If I could teach my kids one thing right now, it would be:
“Find something in this world that fascinates you, and become the very best craftsperson of it.”
This year, I have coached my daughter’s Odyssey of the Mind team. I chose this volunteer role because I needed to find some way of getting across this idea. If I just talk about it with my children, it is meaningless. You have to live it. You have to be hungry for change, for beauty, for genius, for passion, for the unexpected, for the joy of working with others to create something you can’t make all by yourself.
The philosophy of Odyssey of the Mind is that the projects are child-lead, and we coaches are facilitators. That’s what we did, even though I saw them often doing the cliché or the minimum. We asked questions to see if we could get them to reach higher, we drew mind maps, we tried all manners of idea generation. Over and over again, I saw two behaviors in our girls that made me sad:
1) They were trying to get the “right” answer, and look to the adults to see if they were right.
2) They went with their first idea, and often didn’t take risks to make it a more unusual or delightful idea.
So we coached and encouraged, and fed them yummy things, and did cartwheels and acted silly. I saw them go from six girls who really had no reason to know each other to a team who cared about each other. At first they would get so angry with each other. And slowly, they started to recognize each other’s strengths.
For that, I am completely and totally grateful.
I am also grateful to my co-coach Tonya. We didn’t know each other beyond first names when we started, and we got into a rhythm of sharing the work. She is one of the most reliable people I have ever worked with, and she doesn’t make me feel like a bad parent when my daughter melts down at a meeting, and she likes being silly too.
So this weekend was the regional competition. My friend Bill volunteered to be a judge (yeah Bill!) and he told me there were 5,600 children participating. Oakton High School was filled with all shapes and sizes of children, with outlandish costumes and props and structures. Our girls hit every cue. When their scores came back, and they did not place for their category, most of them cried.
As I rubbed my daughter’s back while she sobbed, I was thinking, “Let this moment fill her with hunger and not shut her down. Let her realize that if all those other kids can do more, she can too. Let her expect more of herself. Let her have bigger dreams. And most of all, let her find something in this world that fascinates her, and become the very best craftsperson of it.”
So if that is my dream for my children, am I applying it to myself? Am I going for my biggest dreams or holding back to a safer place? Am I daring to have my set crash down around me because I made it so ambitiously? Am I thinking beyond the linear of daily life to explore a new plane of being?
How can I be frustrated with my team and be satisfied with an easy life? They had the stark reminder of seeing other children walk up on stage. What is my reminder?
And what is the balance between hunger and just being grateful for what we are? That inner voice which constantly tells me I should be reaching for my dreams more honestly also makes me feel sad. I think of my dad, who always talks about how lucky we are. Is there a way to be hungry at the right times, and content at others?
Here’s my best guess right now. I think it is this act of being a craftsperson. A craftsperson yearns to make the best version of whatever they make. Their hunger for this is unending. But they also know the joy of aching muscles from sanding a piece of wood for hours, or watching little tufts of wool peek out from cloth, or the hum of the sewing machine, or the feeling of working with a partner or a team like a hand in a glove.
I dream for my children that they are hungry and content at the same time. And I dream that for myself as well.