A Note to Madeline, my 11 Year Old Champion

My heart broke for her. Remember the first time you were cut from a team? That painful moment when others were chosen but you weren’t? Our 11 year old daughter, Madeline, recently had her first Darwinian encounter at dance practice. Some kids were selected for a certain routine; Madeline was not.

My first reaction: “How dare they?? That’s ridiculous! Wait ‘til I give that dance teacher a piece of my mind…” In other words, angry at the outside forces who’d jilted my daughter from an event she so rightly deserved. (According to her completely biased dad, anyway.)

Madeline’s first reaction: “I hate dance. I’m no good at this. I want to quit.”

So there we were, father and daughter, wallowing in self pity and angry at the world.
After a while, though, we reconsidered the experience.

I did my best to explain to Madeline that her mom and I are more pleased when she’s doing her best and sticking with something that does not come easy than “winning” that comes easily and requires little effort.
Oh, you’re a gifted reader and got straight A’s this year in reading class? Ho hum.
You struggle mightily with math, give it your all, and end up with a C+? Hooray!

Madeline, your mom and I are most proud of the strength you and your sisters exude from your hearts, of the battles you win based on effort, of your courage to get back up when life knocks you down.
You are blessed with so many gifts! Please, continue to embrace those. Appreciate them and maximize their value. But don’t let disappointment discourage you from doing what you love.

Looking back on my own life, I see time and time again where initial flashes of brilliance fizzled into mediocrity. Kids who were exceptional athletes in high school faded away while smaller, weaker kids who were forced to try harder rocketed to the top. Well spoken extroverts who shone brightly in job interviews but were quickly outpaced by their shy, conscientious peers.

When it comes to family and business, I’m far more appreciative of how determined one is amidst formidable competition vs. how much one succeeds amidst toothless tigers.

Lucky for me, Madeline takes after my wife: minimal drama and good perspective. By the next morning she was her cheery self, bouncing around the dance studio as happily as ever.

Hopefully an 11 year old’s life lesson spurs questions for us all…
As adults, how quickly do we charge back from disappointment? Even more importantly, how often do we dare step in the ring with others who appear stronger?
When’s the last time you didn’t make the cut in something you really wanted, took a deep breath, and tried again?

Setbacks shrink our comfort zone. Failure scares us into “never doing that again!” Like Madeline, though, I hope the next time you miss the mark you bounce back and attack it again. Those in your life who matter the most will be more impressed with your second, third, even fourth attempt than they were with your first.