Wednesday, November 9, 2011

May All Your Realistic Dreams Come True

A lot of people who know me view me as one of those cheery, optimistic-type persons.  I think it's because I tend to approach life's little challenges with a sense of humor.  You'll never see me cussing because a cat got stuck in my engine compartment, or because my son stuck a paper clip in the electric socket, or because the sheep got in the house and peed all over the living room, or because I burnt half of my eyebrow off, or because I took my sleeping children to work, or...(maybe I should stop now.  This list could go on for awhile).  But the truth is, on the inside (whatever that means), I'm actually a relatively cynical, and even pessimistic, person.  Even though I generally see the humor in things, when it comes to my own goals and ambitions, my inner-voice is always telling me "You can't do this"; "You'll never make it"; and worst of all, "You're foolish for even trying."  I don't know where this comes from.  Maybe it's because, even as a little girl, I could perceive that little patronizing smile on my mom's face when I told her I wanted to be a published writer.  Or maybe it's just something that's built into some people.  I don't know. 

But is being a cynic (or "realist", as I prefer) really such a terrible thing? Studies show that Japanese students far-exceed American students in every possible category, except for self-confidence.  Students in Japan have much less confidence in themselves and their abilities, yet here they are, out-performing students in America in every subject to a degree that is nearly staggering.  And then you have American students, who have accomplished nothing to instill confidence within themselves, yet are still oozing with the stuff.  And they'll still be stuffed full of unsolicited pride and hopes to star on American Idol, even when they're flipping burgers.  Over-blown feelings of self-worth without the accomplishments to back it up leads to nothing but a self-entitled individual with no real future.  I think the students from Japan show us that, perhaps, keeping one's feet firmly planted in reality (which includes experiencing the occasional bouts of pessimism and insecurity) is what drives a person to eventually accomplish something real.

Plus, honestly, I don't mind feeling cynical about things, because then I never have to feel let-down about those things.  It's simple math:  You can't have that feeling of having your hopes crushed if you never hoped to begin with.  Viewing life through realistic lenses doesn't negatively impact my overall happiness level; if anything, it actually increases my overall happiness.  Because when something wonderful does happen, it is completely unexpected, and thus, much more thrilling.   

But sadly, I find myself being a cynic now with Trinity and Elijah.  I just don't like to see them let down, so I constantly find myself telling them "Don't get too excited about blah blah blah, because you never know what can happen."  I'm not trying to paint pictures of an ugly reality for them; it's just that I hate the idea of them feeling disappointment.  I hate the idea of them getting their hopes lifted, and then having their little bubbles burst.  I think it was Alana who told me that I should try to get past this; that part of the fun of childhood is anticipating wonderful things, and the occasional let downs are simply part of growing up.  I do see the validity in this argument, but it's really hard for me to put it in practice.

But what has really brought this issue to surface for me (and prompted this post) was the recent discovery  that my cynicism is actually permeating into my classroom.  Below is a picture of a birthday card I received from one of my students about a month-and-a-half ago.  This card not only had me chuckling because the final message is so "me", but it was also a little bit of a wake-up call.  The edges are cut off, so some of the words are lost, but check out the words on the bottom.

So there it is.  Twenty years from now, I'm going to be known as the teacher who inspired my students to pursue their dreams...but only the realistic ones.  The teacher that pushed her kids to reach for the stars...but only the close, more reachable ones.  The teacher who encouraged her students to spread their wings and take flight...but stay on the ground, cuz let's face it, you can't really fly.


  1. Personally, I've never thought of you as a cynic... And I seriously doubt that your students will remember you like you mentioned in your blog. I don't think anything is wrong with telling your kids not to get their hopes up for something. And I know you give them ALL the encouragement to persue their dreams and goals! You know how we are our toughest critics? Well stop being so hard on yourself, please.

    Incase you couldn't tell this is Jewls!

  2. I was pretty sure it was you Jewls, but the confirmation never hurts. :) You're right, we are our toughest critics. I don't think my students will remember me the way I described either, but it is pretty funny that a student would sign a card with "May all your 'realistic' dreams come true." Gee, how touching. I read that and thought, "Am I really THAT bad?"

    But you twisted my arm; I'll quit being so hard on myself. For the rest of this week, anyway. ;-) Thanks for the pep talk. I wished you lived closer so you could knock some sense into me on a more regular basis, lol.

  3. You know how we were wondering what we had in common after all these years. The answer, among other things, has to be this. You sound just like me--something that may, or may not, instantly prompt you to realize a much more optimist future and adopt a more cheerful internal monologue! I've got to be the worlds biggest pessimist, the difference between you and me is that I wear it on the outside. Everyone who knows me knows I'm a pessimist and that rose colored glasses have no place in my world. And, while there are moments of upbeat optimism, they're normally followed swiftly by a mental kick in the head that says... unh uh, none of that.

    Fortunately for all of us, I don't have kids and so don't have to worry about passing pessimism on to them. I'm trying to consider whether or not I believe, objectively, that you should try to get past that. There's nothing wrong with wanting your kids to not be let down, but the reality is that kids do get their hopes up, whether you tell them to or not, and so they'll potentially be disappointed whether you tried to shield them from that or not. It is a natural part of growing up, to learn that the world isn't full of happy rainbows all the time, that there are disappointments around every corner. I think it's more about how your kids cope with those disappointments and whether or not they're able to understand them as a part of life. From what I can tell, you and Clint have lovely, well adjusted kids who're very smart. I think they'll get it.

    Okay, I could probably go on but I just realized I'm writing you a book, so I should go. :)

  4. You know I enjoy the occasional novel by Kristyn Hammond, so no worries. ;-)

    I think you hit it on the head when you said you wear your pessimism on the outside (whereas mine is only evident through my own internal dialogues). But I sort of think that makes you a more geniune person. At least your honest with how you feel and who you are. I, on the other hand, have this compulsion to force out the cheer, even when I'm not feeling it. But, on that note, sometimes faking a positive attitude DOES eventually give me a positive attitude. The whole "fake it 'til you make it" principle. So I guess that would be one benefit of keeping the pessimism on the inside.

    One thing I couldn't agree with you more on is that kids need to be taught HOW to deal with disappointments, rather than shielded from them entirely.


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