I remember when I learned I might have an attention deficit disorder. I was shocked. But then I laughed out loud. But not for the reason you might suspect. It was true. I had lots of challenges paying attention as a child. The rewards given back in the day were usually with the rod, and I was not spoiled; of that, there is no doubt. Attention deficit was the ‘strange angel’ on my shoulder. Mix in a goodly amount of OCD, and hell, I was off to the races.
I often fell asleep in class. Or, in the alternative, I fantasized about my next adventure. The teachers went so slow it bored me to death—well, almost. But once I was free from the confines of the classroom, I challenged myself in every way possible. I wanted to learn as much as possible about anything. One must find a tool to overcome the inability to focus. For me, that tool was to stay busy. I would choose a task and then repeat it over and over and over. And often, when it felt mastered, I would set it down. Move on to another thing to learn.
Sometimes even being busy was not enough. The more intense and dangerous, the less likely I would lose focus. So, we ran the whitewater rivers, climbed rock, camped alone in the forest, fished, hunted, and got into every kind of mischief imaginable. We did dangerous things because they were exhilarating. The term adrenaline junkie didn’t exist back in the day. But we didn’t care about monikers. What we cared about was learning. We wanted to explore our limits. We were somehow more alive when everything was on the line.
I have built a paradigm for life based on the idea that I am unwilling to accept something is unobtainable. For me, that’s deciding if the pain of achieving the goal will be worth the price of admission to the show. Every time in my life that I lose that vision, I get into a rut. And, as a friend once said, the only difference between the rut and the grave is the dirt in your face. For me, happiness is solving the problem at hand, no matter how difficult.
Today, we as a society face a problem with our children and younger generations. They haven’t been given the freedom to fail. I can’t see any of that fire in the eyes of our youth as they double-thumb their way through the mindless world of the tiny screen. They often operate with an unconscious incompetence and an expectation that when they fail they will be miraculously regenerated. The problem is we don’t live in a video game, and there is no free lunch.
There is no substitute for the thrill of victory, no better teacher than the agony of defeat. They need to experience the taste of blood in their mouths after a bad fall. There is no amount of participation trophies that can make up for the real experience of failure, “not bad” is never good enough.
The bigger question is how we help them turn the corner. They live in a soft world, and they are soft. But it will not last. The day will come when things will not be as easy. The day will come when those who are not prepared will suffer. It has been said that you either have to be smart or tough to survive in the world. Clearly, the really smart ones are both. Let’s open their door to success.
One of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is freedom. For the parent, it is frightening. They ask, “Why would I let my child do something that might hurt them?” The reason is that is how they learn. Doing dangerous things carefully is how they learn. The joy of success enriches their desire to try more. The pain of failure teaches how to approach the situation with more respect. Of course, I didn’t realize just how much freedom my parents allowed until I became one. The challenge we all face is to be as brave as my parents were and allow our children to do dangerous things. Thanks Mom and Dad for that gift.