Your friend rushes to your table and apologizes for being late to your monthly lunch date. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “I just got back from Max’s private cello lesson. He’s headed to nationals next week.”
“Oh, wow. I didn’t even know he played cello,” you reply. “Isn’t soccer more his thing?”
Your friend nods and laughs in response to your question.
“Yeah, that’s his thing too. And football. Well, and I guess robotics.” Then she pauses to reflect.
“I guess it’s kind of funny to say aloud, but it’s almost like whatever he tries, he excels at. Sort of like, everything is kind of his thing.”
You slide back in your chair with a smile on your face as she order her drink, but you can’t help but wonder how one kid can be so, so talented. Then your mind flashes to your seemingly ordinary kid who has quit the last three activities they have tried due to lack of talent or interest.
As the rest of your lunch continues, you begin to worry, “What happens if my child is never great at anything? I mean, when is my child going to find their thing?”
That thought lingers in your head for the rest of lunch and into your afternoon.
When is my child going to find their thing?
If we’re honest, I think it’s a question most parents have asked themselves at one time or another. I know I have. And if I’m even more honest, I’ve asked it about my children before they were even old enough to know what sports or a musical instrument was.
Yes, that’s right. I began pondering what their future talent would be before they were even old enough to know what talent was. Because we all assume that our child will be talented at something. And it’s our job to help them find it, right?
So the cycle begins.
We ask them to pick an activity they are interested in, and they do. We begin to see their interest growing, so we happily invest our time and money in the direction of this new hobby. As we begin to see them improving, we wonder if this is going to be the thing that lands them on the next season of America’s Got Talent, or at least the thing that gets them a full ride to the college of their dreams? Of course, we don’t realize we’ve had these thoughts until we hear our child telling us they’re no longer interested in playing piano. And then we’re crushed.
So we move on to the next activity, and the cycle begins again. Except this time we find that they really do love karate, but it just so happens that they have absolutely no natural talent for it. So we invest our time and energy to watch other kids around our child excel while our kid falls over every time they try to do a front kick. But they’re happy. So we continue.
But while we know it really shouldn’t matter if they are good, we can’t help but feel both external and internal pressure that they need to find something they excel at. I mean, “Is being happy enough?” We know the answer should be yes, but this worry isn’t diminished when we see other children rising to the supercharged expectations that come with kids’ extracurricular activities nowadays.
I mean, let’s be honest: Swimming by age 5 no longer stands out; it’s getting a child to know breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly too. Competitive cheerleading is not about a cartwheel or simple cheer routine; it’s about standing back tucks and tumbling before you even know how to read. And music, it’s no longer enough to learn piano and perform a song, but are you dynamic enough to have your own YouTube channel with 100,000 followers by the age of 10?
Okay, yes. I may be exaggerating slightly. But sadly, some of these realities are not as farfetched as I would like to believe. And the worst part about this is, when we see the rare kids who are able to rise to this level of ability, we begin to question what is keeping our poor child from doing so also. And then of course, we begin to doubt ourselves as parents too.
But here’s what we have to remember when we find ourselves wondering, “Is my kid just ordinary at everything?”
Most of us are ordinary. And that’s an extraordinary thing.
Most of us reading this were not the “United States Chess Champion of 1996.” Or the “Little Miss Cello Prodigy of Bonner Springs Music Festival.” Or the recipient of a full ride to play football at Alabama in 2000. Or offered the “Computer Programming Genius Award” from Computers of America in blah, blah, blah.
And for those of us who were, most of the time no one can tell the difference in us now. I didn’t know my neighbor got drafted to the minor leagues until I saw him playing baseball with my son. Nor do I know if one of my other friends who is the owner of a mega-successful startup company was the outcast nerd at school who wasn’t good at anything until she blossomed in college.
Personally, I don’t recollect being a superstar at anything when I was young; instead I remember being mildly good at a few things. I guess you could call me ordinary. Because I was the girl who bounced from Girl Scouts to gymnastics to piano to dance to softball to tennis to track to student council — and my childhood did not leave me feeling unfulfilled or lacking.
Instead, I have the best memories of a childhood that lacked undue pressure and was full of happiness and play, not playing piano every day to be a musical prodigy or playing softball incessantly, so I would be a superstar athlete. No, I just remember playing for fun.
And I am grateful my parents let me do so. (And seriously, I am forever grateful my parents let me quit piano because I was terrible.) And I don’t think not being good at those things has held me back from being successful in my life now.
So I guess I write all of this to ask you:
What happens if your kid isn’t good at anything?
What if your worries are true and they are JUST average or ordinary at many different things?
I guess my answer for you would be the same as it is for me.
Good for them. And good for you.
Because extraordinary moments are found in the most ordinary of people.