Friday, December 19, 2014

My Heart Is Satisfied



Earlier this week, our daughter Josephine learned that she has been admitted to the university she has wanted to attend since she was 14. It's an exciting time for her and our family and we've shared the good news, as one does, with family and friends.

Among the congratulations was one from an old friend who made a point of emphasizing that this is a reward for her "hard work," and who then later phoned my wife to re-emphasize that it was a reward for her "hard work" and to recommend that we, her parents, not pay the full tuition on her behalf, leaving her responsible for at least some of it. His reasoning is that if she has a little skin in the game, she'll appreciate it more and "work harder."

It's not unconventional advice, I know, offered in the spirit of joy and friendship, and to be honest, the tuition is quite high and she may well need to pitch in with a job or something, but his suggestion misses the mark by a mile.

Josephine has known she wanted to be a stage actress since she was quite young. She has been in some cast or another pretty much continuously since she was five, most of which have been the plays of Shakespeare. She first started talking about making a life of acting Shakespeare on stage when she was eight and has been "winning" arguments with me by quoting from the bard since about that time.

Her mother and I, of course, have supported her, driving her to rehearsals, attending every performance,  filling parent volunteer roles, but we have never once pushed her. If anything, we've been inclined to urge her to take a break once in awhile, but it's become clear that she's happiest, as we all are, when pursuing her passion. Yes, she has worked hard, but it was never the "nose to the grindstone" type thing embodied in the advice of our family friend, the sort of thing one does for external rewards of money or applause or fame. She works hard simply because she loves what she is doing.

What I am most moved by right now is that my child is so entirely self-motivated. The reward is built into her work, which is the essence of play. When we play, we don't need carrots or sticks or skin in the game to motivate us. This is what brings me the most joy these days: that my little girl has grown up to be a woman pursuing her passion.

She has never been a bad student in the conventional sense, although there has always been "room for improvement," as they say. I've sat in many parent-teacher conferences in which half her teachers have nothing but praise, while the others, the ones who taught subjects for which she lacked passion, felt she had potential, but could be doing better. I know too many parents who have involved themselves deeply in their children's academic lives, monitoring their homework, punishing them for low grades, rewarding them for passing tests, dangling carrots and wielding sticks. We've never done any of that, choosing instead to leave the living of her life up to her. 

There have been times when I've worried that perhaps I should join the "hard work" crowd, at least a little, but today, sitting here as the proud papa of a daughter who is preparing to set out upon this journey she has chosen for herself, my heart is satisfied.


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3 comments:

Anne said...

Which school is it??? Just curious.... as the mom of a sometimes-motivated, sometimes not 8th grader, I have to work hard to let go and not act on my anxieties about his success or lack thereof. I think it would be easier on me if he had a clear passion that he pursued....but that's the way it goes sometimes.

Anna Prasad said...

What a great achievement for your daughter and for your family. It is my believe also that following ones passion does not equal 'hard work', instead it's a rewarding journey through education and into life!

Robin DeLamater said...

Congratulations on reaching this milestone in your family's life. It warms my heart to hear that Shakespeare speaks to your daughter in such a passionate way. I believe it is no accident that she knows what her passion is. She has been able to live her life so that she can recognize when passion arises and follow the trail. Well done, one and all!

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