October 04th, 2010
By Ann Magalhaes
I remember growing up, when school reports were handed out and I received grades around the 80% mark. I would then call my Dad and tell him the results, feeling pretty good about myself. His response was inevitably something like: “what happened to the other 20%”. Now, to my teenage ears, what I heard was “you didn’t do well enough, or you could have done better, or you were lazy and didn’t study enough.” My enthusiasm, and motivation to try harder deflated faster than a popped balloon!
Years later, I mentioned this to him and he was really surprised that his words had had such an impact on me. He told that his intention was always about getting me to think about the other 20%, and that in his eyes, I was so capable of achieving 100%. He only wanted me to look at the gap and to understand what I could have done differently.
Fast forward 25 years, and I now have my own child, and one of my greatest concerns is that she will also not put in that extra effort. What I hope for her is that she works hard to do the best that she can, and that she has the confidence to go for things – whether it be academically or extra curricular.
A few months ago I was reading Mindset, the Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. I bought the book after seeing her interviewed by the comedian David Baddiel, who had filmed a documentary about education. In the show he asked for her opinion about the worst things we can tell our children. Her response surprised him – and me! She told him that the worst three words we can say to our children are “You’re. So. Clever.” And don’t we all do it? ‘Good job, great game, clever girl, atta boy’ Curious, I had Amazon mailing the book to me by the end of the week! Dweck writes about instilling in our children (and ourselves!) what she calls a growth mindset – believing that intelligence is not innate, but can be developed. As parents, we need to ensure we’re doing this is by praising the effort and attitude that our kids are putting into their work, sports, musical instrument practices. It’s about having the curiosity to learn rather than the desire to feel smart; it’s about being able to perceive feedback as contribution rather than criticism; it’s about seeing others as potential collaborators rather than threats. It makes so much sense! The aspect of growth mindset that I love the most is the focus on trial and error – allowing ourselves the freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them.
While writing this blog, I was watching some Carol Dweck interviews on Youtube, and spotted a Nike commercial featuring Michael Jordan – quite possibly the best basketball player ever. He says “I have missed over 9000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games; been trusted with the game-winning shot 26 times – and missed. I failed over and over and over and that is why I succeed”. One of the most challenging things we face as parents is the ability to let our kids make mistakes. Perhaps by allowing them the privilege of making mistakes, we also allow them the privilege of figuring things out for themselves, and allowing them to shine!