Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I'm a Recovering Quitter

Writing (and reading) is something I’ve always been told that I’m good at. Not only am I good at it, but I also thoroughly enjoy it as a pastime that comes easily to me and brings me joy.

I just read the most interesting article about how scientists have studied how praise impacts children. The conclusion was that instead of praising your child’s natural ability or intelligence, you should praise their hard work and perseverance. The idea is that if you only praise their intelligence, they will shy away from working hard at subjects that don’t come as easily to them.

One of my favorite quotes from the article really hits home for me. 

“I am smart, the kid’s reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.”

If I’m being honest I’d have to say that I’ve hardly ever put effort into my academics. I never had to work for good grades until I was in college, and when I did it was a real blow to my pride. I’ve always been told that I’m gifted in English and Social Studies, and according to standardized testing I’m gifted in Math and Science as well. But my grades never reflected that. I was placed in Honors Math classes until high school when math didn’t come so easily to me.

In 9th grade I dropped down from the Honors to Advanced Algebra class, and after almost flunking that class, I dropped down to the Basic class in 10th grade.  I’ve always wondered- how did I go from being “gifted” in Math and doing fairly well in Honors classes to struggling through a Basic level class? It just didn’t really make sense.

Now I see the problem was that I believed if I wasn’t naturally good at something, I shouldn’t try it. I didn’t want to have to “put in the effort”. I was far too proud to do that. If it didn’t come easily to me, I didn’t want to do it. Which is why I quit every other sport except Track. I was naturally one of the fastest girls on the team. And I didn’t even have to work at that either, I often skipped out on our 1 mile warm up lap during practice. Why run a mile if I’m already the fastest sprinter without trying?

As I’m writing this I’m embarrassed of myself. Have I ever worked hard to learn something that didn’t come easily? I took the SAT only twice, because my score was “good enough” to get into Clemson and USC. My math score was the problem and I believed there was no point in trying to increase it since I’m “not good at math”. I’ve always just settled when it comes to things that I am good at or not good at.

The heart of the issue is that I’m afraid of being seen as a failure. I will do something I’m naturally good at, but I am too terrified of failing to try anything new. I don’t respond well to failure, because I never learned how to.

Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

The truth is I’m a Recovering Quitter. I quit tap, soccer, ballet, gymnastics, softball, swim team, art classes… the list goes on. The good news is I don’t quit things anymore. The bad news is now I would consider myself a “Don’t Tryer”, because I don’t even try new things anymore for fear of failure.

Thankfully, my God doesn’t let me stay where I am in my sin and in my fear. My Father, being the good Dad that He is, won’t let me miss out on life because I’m afraid of failing. Recently, the Lord has convicted me of this fear in my heart. He has gently reminded me that my self worth is not in whether I fail or succeed. My identity is not in what I am gifted at or what I struggle with. My failures do not define me, but more importantly my successes do not define me either.

My identity is in being the daughter of the Creator of the Universe. Psalm 139:14 says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” and today I’m going to choose to believe that. I’m going to put my trust in God, as He molds my heart to make me more like Jesus. I’m going to rest in the knowledge that I don’t have to be perfect.

It’s okay to try and fail- as long as you try. God doesn’t want us to be a slave to success. He doesn’t want us to feel like we have worth only when we succeed. He wants us to live in freedom and enjoy this beautiful life He’s given us.

So, in light of these recent convictions and soul searching, this past month I’ve tried something new. As ridiculous as it sounds, I realized I was avoiding learning to cook, because I was afraid I would be bad at it. So my poor husband, John, has lived the first four months of marriage eating nothing but pizza, pasta, and sandwiches. The past two weeks I’ve made 7 new recipes, and I’m happy to report that they weren’t half bad! I still have a long way to go… I had to call my mom like 50 times to ask questions like “What is a parsnip?” and “How do you mince garlic?” and “What does it mean to simmer?” But I’m learning and taking a chance by trying something new.

Next up on my list of “new things to learn” is tennis! What’s something that you’ve always wanted to learn, but have been afraid to try?