When I was 20-something — young, single and loving to mingle– I boldly declared to a co-worker, “I can do anything I put my mind to.” I believed it was not “thy will be done” but “my will be done.” Snarkily, she replied, “Can you turn yourself into a boy?” Clearly, she did not know about the wonders of plastic surgery and the transgender nation. Hell, back then, neither did I.
As I have grown older (ouch, I hate that word), I have learned that I do have limitations. Sometimes our best efforts produce only average results — if we are lucky.
For me, my nemesis is mathematics. One and one will always add up to three. And my terrible math skills (I use the term “skills” very loosely) is not due to lack of trying, “bad” teachers, unwillingness to properly apply “The Secret”, sexism or racism. It’s because I just stink at math. And it’s okay; that’s why they invented calculators.
I will never be a rocket scientist, engineer or mathematician. I am more than happy to be highly-flawed and mildly entertaining.
Sometimes I wonder who told me I could do anything? I can trace this belief back to my well-meaning parents who wanted me to be more than they could ever be. They wanted to set the bar high — impossibly high.
A lot may have changed over the years but parents are still parents. And they and well as others (including your favorite prosperity-preaching teleevangelist) are still selling the “you can do anything you want to” line.
And today’s youth are buying it.
Without fail, usuallyin mid-semester, I am approched by a few students who ask me, “How can get an ‘A’ in the class?” I worked really hard and all I am getting is a ‘C’.” And the question is usually followed by, “Can you give me extra credit?” I want to say, “What? You must be high. Do you think I want more work? Grading papers is hard enough. I don’t want to add more to my pile.”
But instead, I gently tell them that I am not going to change their grade; I will not give extra credit and hard work is no guarantee of a good grade. “An ‘A’ is for outstanding work, ” I say. “Your work is good but not outstanding.” Disappointed, they walk away.
Throughout the semester, I try to reinforce that it’s the process and the skills, eventually acquired, that are important, not necessarily the grade.
All the while, I remind them that an “A” is not for effort but for excellence and that having limits does prevent you from living a full and wonderful life.