I got Sam this race car helmet from the gift shop at the Glasgow Museum of Transport recently (an awesome place to go by the way). Museum gift shops are a guilty pleasure, I always find something I want that’s usually overpriced, and the kids always seem to as well. However, this helmet was only £4! It must have been a mistake, as I’ve seen all manner of plastic items with much fewer parts priced three times as much, so I considered it a purchase worthy of the few hours of fun that we would have with it.
The thing is, Sam barely took it off once over the course of the next couple of days. I think I actually had to tell him that he couldn’t sleep while wearing it on the first night.
That £4 purchase has now given us days and days worth of fun.
But the best part of the helmet purchase is seeing how Sam behaves differently with it on. He’s a race car driver! A superhero! He’s invincible! He pretends that the visor gives him an extra shield to protect him against the sun (which is actually kind of true) and against Grandpa’s robot laser beams and careens about shouting and sliding with wild abandon.
Aside from the huge smiles that we all get and how much fun it is to play with Sam and his helmet, it’s gotten me thinking about the connection between the playing dress-up and pretending to be something versus actually being it. What’s the difference? We all start as pretenders and we all feel like fakes at first. What you wear (and how it fits) can make you feel invincible or invisible. You have to start somewhere.
One of the best pieces of advice I have been given was from a former mentor who would tell people that really wanted to switch what they were doing professionally (i.e. take on a new role doing different work than they are currently doing) to simply find a way to start doing the work now, regardless of whether they had permission. In other words, get a helmet and start pretending.
A £4 helmet gives Sam permission to be something that he might not think he is, but that’s exactly where the path to being a race car driver starts.
Thinks hard about what kind of food is going into your kids body?
Tries to include art and music education in your child’s daily education?
Takes your kids traveling intentionally to get them away from the comforts they are used to and to see something new?
Tries to encourage reading as a fundamental lifelong habit?
Attempts to leave some space in your childs schedule so that they might be bored and eventually realize it’s impossible if they really think about it?
Stops what you are doing to listen to your child when they are talking and truly hear them?
Would rather include your child in the dinner conversation and not have them sit somewhere else?
Parenting is hard.
I wish I was this type of parent all the time but I fail often. A friend recently told me that because I’m the type of parent that does one of these things, my kids are going to be ok. What a compliment.
Even if you don’t do the above, but maybe aspire to, your kids are going to be alright. Kids are smarter and more resilient than we give them credit for and, as for the things you are saying? They are hearing you even though it may not seem like it.
We all do the opposite sometimes and beat ourselves up over it.
Instead, think about the type of parent you are, or want to be, and give yourself a break.
As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).
In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life— the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.
Filing that away in the stuff I want to tell my kids folder…
Book I started reading: Picked up Keep Going by Austin Kleon by chance at a bookstore last week and it’s a potent little book. Here’s my favorite pic so far that about sums it up:
Speaking of keeping going and of finding a chosen way of life: Check out To Spain… and …then to France. This is my idea of a good trip and one I hope to emulate.
Favorite book excerpt:
In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot — and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice.
From Art & Fear by David Bayles, Ted Orland
New music for work: The artist djblesOne and his Soundcloud and Bboys Bboy Forever (on Spotify). It’s all break beat mixes, all flying jump kick-type energy, and it’s super conducive to getting shit done.
I come across the advice that one needs to “work hard” frequently in my reading. There are other, more sinister variants that are common too, like “Work harder than everyone else”, “Outwork the competition”, or “Do what it takes”. This is commonly offered as advice on how to be successful, as a desired trait for a job applicant, or as something someone did that made them stand-out and reach heights that others aspire to. While I agree that a strong work ethic is an important quality to develop early in one’s life, I think it’s vastly overemphasized as a means to be “successful” and can lead many people astray.
Working hard is often regarded as a perpetually active state, a super power that must constantly be deployed like Spiderman swinging on his web in each encounter. If you are fortunate, this feels effortless, natural and empowering. The results can often lead to thrilling highs, the high of exceeding your bosses expectations, of exhausted praise from peers and of big rewards. Unfortunately, there is a more-common-than-not flip-side to this. Working hard is also synonymous with putting in more hours, being constantly connected, and working because you “should be” and are expected to if you are really passionate about your customers/your art/whatever. Striving to work hard can cause one to ignore boundaries, be one-dimensional, have a distorted view of self-worth and ultimately chase after results and expectations instead of accepting (and appreciating) reality.
How does someone
parse the good hard work from bad hard work?
In the year 2000, I was just starting my bachelor of arts in marketing and internet studies (my 3rd major, after somehow failing to apply to the art program and giving computer science a go for a couple of quarters and hating it). It was then that I discovered the web, a new to organize information and design using new creative tools, and it was all I wanted to work on website design. I loved spending time doing this and did so almost any chance I could get. I was energized by the work, and I was by all definitions “working hard”. This was good hard work. My personal life and school life flourished.
experience with another around the year 2009. I was working as a member of a
remote team on things I didn’t really care about, but that I thought were
important for me to know and experience. I was meeting with teams from the UK,
France, Singapore and India and thus was pulling crazy hours to make it all
work. I was paying my dues and getting good experience, or so I thought. I was
by definition “working hard”. This was bad hard work. My professional
life stagnated and my marriage fell apart soon after.
The key difference between these experiences is that when the good hard work was happening, I wasn’t thinking about the work. I was thinking a lot about (and doing) what I was truly interested in, I was doing work that was aligned with my goals at the time, I was challenged, I was having other experiences at the same time that gave me breaks (college is good for that), and it all fed and amplified my sense of self-worth. Contrast that with the bad hard work phase, in which I started to ignore side projects, didn’t look after myself physically, felt my marriage deteriorating, and was in many general adrift.
I’ve had a job since I can remember, starting with working in my Dad’s shop before it was legal, to a steady career in retail in high school and college. Even in those early years of learning the value of hard work (and having it suck at times), my overall feeling was one of pride and agency in my future. It was good hard work.
I’ve wasted plenty of time stubbornly working harder and ignoring the signals that something is amiss, that my priorities are off, that my work is working me and not the other way around. I bet a lot of other people are in the same boat.
I love and value hard work, but it’s advice with a short shelf-life. Once you learn the basics, working hard comes for free when you are doing what matters most. Knowing what matters most is the real challenge. That requires dedication, discipline and focus. Committing to that is what life is about and to do it requires that you truly work hard.