I remember being told in my childhood that it is not what you do that matters but how well you do it. Even if it is a lowly job, do it to the best of your capacity. This according to me is excellence. So on the 24th day of the #blogchatterA2Z challenge, I will be writing my thoughts on X for Xcellence. In very simple terms, excellence is the desire to perform your best and to work hard to achieve that desire. Excellence is an attitude and needs to be cultivated over the years. Some children may be naturally motivated to excel and others may need some prodding, but hopefully everyone can get there with the right guidance. For it is not about earning loads of money or fame or reaching the top of the corporate ladder or any ladder for that matter – excellence is just about reaching your potential. It is about improving ourselves continuously and consistently. Excellence is not the destination– it is a way of life.
Many parents encourage their children to achieve success, to become perfect. But I would prefer to encourage excellence. Success (as defined by society, my own definition is different) is external – it is a certain social station one hopes to achieve – status, privilege, money, position. This kind of success is also not fully in our hands – as a lot depends on circumstances and the ‘hand of fate’. But excellence is internal – it is driven by our own desire to excel, to improve. Perfection is also something I would perhaps not encourage as much as excellence. Firstly, because I believe perfection is an illusion – no one can be perfect. People who tend to think of themselves as perfect tend to look down upon others. But most importantly, perfection seems to be an end in itself – once you have reached perfection there is nowhere else to go – all learning stops there. Excellence on the other hand is a growth mindset – you continue to learn and become better. Striving for perfection can be demoralizing while that for excellence is inspiring.
But I am not sure how many children are born with an innate desire to excel. At least my elder one doesn’t seem to be born with that drive (I am hoping he will discover it soon!). He is happy to coast along, getting by. Any mention of hard work puts him off even things that he likes – for example he loves reading about rocks and fossils – but now that he has to make a presentation about it – and the reading becomes ‘research’ – I am having a hard time getting him to make notes. (phew!) Anyhow, he is just ten now and so perhaps continuing to work with below principles will hopefully yield some results.
Do read on for some of the tips I intend to use to encourage my son to strive for excellence:
- Understand you child and help him become self aware: I have talked about the importance of understanding your children in the previous blogs. It is important to understand what motivates them and what encourages them to work harder. It is also important to understand their learning styles. In addition, help them become aware of themselves as they grow old. Help them find out their likes, dislikes and passions. Help them assess their own strengths and weaknesses.
- Fuel their passion: As they grow old, help them identify their ‘passion’, ‘calling’, ‘purpose’ in life. What is it that they love doing? Work on their passion, encourage them, get them the right skill sets to pursue that passion. Encourage their efforts and improvements. Egg them on to continue to do better. (not to the point of exhaustion – that they lose interest).
- Let them set their own expectations: rather than having high expectations from them, encourage them to set their own expectations – “how do you think you will do in the upcoming exam?” “how many hours of practice/ preparation do you think you need to put in”. Don’t push them incessantly, instead, introduce the concept of goal setting. With grown up kids, introduce the concept of stretch targets – where they aim for something just a little out of reach.
- Encourage commitment: younger children will find it difficult to commit to interests or activities, but as they grow older, attention spans increase along with the ability to focus. Encourage them to commit themselves to tasks and goals and complete them in a given timeframe. Praise and incentivize commitment and diligence. Continuously motivate them to remain commited and tie it to integrity of character.
- Emphasize quality: continue to emphasize quality in whatever they do. Do not accept sloppy work – ask them to redo or improve. You may face obstinate behavior (I do.) But gently or firmly – as the situation demands, push them to do quality work. If they are tired and not interested in redoing – let them take a break but insist they improve. Keep in mind that you may have to sit with them an improve their work. It may be because of lack of knowledge or understanding, or it may be sheer laziness. In both cases, you will need to get involved.
- Consistency: excellence demands consistency. It is a constant endeavor. I had talked about practice and perseverance earlier. Consistent good work will lead to excellence – sporadic one off successes are likely to not last. Continue to engage with your children to help them keep their focus and remain consistent.
- Deal with their frustrations kindly: there is no doubt that there will be frustrations and meltdowns on the way. Sometimes it may be best to just listen and let them get over with the tantrum. Dealing with tantrums with a firm hand may be damaging. Be gentle and once they are over their frustration, remind them to come back to their goal/task. Have a fresh look at whatever was causing the frustration and try to find a solution. Many times, children may themselves be able to find their solution.
- Share stories, examples of excellence: I try to do this a lot. I try to show examples of hard work and excellence to my son as much as possible – usually picking these examples from whatever book he may be reading or shows that he is watching. By doing this I am hoping to instill some of these concepts in his mind which would help shape his thinking.
- Let them fail: it is good to learn to face consequences early on. Hence sometimes, it may be good to let them fail – especially when that failure means they lose something they aspired for. Let them face the consequences of procrastination or half hearted effort. Let them learn from their failure and help them figure how to do better next time.
Lastly, I believe excellence is all about constantly improving oneself – so I will repeat what I have said before – do NOT compare. With that I end my blog and look forward to your thoughts and ideas.
Read my other blogs on the series here: