Lately, I have been learning a lot about perseverance from my nine-year-old son. On two recent, distinct occasions, in situations during which I would have thrown in the towel, Ian failed to give up and went on to achieve success. If you will bear with me, I would like to summarize for you the scenarios as I believe there are lessons in here for each of us.
I will start today with Story #1: The Recorder Consort.
When you were in grade school, were you presented with a recorder (similar to a flutophone) – you know, one of those plastic part flute/part clarinet-ish looking contraptions? Well, I was. And, I will openly admit, I wasn’t much good at it! In fact, I don’t recall a single peer being any good at actually producing music from this device. I always thought of it as sort of a fake instrument – the only piece I learned to play was a high pitched, off kilter version of “Hot Crossed Buns.”
With that as the backdrop, you might imagine my surprise the day I was sitting at my kitchen table doing some work when I heard Ian take up his recorder and play, from memory, a near perfect rendition of “Ode to Joy!” What a shocker! Oh sure, he knew how to play “Hot Crossed Buns,” too, but clearly he had moved beyond the rudimentary.
Over the next several weeks, he continued to learn a variety of songs and to earn his “belts” (colorful plastic strips that the music instructor ties around the kids’ recorders to reward them for song mastery). Then, just before Spring Break, Ian’s teacher announced a special opportunity: Students who had earned all of their belts through hot pink were eligible to join the prestigious Recorder Consort upon their return to school. Ian was just five belts away.
I contacted his teacher and asked her whether she thought Ian could get there. She gave a masterful response complete with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” and tips for attaining the designation. However, when I told Ian about it, to my chagrin, he said, “No deal.” He didn’t think he had it in him to get it done. We both felt deflated.
Several hours passed by and I discovered that something changed in him. Clearly, he’d thought it through and came back to me with a five-step plan that he devised himself. It went something like this:
- I will download the clips to each of the five songs so I can listen to them in order to take note of the rhythm of each tune.
- On our [eight hour] drive [each way] to [and from] Colorado, I will practice my songs.
- You will test me and give me feedback.
- The day I return to school from spring break, I will go in to test for my belts.
- If I pass the tests, I want to purchase a higher end recorder. [Ah, the incentive!]
My response was, “Deal.”
And, so, he practiced. All the way to Colorado. All the way home. And let me tell you, it was not all fun and games and songs! Each time he went to learn a new song, if he didn’t grasp it within his first few tries, he’d hit his music with the instrument, he’d yell, he’d curse, he’d throw his hands up in the air. From a parent’s perspective, it was heartbreaking.
But, then it wasn’t. In fact, the entire scenario turned downright inspiring. Each time he hit the right note, he recognized his success. With each success he continued to build confidence. Suddenly, he got it! Taking each new song in turn, he practiced and practiced and practiced and then he nailed it.
When we returned to Kansas City, feeling confident, Ian packed up his knapsack for his first day back, recorder and sheet music included. He told me he wanted to go to bed early to get a good night’s rest and that I should plan to get him to school early so he could test.
With some trepidation, I drove him to school on that Monday morning. Hoping he wouldn’t be completely crushed if he didn’t pass the tests, I tried to provide some advance comfort. I said, “Now, Buddy, even if you don’t get all five belts, I want you to know that I am so proud of you for trying. You really worked hard this last week and you should be proud of yourself, too. Please text me and let me know how it went.”
He said, “Don’t worry, Mama, I know these songs. I will send you a text with just the numeral to let you know how many belts I get. For example, if I pass all of them, I will say, ‘5.’ If I only pass four, the text will say, ‘4.’ Et cetera. OK?” I said, “Yes,” kissed him goodbye and anxiously awaited his message. Not a quarter of an hour later, here’s the message I received:
That, my friends, is Perseverance 101 from my little Ian. In summary:
- Set your sights high.
- Establish a goal.
- Plan – Define the steps.
- Practice. Practice. Practice.
- Nail it!
Yep, all five.
Oh… and… Happy, Happy Birthday to my baby brother, Shawn! He’s one of the coolest dudes I know and I am blessed to have him in my network!