There are many situations that we simply cannot control, decisions which are within the purview of someone else and our own participation or preference is not considered. It’s a hard lesson to learn and in lots of cases we have to learn it early in life when our psyches are still so fragile and malleable that the damage can be devastating. The disappointment can be immense and the only answer of solace is… ?
I remember I was in 12th grade playing on the varsity baseball team after laboring for two years on the junior varsity squad waiting for my chance. When I got to 12th grade, the shortstop position was mine since the previous shortstop had graduated (and went on to a major league career as an outfielder). But upon starting practices, I learned that my position was no longer available. It seems that some hotshot 10th grader who had transferred from a different school was going to play shortstop and I was going to either be moved to another position or simply placed on the bench.
You can imagine my disappointment. I figured that the time had finally arrived. I outplayed nearly everyone else in the league in 11th grade on the JV so there was nothing stopping me from taking my game to the next level and excelling. But a sight-unseen (yet highly touted) 10th grader was coming in and would displace me as if my 11th grade season had never happened.
What do you tell that 12th grader who had been waiting to show his skills on the biggest stage on which he had played? Tough luck? Better luck next time? Or maybe you just tell him he never had a shot… because that’s what it felt like, as if the deck had been stacked against me and I was getting dealt a 2 and a 3 against the dealer’s King.
Not wanting to fall too much into discouragement, I took to the field and convinced myself I would be the best player I could be at whatever position I was given. If I was told to play outfield, I would try as hard as I could; if I was going to coach 3rd base, then I would be the bets at that — and on the side, I was secretly hoping that the 10th grade prodigy would fail miserably. Did I feel bad about it? Absolutely, because his failure would not be the best for the team and I was always a team player first, personal success second. Still, I felt that I was powerless; the coach’s decision was his and his alone.
Look, I understand that this difficult lesson came when I was 17 years old and that I had, by that time, already learned that in some situations things are simply not fair. Whereas I like to believe that things work themselves out, it is a bit naïve to think that is always the case.
But now as a parent I am careful to be conscious of when situations like this arise and, unfortunately, a situation like this came up just last week—is 6 ½ too young to be learning the lesson that the world is sometimes not fair?
Consider a precocious, outgoing, and energized young girl who greatly enjoys performing and being the center of attention. Musical theater is a no-brainer so we signed her up for summer camp doing just that which culminates in a performance for family and friends. What role do you want honey? Well of course, she wants the lead- she wants to sing and act and dance and be on stage every second of the show. How do you tell a 6 ½ year old that she has to be the very best Flower #5 that she can be? When she comes home singing the songs that the lead sings and running the lines of all of the other characters, how do you disabuse her of the notion that she has a chance at being the star?
The answer is, you encourage her to be the best she can be. You tell her that the show would not go one without Flower #5, that if Flower #5 was not on stage, then the show would have to stop. And then you tell her that everybody, at some point in their lives, was Flower #5—that the girl playing the lead now was Flower #5 a few years ago and paid her dues and worked her way up to the starring role. And you hope that her discouragement and disappointment are not such that she will refuse to participate, but will still give it her all. But if the show goes on and Flower #5 kills it while the star of the show fails miserably, what lesson do you teach your child then? That one is easy.
You teach your child that the people who were put in charge of making those decisions were not good judges of character or talent and that they should find another line of work!
Ok, maybe you don’t teach her that—instead, you highlight her own talents and successes and encourage her to continue to give it her all because at some point, someone out there making the decisions will notice her talent and energy and exuberance and will give her that shot. But oh, how many of these disappointments will there be before that opportunity comes? In life, those opportunities are so few and far between, I think we all know that—sports, performance art, creative pursuits, the chance of success is so small.
I guess as long as they are having fun, right? And when it gets to become too devastating to continue to be disappointed by the decisions of others, maybe it is time to find something else.
Whew, looks like a long road ahead. Until then, I can’t wait to see how well Flower #5 performs.