My first vivid childhood memories took place in what the famous American poet T.S. Eliot would have called, The Wasteland.
That barren tundra, teeming with lizards, snakes, and scorpions, is New Mexico, more specifically, White Sands Proving Ground in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It was there that as a 5-year-old, I occasionally accompanied my dad, a U.S. Army dentist, around the base in his jeep. Life in New Mexico was stark. Sand storms beat on our car windows, horrible monsoon rains ruined our picnics, and stifling heat melted our ice cream cones.
But there were moments of insight.
While bumping around the base with my dad, I did quite a bit of listening. My dad was a loquacious man and he gave advice (solicited and unsolicited) freely. As a squirrelly kid trapped in a jeep going 35 miles an hour, I had no other choice but to pay attention and nod. My dad was highly educated. To him, the way to be successful was through education.
He had big plans for his kids.
One day, as we entered the army base wood shop, where (like the biblical Noah) he was building a boat for our family, he told me, Cheri, the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. I liked that quotation because it made me think. Over the next 26 years in public education, I would repeat this maxim to my students.
I have met a number of hard working students during my years as a teacher. Not all of them have attended Stanford, Brown, or Berkeley, though many did. Some are doctors, some are teachers, some are Navy Seals and Army Rangers; many are engineers, bankers, accountants, stay- home parents, or attorneys; a few are film-makers, artists, or musicians. Their common denominator is their work ethic.
It is important to acknowledge our kids for their hard work. Often, as parents, we first mention the B+ before we compliment them for the 4 A’s. Our language can be critical instead of affirming. I have always reaped better performance from my students by acknowledging their efforts and then reaffirming that such effort will lead to success.
And remember, the definition of success is subjective.
Like my dad, you have big plans for your kids or grandkids. We can help in the execution of those plans and teach them that The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.