate friend for your children if your kids do not accomplish everything in their buckets or even have the desire to attempt half of the items. Maybe your kid prefers diving in pools over swimming with in the sea or finds Dr. Seuss much more poignant than Shakespeare.

Sounds like it’s time for a bucket list review.

Exercise: Dump the bucket!

You and your kids need not dump your bucket lists altogether, but you should review and dump specific items that do not thrill you to the core. Keep your main bucket but also create a new one called, to not put it nicely, the “F-k it Bucket.” Here you will put all items from your main bucket list that you simply don’t want to spend the time and effort it would take to achieve – no matter how many other people say climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is the in thing to do.

Instead of constantly trying to find new things to put on your bucket list, try to take things off. This lets you effectively focus on the few things that are left. The remaining items are the seeds in your garden you really want to sow, things about which you truly care and are truly passionate.

Of course, you probably want to pick an alternate name for your F-k it Bucket when you help your kids go through their own bucket lists, but you can use the same set of questions for yourself and your children.

Go through each item and ask:

Do I really want to do this thing? A simple yes or no may cover it, or it may not.

Why do I want to do this thing? If it’s for personal pleasure, keep it on the list. If it’s only to look good, to say you did it, or to attempt to measure up to some ridiculous set of societal standards, dump it!

Am I willing and able to put the time, effort, money and energy into accomplishing this thing? Be honest, now. You don’t get to Carnegie Hall without a lot of practice (and a pretty expensive cello).

Am I willing to work on this thing at the expense of giving up other goals that I may enjoy much more?

Your revised bucket lists should be lighter, brighter and much happier once it’s filled with goals you and your kids have the honest desire and wherewithal to accomplish.

Dumping the slop out of your buckets can also serve as a major step in creating a garden that blossoms instead of one riddled with energy-sucking weeds. Our next article will outline five major dangers of overstuffing your gardens. Be forewarned, bad things can happen!

This is part one of a five-part series “Flipping Ambition: Helping Your Child Achieve More by Effectively Slacking Off”, click here to read the rest of the series.

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