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.