The Worst Stickers in the World
We knew Rogers was a problem. Oh ye of the gentle cardigan, soft voice, and comfy living room–you who told us, day in and day out, that we were Special. But did you know Seuss was in on it too? Seuss, who taught us conflict resolution in “Butter Battle Book,” (fine), trying new things in “Green Eggs and Ham,” (OK), and getting off your butt in “Cat in a Hat,” (tolerable though puts a lot of pressure on a rainy day). Then he went and wrote “Oh the Places You’ll Go” for college graduates, and worse…its mantras are being marketed to children!!
I found these stickers the other day while looking for ones to give to students. We do not need “You’re the Best of the Best,” Seuss! We DID NOT need that. What are kids today, students at Top Gun? Do they need Tom Skerritt holding a clipboard, glaring down at them, and telling them there are no points for second place? Was this really necessary?
We need Effort stickers. Perhaps, “You worked hard!”; “You Stuck With It!”; or “This is Terrible but you went for it–and the fact that you went for it will be much more useful later in life than being told how clever or ‘correct’ your work is.” That would have to be a larger size sticker, clearly, or small text.
On the subject of Effort v. Smarts, If you haven’t seen it, every occupant of Special Land should read this post I was sent, by Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, writing for the Harvard Business Review (nobody’s perfect). Halvorson cites the work of sociologist Carol Dweck, whose work has already graced these pages. Her study, in which students who were praised for “trying” outperformed students praised for being “smart,” and got a lot more enjoyment to boot, is a landmark one for us. As Halvorson puts it, “When we do well in school and are told that we are “so smart,” “so clever, “ or “ such a good student,” this kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness, and goodness are qualities you either have or you don’t.” What happens to us as adults then, is that if we don’t feel instantly good at something, we flip to the alternative, “We’re just not good at this–we were never good at it. Creative Writing/Math/Science/Being Funny–these are things we just have no natural ability in, so we’ll concede it to the rest of humanity.” And this is confirmed by our first efforts–for which we don’t get the same praise we used to or we might for something we know how to do. We become un-Da Vinci’s, anti-Renaissance people, a race of tremblers who are terrified of doing anything just a little bit outside our tiny realm of greatness.
Much of our Special condition began in childhood. But just as Obama must take ownership for an economy he inherited (“Yes, I didn’t cause it, but now, I have to fix it”) so too we, Occupiers of Special Land, must start to take ownership of our condition. We must start praising ourselves for effort, for getting out on the ball field and taking grounders. Think of Woody Allen typing away on his Smith Corona, showing that 90% of life is showing up. Think of his flops and his hits, but above all, think of his effort. Let’s practice showing up. Let’s not worry about getting the “Best of the Best” sticker. Let’s try to get that “You’re a Tryer!” Sticker, and be damn proud of it. OK so we still really want that “Best of the Best” sticker, but let’s let that take a backseat for the moment, or at least not sit on our lap while we’re driving and shout at us. We can own our outlook. Take that Tom Skerritt!