In church this morning, the congregation celebrated the graduation of our seniors. Our caring and compassionate pastor stood up in front of us all and addressed the graduates: “You don’t have what it takes.” At first, I thought I heard her wrong. Aren’t we supposed to encourage and celebrate our youth? Tell them how special they are and that they can be anything they want to be?
As she continued and explained her harsh words, I understood them to be encouraging rather than discouraging, true rather than lip service, and wise rather than rude. She is absolutely right.
Whether we have a child graduating preschool or a young adult graduating college, we lavish him or her with praises and grand fortunes. We are so proud and so sad that we project these best wishes onto him or her. We do this as a natural instinct, just as we tell our child it will be okay when it really might not be. We just know that he or she has what it takes to conquer the world. Or do we?
We know what it is to grow and struggle and be lost and find ourselves. We know that the world doesn’t hand us success because our parents hope it for us, regardless of how strong that hope is. We know that we can’t know pleasure without knowing pain, happiness without knowing sadness, and strength without knowing weakness. We know this; we’ve lived this. But somehow our hearts stop those words of wisdom from reaching our mouths, and instead we insist our children are special, that they have what it takes already.
Story graduated kindergarten this past week. We celebrated and told her how amazing she is. I told her how special she was because she had two solos in the graduation program. I praised her abilities and good grades. When she cried because she realized she was going to miss her teacher, I shushed her with comforting words, not allowing her to express that emotion, instead trying to take it away from her. At no point did I talk with her about the growing, both physically and emotionally, she did this year and hint at the struggles she would face in the next. Instead of encouraging a growth mindset, I reinforced a fixed mindset. She is smart, talented, happy, and special. She is these things, so why should she bother growing at all?
Story is not static. She is human, and she must learn to figure things out and to ask for help. Story does not have what it takes to be whatever she wants to be. She can be what she wants to be, but she first must struggle, she must humble herself and ask for help, she must continue to learn throughout her lifetime, she must overcome fears, she must fail, and she must gain wisdom from those failures. While she is absolute perfection to me, I must remind myself that while I encourage and praise her, I must also speak true about the reality of living.
You have likely already seen the following video, but during this season of graduations, it doesn’t hurt to watch it again.