Friday, June 19, 2009

To my students . . .

I don't know what your problem is.

Maybe you were raised in a religious tradition that, in an attempt to stamp out foolish pride, accidentally taught you self-deprecation.

Maybe our society's gospel of success made you so afraid of failure that you began downplaying your potential from the start, giving you an excuse to give up whenever you didn't immediately excel.

Maybe you simply never had anyone in your life to provide encouragement and support, and now you beat yourself up purely because you don't know any better.

But the reasons don't matter, because today is a new day.

So let me lay it all out for you.

There is no aptitude. The great dancers of the world weren't born with a "natural" ability for movement. The best musicians didn't have some "magic" that let them sit down and create beautiful sounds. God does not need to bless us with talents individually, because everyone of us is blessed enough already.

When you came into this world you couldn't even walk or talk. You learned how to do those things, and you didn't need some inborn "gift" to do it, did you?

Do you understand how complicated walking is? Imagine trying to design a robot that can shift constantly from one state of balance to the next, quickly correcting for any change in the terrain, all while being ready for a sudden shift in direction. But you do that everyday, and you learned to do it.

Do you understand how amazing speech is? Not only do you remember the definitions for thousands of words, but you know how to construct them into logical ideas. You can even structure a sentence, then vocalize it into sounds on the fly while you're thinking of what to say next. And as if that wasn't enough, you can then listen to other people talk, and interpret their words while also taking into account inflection, context, and emotional content. And you learned to do all of that.

But those are just the tip of the iceberg of what you've accomplished. You've learned more about math than most of the people who have ever lived. You can find what you need in a phonebook, a library, and the internet. You regularly operate a host of different machines, from calculators to cars to telephones. And you do it all without even thinking about it.

You have succeeded in learning an enormous array of things in your lifetime, simply by putting in the time to study and use them. In short, you are a miracle.

And I will NOT stand here any more and let you INSULT THAT PERSON.

So stop it. Stop telling me that you suck, that you can't do this, that you're hopeless. Stop rolling your eyes at yourself and shaking your head in disgust every time you make a mistake.

You have no idea how ANGRY it makes me.

You want to know why those people became great dancers, great musicians, great anything? Because they never had time to doubt themselves, they were too busy practicing. You think those people didn't fail? They failed constantly, failed so much that failure didn't bother them anymore. THAT was their gift, and even THAT was something they learned.

Are you standing here with a working mind and body? Then you can do anything, ANYTHING, you decided to do. Period. And don't you EVER try to tell me otherwise.

And if you're going to walk into this classroom, if you're going to walk into MY classroom, ever again, you'd better learn one more thing right now. Three little words that sum up exactly how I feel about all your self doubt, all your self deprecation, and every nagging, angry little voice in your head that calls you pathetic:*

*Now get to work.

Comic panel provided by XKCD. The original comic is here:

1 comment:

Bob said...

It's all about the 10,000 hours.