There is a list floating around the Internet (since 2000), purported to be from Bill Gates, that advises young people on the realities of life. (See below). The list is almost certainly not from Bill Gates, but does provide for some interesting discussion on finding the proper balance between promoting self-esteem in children/teenagers, and coddling them.
I must say I am not sure of the right balance myself. On the one hand I have seen the devastating effects that low-self esteem can have on people I have counseled (almost all adults) in over 23 years of priesthood. Some very smart and accomplished people if you ask me, often struggle mightily from a sense they are not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, etc. And, on account of it, many suffer effects such as depression, anger, drinking, anorexia, addiction and so forth. I too had a period in my life where low self-esteem kept me rooted in anxiety and depression. Thank God there were others to help me, and through them the Lord has largely delivered me.
That said I remain dismayed at some of the silly and, I would say, unwise practices that have set up in schools, sports leagues and other youth-related activities: not keeping score at games, giving EVERYONE awards at award ceremonies, refusing to issue failing grades, or to hold back failing students from promotion and/or graduation, etc. Frankly, most of the kids know the score to the game anyway, and they know bogus and made up awards when they see them. And while they may be relieved not to get an “F” or to have to repeat a grade, it will sure come home to roost for them soon enough that they are just not up to par in facing many of life’s challenges.
Again I realize that finding the right balance is difficult. But maybe we don’t need a one-size-fits-all solution. There used to be something we called “parenting” (before schools started being so nanny-like), and parents could adjust what was needed for each kid and work individually to find the right balance.
Yes, parenting, I remember once being embarrassed by the fact that I was so bad at wrestling, a required activity in High School gym classes in those days. I was only 130 lbs and could not be seen from sideways on. I would be pinned to the match almost instantly. But I remember too my mother, seeing my humiliation one day, reminded me of the gifts I did have and teaching me that it was OK if I didn’t have ALL the gifts. It helped, and it was rooted in truth, not in some dopey notion that I should never experience my limits or eat a little humble pie.
All this said, I’d like to list the “11 Rules” make a few comments and then get yours as well. As is frequently the case, these statements have some truth in them, but also need distinctions and adjustments. I am putting the Statement in Bold, black italics and my own comments in plain red text. (Again, these statements are almost certainly NOT by Bill Gates, but they provide for interesting reflection).
Rule 1: Life is not fair — get used to it.
There is an obnoxious tendency, especially among children and younger teenagers to shout “It’s not fair!” And our American culture, which is largely fixated (stuck) in a teenage mentality, also makes this cry at sometimes obsessional levels. It is true that justice is a worthy goal to peruse. But justice gives to people what is rightly due, it does not and cannot guarantee that all have the same gifts, or have the same outcomes economically, and socially.
Some people are just lucky, others have just the right gifts at the right time, some happen to meet or know the right people, etc. Some have talents that are more marketable or lucrative. Some have cheerful dispositions, others more melancholy. Some are energetic, other prefer more a more sedate pace. Some people are rich and miserable, others are poor and happy, and every other possible combination of personalty, gifts, and circumstances.
Further, many are willing to execute tradeoffs in life, forsaking lucrative careers for a vocation or career that is more desirable. Part of growing up is to work with what we have and to play the cards we’re dealt. As the old song says, “every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a looser….”
“Fair” is a fanciful, somewhat childish concept rooted in a narrow notion of what success is. Success is more than wealth and popularity and many find happiness and contentment in very different ways.
Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Yes, and here is the “danger” is some of the silly self-esteem culture of the schools. Real self esteem needs to be rooted in the truth, in real accomplishment. It may be true that we should broaden our notion of what we “award” kids for. There is more to life than good math and science scores and sports victories. But if we award everything, we award nothing. Thus we should look for true excellence and praise it, not just invent bogus awards that have little relationship to real life.
I remember that some in school (such as me) didn’t make the Honor Roll because they struggled with a subject, like math. But I was an excellent writer, a creative thinker, and insightful interpreter of literature. By the time I made it to seminary, I graduated at the top of my class, because my gifts were a great match to priestly formation.
But, back in high school there were few awards for my gifts, mostly just honor roll (a GPA based ranking), and sports. So I don’t mind if schools look to broaden awards and build self esteem in things more specific that overall grade point averages etc. But just make sure those skills have something to do with real life, a celebrate real accomplishment,
Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.
Exactly. I tell couples I prepare for marriage this all the time. Everyone wants to start at the top. I remember my parents lived in apartments for a good while before being able to afford a home. My Father worked to build a Law practice and eventually got called to active duty in Viet Nam and made a military career of his life. The home came when the finances permitted it. Over the years my parents accumulated quite a nice income. But, that came with age and in stages.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
Well not all bosses are tough. But to be sure, the stakes are higher when you work. Money and promotions are far more critical than a report card.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping — they called it opportunity.
Yes, we have to be willing to start at the bottom. I started as a newspaper carrier, I also mowed lawns. I swept floors and was a stock clerk in the local drugstore (night shift in college). Later I got nicer jobs, first building a servicing pipe organs, then working as a computer analyst for the Army Corps of Engineers. As priest I got “busted” to lowly parochial vicar before attaining to the lofty and exulted role of pastor
Yes we have to pay our dues and to many youths are willing to sweep floors and scrub public bathrooms like I had to. In the end it was good for me.
Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault.
We DO live in a “blame others” kind of culture: “I’m not responsible, My mother dropped me on my head when I was two!”
Yet, I will say, that I have learned that many have and do suffer from bad parenting today. And many do bring wounds from childhood into life. Parents aren’t perfect, and blaming them is not very helpful. But being sober about some of the wounds from childhood can be healing. Sorry if this sounds too “therapeutic” but I have found I often have to journey back with people to childhood memories and experiences to discover why certain things trouble them now.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were.
Cute and funny, but not very helpful. In the end, we do discover that our parents were right about a lot of things.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
I spoke of this in the introduction above.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.
I have often wondered why school is “off” for three months in the summer. I know there are historical reasons, but in the current setting, I wonder if this is good training for life. It may make sense to have August off for just about everyone, as do many European cultures, but otherwise it is good to learn realistic work habits.
Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Amen! And in real life kids don’t rule the roost and are not the smartest ones around, all men aren’t stupid either.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.
Be nice to everyone, you never know who you’re going to need.
Overall, an interesting set of rules whoever wrote them, perhaps a bit snide and preachy. Let me know what you think of them and add your own! I am especially interested in your thoughts on the “self-esteem” culture of the schools that some of these rules seem to be poking at.
Some more sayings: