Friday, May 21, 2010

Lucky Kids

Yesterday morning, I decided to indulge myself in a sublime benefit of working in New Jersey, a real bagel. You see, in the Berkshires we have be-galls (bagel-shaped bread-matter that brazenly remind you with impudent assurance in each and every bite, "I'm not a bagel and there's nothing you can do about it").

As if bagels weren't enough, as I slowly absorbed my little Jersey delicacy, I allowed myself time to savor QuinnMama's latest installment, Doo Wop, and Faith's latest, Quiet! Stop It!. BTW, if you haven't read any of QuinnMama's blog, Zen Master Quinn, and if you're short on time today, then please stop reading this article immediately, click the link to Doo Wop, and proceed as directed. Why waste time with Elvis on black velvet when Renoir is sitting in the next room.

Loving What You Do
So, as I sat down at with my bagel and coffee, the shop's sole other patron (let's call him Joe) looked up at me, and with a big smile said, "Hello!"

I responded in kind. Joe enthusiastically commented on it getting really warm today and that it would be hot all weekend. His was more than your typical weather comment, and it certainly wasn't a complaint. So, I asked him about it.

Joe explained that he was in the air conditioning and heating business and that warm temperatures meant more work. It looked like he'd be working easily from 8AM to 8PM every day.

At first I thought, "Ahh, if you're in the air conditioning business, you make a lot more money when it gets hot quickly."

But that wasn't it. As Joe continued, he said, "I LOVE to work! It's therapeutic. It feels really good. As I talk to my kids who are now in college, I sometimes tell them, 'You guys are lucky to have a dad who LOVES to work."

As someone who himself loves to work, I felt like a rank amateur in the presence of a master.

As I considered Joe's statement, the implications of what he had said hit me like bird-doo on a freshly cleaned windshield. For the vast majority of us, working is a given and, next to sleeping, takes more of our time than anything else. His kids ARE lucky to have a dad who LOVES to work. Imagine the contrast between growing up with a dad who HATES his job or simply GETS BY and growing up with a dad who LOVES his work.

As we continued talking, the topic turned to kids.

Turns out that Joe's daughter is studying biomedical engineering at a university where she just completed her first year. I let Joe know that I was also a biomedical engineer working for a company next town over. I shared how much I love my work and how fascinating and fulfilling I find developing devices that help people in ways that were previously considered to be impossible.

As we continued, Joe shared how his daughter's first year at the university had been a bit of a challenge for her. She had always been the smartest kid in class. When she arrived at school, she quickly discovered that she was now in a group where each and every person had been the smartest kid in class. It can be a bit daunting when suddenly confronted by a test score perched dead center on the bell after spending a lifetime just left of the right margin.

As he talked about his daughter's experience, it occurred to me, "Wow, poor kid's so smart that she never had to do anything impossible. It might be that she's never even had to do anything that she found challenging."

I mentioned this to Joe and then proceeded to think out loud about the importance of doing the impossible as we grow up--not just once in a while, but frequently. In contrast to Joe's poor daughter, I was the lucky one for whom almost nothing came easily. I can't count all the things in my life that have gone from impossible to requires-no-effort-whatsoever. After a while you get to the point where the statement, "Shit, I can't think of a way to do this!" is one of enthusiasm and excitement, not demoralization and defeat.

Lucky Kids
As I type this morning, it occurs to me that my kids are lucky to have a dad who LOVES tasks that are IMPOSSIBLE. So much of our lives (the parts where we sit up and pay attention) is spent avoiding, navigating around or dealing with the challenging and the impossible.

I'm smiling as I think about the first times I took each of the kids driving. On a Sunday afternoon, Joy and I drove over to the huge and empty Bell Labs campus in Holmdel, NJ where she learn about fast she could take a curve when she properly applied physics. Eila and I tooled through Arlington and then Cambridge into Boston where she navigated Sturrow Drive from Alston to the Hatch Shell. Luke and I practiced parallel parking on really steep hills in Winchester, MA.

How Lucky Are Your Kids?
What do you model for you kids? How do they perceive your attitudes towards work... towards play... towards challenge... towards the impossible?

What attitudes do they manifest? Do you provide opportunities for them to do the challenging? To do the impossible?

When they complain about chores or challenges, do you intervene? Do you reinforce their beliefs that that it's bad by insisting that it's something they have to do?

How lucky are they?

Happy Friday!

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