In this competitive world we live in, our kids try out and audition for things all the time, hoping to be the best. Hoping to make the team. We encourage them to do this; we want our kids to take risks and be courageous, giving their all for the things they care most about. A positive outcome provides cause for celebration and pride. But what about the times when the outcome is not what your child wanted? What if they don’t make the cut?
This week, Ian found out that he was selected for a highly competitive vocal jazz high school ensemble as a singer. This is new territory for him; he’s never participated in a choir, and he was nervous as heck to try out for it. He was convinced he wouldn’t make it in, and frankly I didn’t know if he would either, because there are so many good teenage voices vying for the positions. When he made it, yes. We squealed. We jumped up and down. We hollared. We were quite boisterous in our celebrations. But that evening, I told him what I was proudest of is not that he made it, but that he was willing to try even though he felt he wouldn’t be selected; it’s that risk that’s important. He could have made it or not, but my pride would have been no different.
There were other kids who didn’t make it, of course. We heard from some of them too, some angry, some sad, and one child who said she would no longer sing, since she wasn’t good enough for the jazz choir. The reactions were stunning. Disappointment is a sadly inseparable element to this part of the process, but we need to remind ourselves and our children whose dreams these are. These are not the choir director’s dreams. These are not the parents’ dreams. These are our children’s dreams. And if let our children give control of their dreams to an audition outcome, then we are not equipping them with the strength they need for their life’s journey. And we are letting them deprive themselves their greatest joys.
Kids: if you don’t make the ensemble, then start one of your own. If you want to sing, SING. Call the other folks who didn’t make it. Call those who did make it. Call your friends. Call strangers. If you want to make music, there is not a person on this earth who can keep that from you. If that door is closed, then smash in the window. But get inside… or get outside. Create your own vision. Parents: there is no greater gift you can give your children than to help them recognize their own autonomy over their dreams. To stick with the music example, if they don’t make the cut, then serve the role of the director. Help your child organize other kids into their own group. Take them to a music store and buy them sheet music. Give them snacks when they come to rehearse at your home.
This type of creative determination has been one of our guiding values our whole school career. When public schools couldn’t provide our kids with what they needed, we smashed in the proverbial window. We created something new. We advocated for grade-skipping, and when that wasn’t enough, we homeschooled. When homeschool wasn’t enough, we looked outward to university mentors, public school classes, always supported by a nation-wide online community of families who are trying new things themselves (we actively sought them out too). Never stop. Never accept someone else’s word that “this is the way it is.” Make it what you want it. I think of my friend Amy, who, anxious about her grades, was told in college by her English teacher, “you’re just a student who makes B’s.” Today she teaches English at a university herself, and is the successful author of two young adult books.
Our world needs bright stars. You are a bright star. Your children are too. But no one, no matter how good their intentions, is going to drag you to your fullest potential. Each of us individually are the only ones who can do that.
If you need further inspiration, take the time to watch these two young heroes.