A man wanted to hire an employee to cut logs and stack them neatly in a shed for the winter. Prospective employees who came walked about the shack, looked at the pile of wood and inquired about their wages.
The salary the man was willing to pay was generous but he wanted the job done in a day. Prospects could not help notice the shed was big, the pile of wood appeared sky high. Heads shaking they turned down the man’s generous offer and headed back the way they had come.
All, except one man. He rolled up his shirt sleeves and whistling a merry tune tackled the job at hand. That day the employer encountered his whistling employee often. He offered the latter tea, then spoke to him post lunch.
The man stayed steady at his task either humming or whistling as he tackled the job others had opined could not be done. Daylight had almost faded to naught when the man knocked on his employer’s door to inform him that the job was done. Together employer and he inspected the wood shed.
Logs of wood were neatly cut and stacked. All in the span of a day the woodpile for winter was readied.
When I first read this story the moral seemed to be that to the optimistic mind that believed it could get the job done, everything was possible.
But today as I retrospect another moral is self-evident. Those who know How to enjoy the task at hand have a better chance at accomplishing it than those who quail intimidated by what it demands of them.
Coming back from a parent teacher meeting today I realized how significantly we keep missing this boat.
A teacher asked me diffident if I was satisfied by my child’s results.
“What can the school do to improve?” She worried.
My honest answer was, “nothing.”
It is not school that has to reinvent itself for every child.
It is the child, the do-ing entity who has to spark the fire in him. Motivation will always be primarily an inside job. The tactful parent should know how to create an environment to bring the best out of his or her child and both have to work with the Law of Process.
I frankly learnt it from my own experience.
Tagore’s Shantiniketan gripped my imagination when I was still in Primary school. Just knowing an institution like that existed somewhere used to make me happy. I would daydream of studying in a school under the shade of spreading trees- be in the outdoors with a buttery sun warming me, feeling the breezes sift through my hair, the crisp touch of green grass, the changing vistas of a blue sky, enjoying the passage of seasons…
But how was I in academics at this point in time?
I was a nuisance in class.
Easily distracted, socially maladjusted, a chatterbox with no close friends, loath to remain seated at her desk for long hours, aching to be outdoors at any expense, not doing my homework, never having notebooks forget completing the actual writing work, hating needlework- in short- the teacher’s worst nightmare.
My poor mother had her hands full with me.
I did not have that understanding of self I do now. I am a born free spirit whose soul chafes at all imposed restrictions and boundaries.
Even if I could have explained who would have understood me then? Who would understand me now?
I would be diagnosed clinically with ADHD and put on medication- America’s answer to all child problems.
Today I realize even in Shantiniketan some child with an orderly, discipline loving mind must have hated every minute of it and longed for the predictable, routine life of a regular school.
Sweating on hot days, irked by bugs, she must have prayed for a regular brick and wall structure and that epitome of luxury- a ceiling fan.
Unless as a parent you have the wherewithal to help your child access the right school for them, you have to smartly get their attention to harness their energies in the right directions.
My mother did that for me with inadvertently a little help from a teacher I shall never forget in this life.
That teacher noticed I liked English and without seeming to expend any effort excelled. I composed poetry, sometimes pages where I waxed lyrical, though I would not voluntarily write even the shortest of word meanings.
She sold my mother the idea that I was a gifted child with a unique talent and my mother willing to clutch at any straw at that point bought it.
Each time I wrote my mother was captive audience willing to set aside anything she was doing for the honor of listening to my latest offering.
She honestly believed in me and my potential to make it big.
She never told me that poets can’t earn a living, she never derided or made fun of my ambition, she just accepted it wholeheartedly and it became my talking point of pride. She never corrected a rhyme sequence or criticized anything I had written.
I did not know then but such encouragement is rare.
Then, I would carry my beautifully decorated notebook of poems to school so all my classmates would know of this genius in their midst.
Unknowing even I had become sold on myself- the poet.
Next my mom sold my father on it who would ask me to share my poems with his trusted friends. A serendipitous result of this was I began to confidently speak in public without any stage fright. In school because of my growing command over the language I was selected for debates, declamations, poetry recitations and even in theatre where I was cast in the lead roles.
Situation reversed dramatically. Where once my mother would beg school authorities to cast me in the Annual Function I was now starring in the function and in the prize distribution sometimes winning as many as five or six prizes.
An aura was created around me. Teachers would encourage me and treat me like an equal in class discussions. Peers would solicit my goodwill.
At this point when I became a prominent personality on campus my image of self would not allow me to go to school without doing my homework. How could I after being treated an equal by a teacher risk her ill opinion by not scoring in her subject? Performing well in one subject how could I neglect another?
Soon thanks to English I was doing well in Science, Social Studies, and even Hindi- go figure!
1) My mother implicitly believed I had great talent.
