Have you ever wanted to do something, but you felt scared of failing? Or have you ever dreaded a difficult task for which you felt inadequate?
We’re grown ups, right? If, after a lifetime of meeting and surmounting challenges, we still sometimes feel anxiety or dread, doesn’t it make sense that our kids do, too?
Perhaps they feel stress and overwhelm because of a non-negotiable reality, like a big homework assignment or upcoming test. Other risks are self-inflicted, like going out for the team, playing in a talent show or trying to make a new friend.
As a parent of three kids, ages 11, 14 and 17, I’ve heard my kids ask questions like “What if I fail?“, “What if they don’t like me?” and “What if I lose?” You have probably heard some of these questions, too. Maybe, like me, you’ve wondered how best to help your child.
Success Is Not A Destination
At New York City Guitar School, although we are guitar teachers, we talk a lot about a great basketball teacher, Coach John Wooden of UCLA. Wooden said “Success is not a destination, it is a journey.” Instead of telling his players to win, he “merely” asked them to strive for their personal best–and then they won a staggering ten national championships.
Mathematically, not every applicant gets into their first choice college, not every kid can have the highest grade in the class, and sometimes the cool kid you want to be friends with doesn’t want to be friends with you! But by focusing on doing our best, Wooden taught, we can always succeed, because by definition, we can’t do any better than our best.
So when I see that my kids are focused on an outcome they can’t completely control, I try to emulate John Wooden by reminding them to focus on what they can control, with mantras like:
Just do your best–nobody can do better than that.
What can you do right now to be ready for later?
And I try to refocus them away from risk and towards opportunity, saying:
Somebody is going to win, why not you?
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Redefining Success Reduces Anxiety
Whether it is math homework for a third grader, a history test for a sixth grader, upcoming games, concerts or speeches at any age, or the omnipresent “college process” for our teenagers, our kids face situations which can feel more like chances to fail than opportunities to succeed.
We can reduce that stress by reminding them that success isn’t defined by a grade or an acceptance or rejection letter. Success is whether they can be proud of their effort!
Focusing on their own efforts will help them feel in control and at peace–and it also happens to be exactly what will increase their chance of getting their desired outcome (with a bonus benefit of building a habit of lifelong resilience).
In fact, if success is defined as “doing your best”, then stress changes from something that is always bad to a prerequisite for greatness. After all, goals accomplished without resistance can’t really call forth your best, can they?
Doing Your Best Is All Purpose Preparation For Any Future
Recently my son decided to run for school president. Wow, that is risky! That meant officially wanting something in front of his community, and being exposed to judgement and failure.
The competition was fierce, the outcome was uncertain, and part of me wished I could spare him the pain he would feel should he lose. But I reminded myself that he is growing up in an uncertain world, full of opportunities and risks, and that he needs practice both winning and losing to prepare for a life full of both.
For the next few weeks, I watched him strategizing, getting feedback from other kids and practicing his speech over and over. I felt thrilled–because win or lose, he had embraced a risk with good effort. I found myself thinking “This kid is going to be fine in life.”
Our kids are growing up in a crazy world, full of opportunities and risks. Will they be ready? I know that the best way I can help my kids is the same way that I can feel confidence and find peace as a parent–by teaching and following the message contained in these four incredible words: “Just Do Your Best.”
The night of the election my kid called me up at the guitar school and said, “Hey, dad–you know how you always say that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take? Well, I took this shot–and I made it!”
Effort may be its own reward–but I have to admit that hearing my kid say my own quote back to me felt extra special!
As you and I continue our parenting journey, let’s remember what John Wooden says:
“Just Do Your Best–Nobody Can Do Better Than That”
About the Author
Dan Emery is dedicated to Coaching Personal Greatness, One Lesson At A Time. He is the founder of NYC's friendliest and fastest growing guitar schools, New York City Guitar School, Brooklyn Guitar School, Queens Guitar School and NYC Guitar School, East, and the author of the Amazon best-selling Guitar For Absolute Beginners and six other books on learning guitar and deliberate practice. He coaches new entrepreneurs through the Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator program and especially enjoys helping other Educational Entrepreneurs. He has a Masters in Education from Columbia University Teachers College, extensive performing experience as songwriter and guitarist for The Dan Emery Mystery Band, a wife, three kids, a cat and some juggling equipment.