When I was a teenager, I took tennis lessons. The instructor told my parents that I had a strong backhand. He did not suggest that I would be making it to Wimbledon nor was that any sort of expectation. I took lessons because I enjoyed the sport. Being a champion wasn’t the goal. I knew many kids who played recreational sports, took dance lessons, voice lessons and a plethora of other activities. We did it because we enjoyed it. We went to school and were encouraged to love learning. Our teachers had the freedom to tailor projects and lessons based on the students’ needs. I remember standardized tests being administered every few years but no one taught to them. We were taught to think and analyze. That was what enabled us to pass.
What has happened to doing things for the love of it - for the love of the sport, the challenge, the knowledge? What has caused a shift in the tectonic plates that has so many people believing that the goal is to be paying (yes paying – not a typo) for elite teams, competitions and endless tutors? Some children are more talented than others. Not everyone is a potential Olympian who will also dance his/her way to the Broadway stage. If I had a dime for every parent who came to me to tell me that their child was selected for an elite something – well, you know the rest. Some children are more academically gifted than others. It’s always been that way. It wasn’t always a competition to see how many Advanced Placement classes they can survive. I understand that the price of college is exorbitant and scholarships are a necessary goal for many. I don’t understand when teens tell me that perfect isn’t good enough. What are we doing to them?
Depression, anxiety and stress related illnesses are on the rise. We have an obligation to this generation and future generations to figure out why and what we can do to bring back “for the love of it.” When we do things for the love of it, we are fulfilling our purpose and feeding our soul. When all we do is compete, we miss the whole point of living. I believe that studies will show the following have played a role in the demise of doing things for enjoyment:
- Reality Shows – Anyone can be famous and become wealthy for absolutely nothing. They require no talent. One good story pitch, a hook that will make people leave their own issues to watch yours, a particular look or previous scandal and voila! You will make more money than you could imagine. If they can become famous, surely our little ball players and dancers and singers can be rich and famous too!
- An Educational System Based on Standardized Testing – My heart goes out to the teachers who want to teach. Teaching is a creative process that should spark the creativity in others. The focus on standardized testing has vacuumed all of the creativity out of the process. Far too much time is spent teaching to tests when we should be fostering critical thinking skills. We should be letting students build their knowledge by being creative participants in the learning process. We should be encouraging students to be the next inventors, innovators and explorers, not the next best memorizers.
- The Change in Employment Needs in the USA – So many jobs no longer exist in the United States. The job market changed drastically as manufacturing jobs left and technology took the place of humans. Many industries are flooded with too many qualified applicants and too few positions. The job market changed so rapidly that we couldn’t change course quickly enough. With manufacturing all but gone in this country, having a college degree has become essential and the norm. Competition for college acceptance and the realities of unemployment have caused such fear that students are pressured far beyond their developmental ability to cope. There is no time for pleasure, leisure and exploration. They must produce.
Competition has its place. It is good to have goals, strive, succeed and even fail. All of that prepares children for the ups and downs of adult life. While we recognize the good, we must also examine what we have lost. There was a joy in playing ball just for fun. There was a purpose to those school trips and projects that emphasized the learning process. We can love activities without being the best, the Olympian, the record holder. Even more important, we are better able to help our children prioritize, set realistic goals and understand quality of life when we acknowledge the need to do “for the love of it.”
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