Go Ahead and Rebel Against “Success”

Our culture loves a success story. It’s this love of achievement that pushes us to perform well, collect accomplishments, and have results that indicate our efforts have been worthwhile. This pressure to excel doesn’t wait until we’ve reached mature adulthood, but rather begins when we’re kids.  

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Although we’re now grown, it’s not too hard to remember being immersed in our youthful scuffle to achieve acceptance in our academic, social and extra-curricular pursuits. Now that we have little humans of our own to nurture, it can be daunting to discern how best to encourage their success. There seems to be an almost constant call to raise talented, over-achieving success stories. And children at the earliest age can be so critical of their own abilities, quickly feeling frustrated if they’re not preforming as well as they think they should.

But as the framework around parenting continues to center around helping our kids “get ahead” in life, we need to take a step back and consider what exactly is being perpetuated here?

When we hear that children of this age feel more stress than the children of the Great Depression (the Great Depression, my friends), and that more minors are now taking their lives than previous generations, it becomes clear that we desperately need to change some things. We need to let them know that the pressures they feel do not define them.

I am fully prepared to rebel against our culture’s obsession with success and am doing so for the sake of my children’s well-being.

One of the ways I’m battling this is by…playing piano. Let me clarify, by playing the piano badly.

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I have attempted to “play” the piano for over half my life and continue to be terrible at it. You’ve never played piano? It’s still possible you’re better at it than me. I took up piano as a young girl around the same time I fell in love with classical music.  Within a year or two it became obvious that there was no greatness in store for me. Even mediocrity would be a dream unrealized. The years have passed, the playing has continued, but the result remains absolutely dreadful. I was and remain just plain bad at it. There is nothing tangible to “show” for all the time.

Except that I still really love to sit down and play.

The thing is, I believe I’ve loved playing all these years partly because of how poorly I perform at this. As the limits of my musical ability settled in, playing became a glorious relief and a reminder that there was more to life than striving for success.

Playing this instrument would not be a part of any success story, but rather, a love story for simply living. There was nothing that could be derived from this time at the bench and fake-ivory keys, except the joy of living in the moment. There’d be no one to impress. There’d be nothing else to gain. It would heighten an appreciation for those who did possess talent, but would never include my membership in their rank.

As a mother, playing piano has continued to be a tremendous reminder that life is more than being good at things. It is meant for experiencing and relishing the moment at hand. It’s amazing how necessary that reminder is on a day-to-day basis.

My children are growing up hearing some mighty poor performances. Right now they happily kaplunk alongside me, with only a minimal differentiation between adult and child. One day they’ll realize that their mommy ain’t that great.

But hopefully they’ll also learn that sometimes it’s okay to be bad at things. It’s okay to seek out time and activities without thought of productivity or achievement. Amidst the pressures to succeed, we are all entitled to love things intensely and not lose heart if greatness isn’t a part of the story.

And if my children can learn these things, it will help them live more authentically, humbly and joyfully.

Children should be encouraged from time to time to rebel against this notion that they must be a success. Not everything is about achieving excellence or exceptionalism. Life is meant to be experienced not achieved, and often times, the way to true “success” is to love something without fear of failure.

So what’s something you love to do that you’re no good at? Are your children getting in on the fun of this as well?

21 thoughts on “Go Ahead and Rebel Against “Success”

  1. I’ve never had any success at gardening, but still put a lot of time and energy into it. My boys love to help though, and don’t seem to mind when our crops come in and don’t resemble the vegetables their supposed to be! It’s actually one of my favorite things to do as a father and don’t plan to quit anytime soon. Hopefully they’ll look back and have good memories of our misadventures in the garden.

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  2. I love sitting down and playing my musical instruments while my daughter has her little ukulele or piano to play with me. Success is trying and doing as best as you can, even when it is not as high of a level as others. Thank you for your story! I love seeing other moms being there for their children.

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  3. Today I was helping my child with his math homework (he has many reversals in writing his numerals) I was across from him at the table and he asked me to write a number 6 so he could copy it. I wrote it backwards accidentally and he loved that we make the same mistakes. It was fun to smile and share a common fail.

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    • Your story put the biggest smile on my face. How heart-warming! Being a parent is often joyful in how humbling it can make us – glad you two were able to find happiness in your “common fail” (a phrase I will be using from now on)!

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  4. I love your perspective on this. I love to sing and I’m very terrible at it. LOL but I will always sing to my children and I hope one day they will understand that my bad singing is totally worth it. Keep playing that piano momma!

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  5. “Life is meant to be experienced not achieved, and often times, the way to true “success” is to love something without fear of failure.” this is an amazing quote. What a great lesson to teach your children. I also have a love for playing the piano so I can relate to that. I also do not play very well lol.

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  6. This is something that really speaks to me. I want my child(ren) to grow up knowing that it doesn’t matter how good you are at something as long as that something brings you joy. There is so much that I do strictly because I enjoy it – like singing terribly while dancing in the kitchen and making family meals. There is so much more to life than how good you can be at something.

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  7. I think a lot of parents push their children too hard to “succeed”. We all want what is best, and we all want them to do well, but sometimes when you push too hard they rebel and go the other way.

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  8. That is wonderful! I’ve always wanted to learn to play piano.
    Its very important to teach our children that just because we may not be the best at something doesnt mean that we can’t still do it and most importantly, enjoy it!

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