Flipping Ambition: Helping Your Child Achieve More by Effectively Slacking Off (Part 3 of 5)

This is part three 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.

Weeding out the Weeds

Don’t let dandelions fool you. It’s still a weed that can take over your lawn, your yard and probably parts of your home if you let it. Don’t let it.

Cramming your garden with too much stuff is a major hazard, as you’ve already learned, but so is using your life’s garden space to focus on growing weeds. We’ll use weeds as the analogy for you and your children’s weaknesses, which wrongly get a lot of attention in a bid to help them grow.

One place weeds typically get loads of attention is in schools. School has long conditioned parents to focus on their children’s weaknesses rather than their strengths. A glance back at your kid’s last report card proves this one instantly. Let’s say your kid came home with four As and a single D. What immediately surged to front and center, getting all the attention from you and your kid’s teacher? Why, the D, of course.

Never mind the four As that meant your kid was doing well in other subjects, or at least good enough to merit an A. The D hogs all the attention as a point of weakness that, to put it in report card terms, “needs improvement.”

Schools strive to hit a middle ground, bringing up the weaknesses, even if means letting some of the strengths go ignored. While the misconception may be that a middle ground proves school is “working,” all it really creates is a giant pot of mediocrity where everyone melts into humdrum sameness gauged by that concept called “average.”

Weakness focus breeds anxiety

Forcing your children into improving their weaknesses can also be akin to forcing them into a pit of anxiety. Your kids are going to be stressed out if they are constantly trying to be someone they aren’t, like a star soccer player who has a game every Saturday morning just so they can be like everyone else on the block that plays soccer. Maybe your kid doesn’t even like soccer and would much rather be creating art, reading a book or building something with dad during on that early weekend morning.

This is not to say parents shouldn’t care that their children are weaker in some areas than others, but it is to say that the strengths should get the lion’s share of attention. Turning the strengths from “good enough to merit an A” to, say, phenomenal, is where your focus is better served. The primary focus should always be on strengths and making them better.

Why? Because that’s how you get to Carnegie Hall, for one. For another, it’s the reason we have absolutely amazing contributions to life from people like Einstein. Let’s say Einstein came home with an A for being “good enough” in physics but his gym teacher hit the roof, giving him a D for his basketball abilities, or lack thereof. (It’s a little-known fact, by the way, that Einstein was horrendous at playing basketball.)

Focusing on his weakness would mean forcing him to dribble, shoot or otherwise run up and down the court with an orange ball while prying him away from the things he was meant to do. The end result becomes a guy we’d probably never have heard of who was “good enough” at physics to pass his class and spent a lot of time and energy being forced to become “good enough” at basketball to appease the “good enough” standards.

Forget E=mc2 or Einstein’s other contributions to science. They simply would not exist.

We’d instead have an OK physics student who wasted a lot of time trying to be an OK basketball player. He may end up with a mediocre job at a mediocre company living a mediocre life that didn’t really make him happy. That’s what can happen when you focus on weaknesses instead of on strengths.

It puts us all in a ho-hum garden full of mediocrity.

Nothing beautiful ever gets to full bloom and the weeds that should have been pulled out and chucked in the trash instead remain to clog up the landscape. Welcome to what can happen when strengths are ignored and the weakling weeds are erroneously nourished.

Look at other examples of notable achievers who excel in a particular field. We may not know and we certainly don’t care if they are necessarily well-rounded in every aspect of their lives.

Is Michael Jordan a good cook? Did Julia Child know Kung Fu? Who cares? Don’t spend time trying to make your kids go from terrible to below average with a particular weakness. Let the weakness go and help them get really good at their strengths. Nobody who is actually good at anything is well-rounded, and your kids will be stressed out if they try to be.

Instead of going from bad to mediocre, go from good to astoundingly awesome! Encourage your kids to do the same.

Exercise: Weeding out the weeds

You can help your child weed out the weak weeds with a couple of strategies. The first is to list the activities that fall into you and your kids’ weakling weeds category.

Ask yourselves:

What activities are you or your child trying to get only slightly better at instead of developing strengths?

Maybe your kid is a shabby basketball player, a la Einstein, and would be happier and healthier if he were able to focus on his strength in the sciences. Perhaps your other kid digs writing in her journal and should be encouraged to enter the school creative writing contest instead of wasting her time with those cello lessons you’re forcing her way (the ones you’re making her take since you never made it to Carnegie Hall).

Compile all the activities that don’t seem to serve the strengths, or serve any purpose other than ensuring your child becomes melted into the pot of mediocrity. Then see what you can do to decrease the time spent on the weakling weeds while increasing the further development of strengths.

Next review everything at which you or your child do poorly. Rather than rushing to keep working on it or finding ways to improve the activity to mediocre levels, ask a more pointed question instead.

Do we need to be doing this it all?

If the answer is no, you know the drill. Dump the bucket, dump the bucket, dump the bucket!

Freeing up that time and energy will also allow time to improve the one or two “pivot points” that do, in fact, matter. What are pivot points? We’ll tell you in the next installment, where you’ll also learn to embrace the differences that can help your child be more like an Einstein than a mediocre or downright miserable basketball player who is drastically unhappy.

This is part three 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.