My first grade teacher told us on the first day of school: You’re all beautiful and unique. You can do anything you set your mind to. You will change the world!
This speech did me a great disservice because it created unrealistic expectations about what life was really about. I just figured that the world would be awed by my brilliance, roll over, assume the position, and devote itself to making me happy. And when it didn’t I wasn’t prepared for how to handle it. I blamed everyone and everything else because it couldn’t be my fault! After all, I was “beautiful, unique, could do anything and would change the world.”
I would have benefited far more had my first grade teacher addressed the class with something like this:
Listen up first-graders, I have an announcement to make: The chances are excellent that you’ve been duped by well-meaning adults who filled your head with Pollyanna nonsense and this morning I’m going to set the record straight. Now put on your thick skin because this might hurt a bit, but it’s for your own good: You are not special or unique. In fact, you are one of many. And, as I survey the room, I can say that none of you is particularly beautiful. I can also promise that most of you will have a hard enough time changing anything about yourself, so you can forget about changing the world. I know that your parents and other teachers have told you otherwise, and that brings up my next point: people will lie to you from time to time. In fact, let me clear up here and now that there is no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy. Life is not about magical characters that shower you with gifts and favor and serve your every whim. Nope, life is tough so you better get ready for it. Here’s proof, so get out your pencils and jot this down: Statistically, 10% of you will be in therapy, 25% of you will be arrested, 7% of you will go to prison, 10% of you will never earn above the poverty level; 50% of your marriages will end in divorce, 60% of you will be overweight, someone in this room will file bankruptcy before they’re thirty and one of you here today will try to kill yourself before you’re out of high school. In other words, life is not supposed to be easy. It’s darned difficult, which explains why so many people end up on their death bed as average, broke and embarrassed. Frankly, the sooner you begin to get your life together, the better. You need to develop discipline, character, competence and an unstoppable work ethic because life isn’t a playground, it’s a battleground.
Please get those lost looks off your face and listen up: You’re going to have to work for anything in life that is worthwhile. In fact these sissified sports teams you play on after school where they do not keep score and everyone gets a trophy is not how the real world works. The sooner you understand this, the better: there is winning and there is losing; there is right and there is wrong; there is success and there is failure. Life rewards those who step up, not just those that show up. The good news is that there will be plenty of room at the top because so darned few of you are likely to do anything special to rise above mediocrity. Where you’ll find crowds are at the bottom. And those at the bottom would rather bring you down to their level than stretch to reach yours. Consequently, throughout your life, there will be certain people you will have to give up so that you can go up.
Now stop crying, because I’m not finished. Before we break for play time, there’s one more thing you should know. In fact, I’m going to let you in on a secret and you’ve got to promise not to tell your parents I shared this with you. Here it is: every time you blame someone else for your lack of results; each time you make an excuse to explain away your unsuccessful state; whenever you complain, whine, lie, act disrespectfully or fail to accept responsibility for your actions….another puppy dies.
Any questions? OK then, as soon as you stop hyperventilating, you’re dismissed for recess. Have fun kids, and remember that this afternoon our topic for discussion will be: “You can’t be a winner if you’re a whiner, wimp.”