Over the last decade, we have all witnessed a new generation of children being awarded the ceremonial “trophy” just for showing up. “Good Effort” is awarded to the slowest kid on the team. “Best Stripe” is awarded to the Pinewood Derby car that came in last place. Everyone gets a trophy for participating. What happens when you participate in life and something bad happens, like cancer?
I know this is something you don’t want to hear, but at some point in your life, the odds are that either you or someone you love will get cancer. Until we find a cure or take prevention seriously, it’s the unfortunate truth. Cancer will rip you to the core and try to break you every single day. Cancer isn’t a bad day, or a case of the flu. It is a long-term systemic health issue that you may or may not recover from. How will you react when something like this happens to you or a loved one? How are we as a society preparing our children to deal with this?
In our attempt to overcompensate and teach our children positive self-esteem, we are teaching them a false sense of reality. At some point in life, you will fail. At some point in life, you won’t get your way. At some point in life, someone will be better than you, faster than you, and smarter than you. At some point in life, you won’t get into your first choice of college. At some point in life, someone is going to make more money than you, drive a better car than you, and have a nicer home than you. At some point in life, you or a loved one will get cancer.
We already have a generation of millennials in the workplace raised with this mentality, that they are winners, regardless of whether they win or lose. I have met and worked with some pretty squared away millennials. I also know plenty who are only concerned with the validation of how many likes they get on their selfies and meltdown at the slightest hint of criticism. This is the same generation that is also seeing a rise of cancer and autoimmune rates in their demographic. Do they have the life skills needed to cope with a tragic illness?
What happens now? A trophy isn’t going to cure cancer. A trophy isn’t going to take it away. “Good Effort” isn’t going to change the fact that you are spending hours in chemotherapy and puking your guts out. “Good Effort” isn’t going to prepare your child to see you suffering from a long-term illness.
In any activity, whether it is sports, academics, or music, we want our children to succeed. We want our kids to build strong self-esteem. We want to protect our children from the bad things in life. What life lessons are we really teaching them? Let them go. Let them fail. Let them learn. The lessons they will learn from not always being the best far outweigh this false sense of invincibility.
In these formative years, how will they learn if you keep them in a bubble? Just as a child needs to learn the correlation between their actions and consequences, they need to learn their own coping mechanisms when things don’t go their way. They need to find their own way. Not my way. Not your way. Their own personal way. They need to learn to be comfortable in their own skin, regardless of the circumstances surrounding them.
To be clear, I am an optimist. But I’m an optimist who is also a realist. There is nothing wrong with packing an umbrella in your bag if the forecast is calling for rain. I don’t think the worst about our young generation. Quite the opposite; I think the best in them. Kids are strong and resilient. They can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. If you let a child rise to the occasion, chances are they will, and they will beam ear to ear when they do.
Whatever happened to picking ourselves up by the bootstraps? Is it because we no longer wear boots and the only shoes we care about are the latest red-bottomed Christian Louboutin’s? Real life isn’t about appearance. Real life is about living. Real life is about experiencing. Real life is about having the guts to try and fail. Real life is about having the fortitude and grit to battle cancer. No trophy required.
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