Finding Our Personal Best

As your child finds their way to maturity, they will inevitably bump into varied and confusing messages about how to live their life. Parents have to work harder than ever to model positive behavior for their children and to help them along their way as they build a solid sense of self and a strong moral compass. Your child’s biggest challenge might lie in staying true to him/herself as they follow their dreams and find their place. More than that, it is to accept and feel good about their authentic self.

On that path, as they master new things, they will compare their successes with those of others. Sometimes they might feel superior or inferior. There will be for them an honest tension with competition. Competition can be healthy if it motivates and gives energy, but it can destroy us if we lose ourselves to it. How do we help our children find a sustaining relationship with competition?

I am a passionate spectator of sports and I recently came across a stunning article by NBA point guard Jeremy Lin. His life experience and his profound words caused me to pause as he discussed how competition had affected him and many others he grew up with. A Harvard graduate, Lin knows about pressure and he was moved to respond to an Atlantic Monthly article about teen suicides in Silicon Valley. Lin wanted to share his struggles to control the pressures of achievement. 
“I remember not being able to sleep well on Sunday nights, waking up covered in sweat from nightmares that I had just failed a test. I dreaded Sunday and now I faced a whole week of immense pressure at school. I felt the pressure coming from all around me -- my parents, my peers and worst of all, myself. I felt that I had one shot at high school and that my GPA, SAT score and college applications were the only barometers of my success." 
He recalled how during his freshman year at Paly (Palo Alto HS)," a classmate who sat next to me committed suicide. I remember having difficulty registering what had happened, then a year later, a friend committed suicide.”

Of course, suicide is not the end result of all the pressures of growing up and certainly an example of the “extreme” outcome, but Lin identified it as a call to action.

In his own growing up, Lin chose to focus, in all aspects of his life, on what swimmers and runners call their PB—personal best. 
He mentioned in his post how "separating myself from my results is not an easy lesson and I've had to relearn this in every stage of my life. The world will always need you to accomplish more, do more, succeed more."

I am taken with the idea of separating yourself from your results. This thinking offers us a way to support our children in finding that happy balance with competition. Competition can be an internal striving to know something we don’t yet know or be a courageous repetition of effort just to see incremental understanding or improvement. Self-assessment is integral to our growth, and the freedom to explore and fail and try again is a building block for our confidence, autonomy and secure sense of self. Every child is unique in how s/he handles emotions, conflicts, and moments of challenge and we can help “stage” a healthy and habitual response. A Montessori approach builds on a foundation of respect for each child as they develop their authentic self. Montessori thinking encourages peer cooperation and support, from the earliest toddler years through the hailstorm of adolescence.

How can you help the children in your life use competition as a positive element in their growth? How do you model “separating ourselves from our results?” Your children are geniuses at reading you as they watch you take action in your life. If this message sparks an interest, it may be helpful to give some thought to these questions:
  • Does your child fully engage in an activity or focus on winning (or losing)?
  •  Is your child aware of and realistic about their ability to control the outcomes of their efforts?
  • Is your child extremely sensitive to teasing or sibling put-downs?
  • Does your child ask you for help on tasks long before s/he needs it? Does s/he seek your approval more than seems necessary?
  • Does your child talk himself through challenges in a positive way?