Who’s Ready to Redefine Success (for the sake of our kids)?

Today I sat in a blue plastic chair designed for a 5-year-old, in front of 72 preschoolers and kindergarteners, and for fifty minutes I had the time of my life. 

I shared one of my stories with them, they shared some of their stories with me, and I marveled that this is what I get to do with my life. So candid, so random, what children choose to share. One girl suggested I try dental treats for my 17-year-old dog. 

They cared that I was there, that we laughed and talked about honesty and kindness, and used imagination to make it rain by wiggling our fingers from high in the sky down to the floor. I cared with my whole heart that I was there. We were a great little community for that precious hour. And time went much too quickly before I high-fived or fist-bumped or hugged each one on the way back to their classrooms. 

It hit me as I watched those little bodies make their way down that big hallway: That time we just had together… that is the best of life. Time together, as people, neighbors, humans – connecting, sharing, supporting, hugging. And I wanted to whisper to each one on his or her way out… “This is the stuff that matters. This is what I wish for you your whole life long.”

As the mom of two late-teens considering their future, this hits home. Literally. The pressure these kids and young adults feel to succeed in life, it’s stunning. Life looms large before them and demands to know one checkbox at a time what they’re going to do in life to be successful. 

Two thoughts on this (although I have more): 

1) they don’t know(!); and 

2) as a society, we seem to be generally operating on the wrong definition of success.

I want to lighten the burden on each of these kids, all of them, by whispering in their ears… “Success is not about how much you make or how prestigious your title. It’s about pursuing what you love, who you love, where you feel you belong and where you can be part of something truly good. Just do that every day, and your story, your success… it will find you.”

We need to get back to remembering and sharing what really matters, so our kids feel supported in building lives that matter… to them, to us, to society as a whole. 

It’s actually, really, what pretty much all of us deep-down want. 

A friend of mine leaned across the table from me a few years back and, referring to the success model we all secretly loathe and fear for our kids, said to me, “I think we need to give ourselves permission to believe there’s a better way.”

I knew she was right when she said it. 

I’ve known it ever since, as I do my best to do my best for my kids. 

And I was reminded of it again today as I sat in front of 72 beautiful shining faces and yearned for a way they could carry that joy and resilience and love for others into their adult years. 

My friend is right. In order to free up our kids and selves to pursue a more humane and meaningful way of life, we need to give ourselves permission… to reclaim the true definition of human success: A life well-lived and well-loved. 

Or, to quote the closing line of my favorite movie of all time (It’s A Wonderful Life): “To George Bailey – the richest man in town!”

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