When it comes to achievement, balance is key

Feb 12 2021

When it comes to achievement, balance is key

“Balance provides the chance for longevity. You can be a champion at work and at home.”
–Tony Dungy

Last Friday night offered a joyful opportunity to watch our boys basketball team compete with heart and courage against another team; following the game, we recognized the four seniors who played in their final home game. (Even if all of us fans sat six feet apart from each other, and our masks muffled our cheers, it still felt good to root for the team.) Earlier in the week, I was able to sit in on Lower and Middle school music classes, and watch children engage in spirited play on the sports court and the playground. (Although we support the students who remain in distance learning, we miss seeing them on campus!)

As I observed the students happily at play, I also considered how we adults teach children to experience balanced lives. We want them to have access to all there is, but not be anxiety-ridden with FOMO (fear of missing out.) We want to open doors to their aspirations, but not at the expense of their well-being. Equipped with the best of intentions, we may still cause our children to burn out.

How do we teach children to push themselves to excel but not internalize shame when they fall short? The author Brené Brown has said, “When perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun.” In a school like Keystone where we have so many bright, motivated, and driven students, how do we model lives of balance so they can grow up to be successful, healthy, and happy?

Perhaps one place to start may be in the spoken and unspoken messages we send our children and students. A July 2019 article, “16 Ways To Teach Your Kid Work-Life Balance Lessons Every Day,” by personal finance writer Cameron Huddleston, contains some helpful tips. A place to start could be helping our children understand that work is important and it can be fun. These are not mutually exclusive. Children should realize that work can give our lives purpose and meaning, and it can be enjoyable. I recall many years ago one of our sons told me how fortunate he felt to have parents who liked their work since so many parents of his friends did not. As adults, we can teach our children the value of work and satisfaction of a job well-done at a young age so they can internalize it for when they grow older.

“Peter Koch, founder of the blog Seller at Heart, said he recently taught his children that work can be fun by building a dog house with them. They planned the design, bought the lumber, then built the dog house from the ground up while playing and working, he said.

‘Actually, the whole idea is to show that hard work doesn’t have to be that hard,’ Koch said. ‘It is all about the mindset. Work as play, play is fun, play is what we want to do.’ And when the dog house was complete, he and his kids were proud of what they had built, he said.”

Huddleston also recommends that children learn how to prioritize work and play and put “first things first.” In our house, the go-to quote came from a Denzel Washington line in the movie “The Great Debaters.” “Do what you gotta do so you can do what you wanna do.” If we explain to our children that we parents can find time for our work and for playing with them, they will understand how to delay gratification until completing whatever they need to do.

Helping children comprehend the concept of balance may require us to separate work from play. If we can be totally present in what we’re doing, our children will figure out how to do so in turn. This may require us to put our phones down for a while, but that may not be so bad.

I recall as a freshman in college all the people who meant to study in the library but ended up socializing the entire time they were there: when they went out later in the evening, the students bemoaned how much work they still had to do. As a result of being in the library but not really studying, they felt neither productive nor happy. This phenomenon is even more difficult when students attempt to study while having their social media accounts open.

Making time to relax and restore may demand explicitly scheduling it into our daily lives. Although planning for relaxation might sound incongruous, if we don’t do it, time for ourselves may be the first thing to get dropped. In turn, as our children watch us, they might interpret personal time as unimportant. Consequently, they might drive themselves to the point of exhaustion or illness.

We also desire for our children to know how to “celebrate small wins” along the way in order to feel successful. Waiting for the one big victory may be anti-climactic or it may never actually come: rejoicing in small victories can offer a sense of accomplishment than can provide momentum for the next step.

In Lower School, children hear from Ms. Vilagi and their teachers about “beautiful oops.” These opportunities enable students to learn and grow rather than crumble because of a “failure.” Another way to define the word “fail” is the “First Attempt In Learning.” “As a motivated and competitive entrepreneur, Chris Huntley said it’s tempting for him to push his three daughters to succeed at everything they do. ‘I’ve learned, though, that there are great lessons for my kids to learn if I take a step back, let them live and make their own decisions, and let them fail,’ said Huntley, who is the co-founder of Credit Knocks.”

Huddleston provides other recommendations in her piece that you may or may not want to consider. What might be most important to bear in mind is that we have the opportunity as the adults in our children’s and students’ lives to model for them balanced lives that are productive, exciting, and fulfilling. This could be one of the most important lessons we teach them.

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