In my later years of schooling, I became a better student. Part of my maturation was the understanding that it was my responsibility to make learning meaningful. My teachers could not teach me. My coaches did not coach me. My professors were there as guides. It was me who was the learner. I was the one who made all of those people’s lessons important or not.
It wasn’t my parents.
It wasn’t a politician.
It wasn’t my teachers, coaches, or professors, either.
I was the sole determinant as to whether I was going to understand, appreciate, and apply all of the lessons those mentors (less the politicians) put before me. I think I began to understand that near the end of high school. There are bits of my academic life in high school that stand out, but I was too immature and entitled to understand how my inability to make school a priority was something that might hurt me later in life.
And who was there to bail me out?…
Not my parents.
That sounds harsh and it should not. I thank my parents for allowing me to succeed and fail on my own volition. They were never at school when I got bad grades. In their way, they let me know that I would regret not doing better and they could rest assured that they were correct. They were never in a coach’s face (email had not been invented yet) when I didn’t get as much playing time or as much water as I thought I should have gotten. They never compared my placement on a team with any other player, nor sought to rationalize my status on a team with any perceived feelings the coaches might have had about me or my family. They were great that way.
They let me create my successes and helped me celebrate the big stuff.
They also let me feel the pain of my failures and taught me to take personal responsibility for them.
I never made it far as an athlete. I had an average high school career in two sports and an ego-deflating failure in another. It’s funny, but the third, which was my worst, is the only one I still pursue nearly thirty-five years later. Running is more about me being true to myself than anything and I was a terrible runner at seventeen. All these years later, I’ve learned more about patience, commitment, and competition for running that I ever did playing baseball or basketball. Still, though, I got to pitch in a couple of college baseball games and the writing was on the wall…or maybe it was the stitches of the baseballs as they got knocked around the park. I was not an athlete.
That was a hard pill to swallow because so much of my life was wrapped up in sports. Without the lessons my parents gave me about moving on and not spending too much time in a funk, I was able to get on with the business of being the best me that I could become. I’m training for my twelfth marathon, have earned a doctorate in education, published a book of poetry, and most importantly, am one part of a great family.
I’m not in the business of giving advice, okay, maybe I am since I teach and coach, but it is time for us (the adults) to allow students to fail. We have to teach them that they are responsible for their successes and failures. We can guide them through the pitfalls of life, but each of us must face the realities of our experiences with the skills to survive and the dignity to own our station.