2) Working from a core point of my interest she encouraged me to implement the work ethic I developed there to encompass all other areas in my life.
3) She never put down my ambition to be a poet.
4) The image of self that subsequently got created inspired me to become a well-adjusted person. My social interactions forced me to acquire people skills so I could make friends and retain them for life.
5) School worked in tandem with a smart parent who kept her focus on her child’s strengths not areas of weakness.
6) Starting a rebel I ended wearing the mantle of a leader. However this was a process that took years and therefore gave enduring results.
When you fell mother was needed at hand to wipe your tears, kiss the bobo and set the world to rights.
When you failed to hit the ball every time you swung your bat you had every right to scold your father for being the world’s lousiest pitcher.
If they had not done that then chances are you would still be warming the bench at game time.
When my child was small she would scribble lines proudly on a sheet of paper and I would use that as the grocery list.
It encouraged and developed in her a love of writing.
I went gaga over, sticking on my refrigerator every sheet of art she proudly gifted me and today she is really an artist whose works people ooh and aah about.
Just like the man in the story worked from an inner center of happiness so must your child in school. While you help your child succeed you must also keep in mind a cautionary.
The child must develop over a period of time with maturity awareness that:
It is not the school or parent’s job to keep him entertained in school. He will have to develop that sense of job satisfaction on his own where he learns to enjoy what he is doing expending his own effort.
The employer did not teach the man in the story to whistle or hum. The employer had no clue as to what energized his employee. It was the man doing the job who knew what he found enjoyable that made his work load lighter.
Daniel Goleman defines it as an Emotional Intelligence.
In his book Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman talks of this as the Master Aptitude.
Top violin students at the best music academy in Berlin, all in their early twenties, had put in ten thousand total hours lifetime practice while the second tier students averaged around seventy five hundred hours.
What seems to set apart those at the very top of competitive pursuits from others of roughly equal ability is the degree to which, beginning early in life, they can pursue an arduous practice routine for years and years. And that doggedness depends on emotional traits- enthusiasm and persistence in the face of setbacks- above all else.
This is something many children do not learn even after they have become adults.
They are in lifelong pursuit of happiness seeking things outside of them. Since they are always being acted on by outside factors, situations or people they have no control over they cannot develop a sense of job satisfaction on their own.
So Mary cannot be happy at her job because her boss is partial to Louise. Mary is always at the butt of jokes in office. She is angry when she comes home. She would leave her job but knows the dual income is important as Henry her husband cannot make both ends meet on his paycheck.
Henry in turn knows his wife loathes her job. He hates having her live in such a negative environment but unable to do anything to remedy the situation in a down market makes him feel helpless and angry himself.
Inevitably Henry and Mary fight. Upset Mary scolds her children often sending them to bed in tears.
How does she break free of this vicious cycle?
For one Mary can learn to build her own sense of self-worth. Her sense of job satisfaction can come from building great personal client relationships such that clients identify the company through Mary’s efforts if she is a people person who enjoys being around people.
If she is technical she can figure out ways to cut cost and offer techie solutions to issues such that she is seen as an asset.
When people try to make jokes at her expense she should quietly but firmly stand up and exit gracefully go to her work station. Drink that cup of coffee alone rather than be used as someone’s punching bag. That alone time she can read books, listen to music, or go for a jog round the office building…
But Mary can think thus only if she is actively aware she is responsible at all times and all the choices to break free are in her hands.
It is so easy to hand over the reins of our life to another. Let people lead us and play on them the blame game if they happen to lead us astray.
Yet, stand on your own choices and feel an inner satisfaction in knowing you tie your own shoelace. Not even mom has to do it for you.
No government can give you an ideal education system.
No school can give you an ideal education.
No parent can be an ideal caregiver.
Everywhere there will be many slips between the cup and the lip.
You have to be ultimately responsible. You have to ultimately look at the work and know if you are up to it or not. You have to develop your own sense of wellbeing, that core of happiness as you pursue your goals.
In Daniel Goleman’s book he mentions a study on the remarkable performance of Asian students in American schools and professions.
Sanford Dorenbusch, a Stanford sociologist who studied more than ten thousand high-school students found that Asian –Americans spend 40% more time doing homework than other students.
“While most American parents are willing to accept a child’s weak areas and emphasize the strengths, for Asians, the attitude is that if you’re not doing well, the answer is to study later at night, and if you still don’t do well, to get up and study earlier in the morning. They believe that anyone can do well in school with the right effort.”
In short, a strong cultural work ethic translates into higher motivation, zeal and persistence- an emotional edge.
Knowing where you are at in life, identifying what it is you seek; connecting the lines from where you are to where you want to go will never be easy.
It is a challenge, it might even seem an arduous task but if you stay steady at your work and keep at it with enthusiasm it will get done. Before you know it the logs will be cut and neatly piled filling the woodshed to last all winter.
All in a day’s work!
© Ruby Mohan