The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow: Teaching Children to Embrace the Joy of Mediocrity

Now I make no assumptions of the vocal competence of the two folks engaged in a little karaoke fun in this pic, but it is pretty clear they are totally getting into it and having a good time.

Now again, these fine singers and the occasional ringer aside, you and I both know that most of the people who get up the nerve to karaoke are not going to giving Christina Aguilera a run for her money any time soon. Many who grab the mic and jump on stage simple love to sing.  Some know they are not traditionally "good" singers while other blissfully live their karaoke lives thinking that some day, just maybe, Berry Gordy's protege is going to walk in and say, "Hey you! Yeah you, the one singing that awesome rendition of 'Wake me up before you go go,' come over here. I am going to make you a star!"

In the end, whether it is cooking, singing, athletics or juggling knives, most of us are probably contentedly mediocre at a great many things. And yet for some reason, we keep at these activities without expectation of superstardom  . . . and we find joy in doing so.

I was thinking about this as my own children slowly begin to discover in  what areas they posses natural giftedness, through what activities they find joy and what happens when those two things do not line up.  As I have said before, I am not a big believer in the "You can do anything you want to do if you just work hard enough" school of parenting.  At the same time, I am huge proponent of children finding joy in doing things even if the activity will not be something for which they will find "success" in life.  After all, in this time-crunched, hyper-competitive, achievement oriented, "will it help me get into college" culture, the discipline of doing things for the pure joy that doing them brings, is slowly becoming a lost activity in itself.

Here are a few things that I think we can do to help children find meaning in doing things regardless of aptitude and competence:

Remind them from where they get their worth  // At some point a kid is going to discover that they are not actually as good as they thought they were at something.  They may fall to the middle of the pack in terms of skill level or begin to feel the sting of being picked last for sports, having cringed faces appear when they sing and/or being the target of kids just plain being mean with their words.  While some may discover they they really didn't enjoy these activities anyway, others need to be reminded that their ultimate worth does not come from people thinking that are great athletes, performers or artists.  In my spiritual tradition, we remind our children that in life and death they belong to God, and that joy comes from doing that which they believe God calls them to do.  So while all things are measured in someway by the community, they should not feel like their worth as a person is determined by how well they sing, dance or shoot a soccer ball.

Encourage exploration of the breadth of things to do in the world  // One of the wonderful thing about living in San Francisco is the breadth of activities that are available for kids to participate in.  From parks and recreation archery, to Tahitian dance to fencing to the fire arts, children's activities are bountiful in the City.  As a parent, I want my kids to explore as many things as possible so they can discover the joy of exploring, experimenting and risking "failure" so that in the end they discover what feeds their soul and connects them to the divine . . . whether that are "good" at it or not.

Model finding joy in mediocrity, persistence and just doing stuff  // While so much of parenting is out of our control, we can offer images and postures of living that will rub off.  I think it is important for children to see adults in their lives trying new things even at this risk of looking like a complete fool.  In doing this we show kids how to persevere through the beginning stages of learning a skill, we teach them how to deal with frustration and expectations and, most importantly, we show them that to find joy in doing something does not always have to be tied to success and competence.

Remind them that they are not Jesus  // In chuchlandia where I live my vocation it is often said that churches often want Jesus as their pastor, meaning someone who is perfect and can, not only do pretty much everything, but do everything well.  *yeah, church jokes are damn funny*  Thing is, there are many pastors who actually start to believe that they CAN do everything: finances, plumbing, preaching, electrical and IT and do it all really well.  I think teaching kids that they do not have to be able to do EVERYTHING that is in front of them is a valuable skill in today's consumerist world.  While some folks find joy despite not being very good at something, sometimes not being good at something simply sucks the life out of a person, decidedly not joy-filled. Walking away from something helps us to gain a discerning approach to where we spend our physical and emotional energy.  Being able to acknowledge a finite amount of energy that we can expend will help our kids to live a more balanced and healthy life.

So there you have it, some ideas from a dad navigating this crazy world of raising kids.  Of course there are many more ideas to help our kids navigate this difficult aspect of growing up, so I would love to know what you think.

  • Do you think this is an important life-skill to teach our children?  How do you teach this to the children in your life?
  • How did you learn to find joy in doing those things that you are not very "good" at? 
  • What are those things in which you find joy in doing regardless of the skill level?

I posed this question on facebook and there was some good conversations, so please come on over and chime in [FB Page] on [my sfGate blog] or leave your comments here.  Looking forward to learning what you think!

[Taken with permission from the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow's blog, originally posted 1/19/2011. Follow Bruce on Twitter @breyeschow]