Back in September 1987 when I was a green BYU freshman, I went to a leadership seminar. The speaker was an up and coming motivational speaker (which at the time was an entirely new concept) named Stephen Covey. He tossed around phrases I'd never heard before like "think outside the box" and "paradigm shift." Crazy talk! This was before Seven Habits was published, mind you. Honestly, I left there wondering what on earth I'd just heard. I didn't understand half of it. But I left knowing there was something important to setting goals and paying attention to where your life was going, you know, beyond figuring out what to major in and how on earth I was going to survive my roommate ALL YEAR.
Goal setting was not new to me, but Mr Covey did present it in a different way that helped me see how long term goals can be broken into medium term goals and those into short term goals. And all of these should line up to produce the desired long term goal. I am here today to tell you that yes, this is a good and true principle. And this is how I learned how to toss it out the window.
When you are endeavoring to raise boys, long term goals can be . . . depressing, at times. When my sweet baby boys are learning to toddle around (WAAAAY too early, with my boys. (Should have been my first clue that my particular breed of male human was going to be 3 steps past "Challenging." HINT: walking at 8 1/2 months is NOT wonderful and prodigious. It's more like the opening chords played on a gothic pipe organ at the beginning of a mad scientist movie. "Dun-dun-DUN!!!" Really. I even have the "just crossed the line into insanity" laughter now.)) (I lost track of my parentheses? Did I close them all?) )? ))?
Anyway, long term goals and raising boys. You look down at your cute little cherubs, with their button noses and 4-toothed grins and wonder, "What do I hope for you? What will you accomplish in your life? Will you sail through high school? What college will you go to? Will you have piles of academic scholarship offers? Will you be a Rhodes Scholar? Will you solve cold fusion, cure the common cold, solve world hunger, and finally give us those flying cars we've all been waiting for?!!
Ahem. Being a new mom can be daunting.
My first child, as readers of my previous blogs will know, was a girl. A quiet, studious, perpetual-teacher's-pet girl. Someone recently wrote a blog, "In defense of my son," about how mothers who have not raised a boy DO NOT GET IT. She wrote gospel truth. I "didn't get it" for about 3.9 years. Then my oldest son turned 2. And I found my feet solidly stuck on a sloggy (I just made that word up) trail (no pathway winding through male adolescence could possibly be so civilized as to be paved) that led into a dark and ominous wood, sign posted "Here Be Hormones." Bleh.
I hung desperately to my goals for a while. "Ok, so maybe he will be the first Rhodes Scholar who . . . hates to read? He'll make an amazing rebound in high school? Ok, maybe he'll have a minor head injury that will make all those genius protons (or whatever) snap into place and THEN we'll be on our way to flying cars?! Please? PLEASE?!!!" Hey, I'm no fair-weather goal setter! I STICK to my goals, even when they're so far past reasonable that their sell-by date is in a different century!
But there did come a day when I had to have a chat with myself. This child was NOT going to be valedictorian. He was an amazing athlete (walked at 8 1/2 months, remember), but he did not get a Division 1 scholarship or set any state records. Heck, at the point I was having this chat with myself, I was seriously wondering if we ought to look into GED programs at the community college. Or possibly Military School. In Azerbaijan.
And then it came to me. There are a lot of sloggy trails through that dark and ominous wood. He didn't have to take mine. He could take whatever trail he wanted. Sure, some of them had clearly posted signs of rabid dragons and evil enchantresses (grrrrr), and taking those trails would be 9 kinds of stupid. But the only REAL goal was to get THROUGH the wood. As long as he got through the wood, the goal was accomplished. THEN we could worry about flying cars. And, probably, the mass of parasites and festering infections he had garnered whilst perambulating along his own chosen byways . . .
So, I stopped worrying about how his actions TODAY lined up (or didn't, as the day may have been) with my long-term goals for my son, in terms of Nobel prizes and so on. Instead, I focused more on TODAY. Period. Let's just worry about today. It's sooooo much shorter.
Here's a recent example of how I put this principle into play. 1:30 in the afternoon is really not my favorite time of day. It's kind of the middle of nothing. Morning energy and focus are gone, lunch has pretty much put me to sleep, and there's still so much to do. And it's when the principal makes his post-lunch-recess phone calls. Yes, I know his schedule. And the other day, he called: "SoHiMrsDavis. Just letting you know of a situation we had a lunch today. We're not making a big deal of it, but we wanted to let you know what happened. Your son and several of his friends decided to play a game that involved kicking each other in the crotch . . ."
WHAT? HOW are we supposed to make a POTUS out of a kid who thinks it fun to get kicked in the crotch?! And then makes a game out of it? Oh wait, HE didn't make up the game, another kid did. Great. So he's not even a leader here. Just a follower. Sheesh.
Aaaaaaand this is where we step away from the telescope. Today's problem is not "how will this affect his future college prospects if he can't even focus on and value appropriate behavior, let alone the necessity of academic brilliance," but rather "kicking people in the crotch is wrong." That's it. That's all we need to worry about today. No crotches, no kicking. Done. See, isn't that easier? This, I can do. Goals just for today.
And sure, those little goals DO add up to the long term goals, just like Mr Covey taught. But I do my best not to worry about those. Those will take care of themselves, if today's goals are taken care of. Even the flying cars. His growing-up-path may very well go down trails with Crotch Kicking Mists of Stupidity, meander down mazes of She's SOOO Preeetttyyy, and sail right off the cliff of School Is A Waste of Time And I Hate It. But eventually he will get to the other side of it. And may very well still invent flying cars. There's A LOT of life after 18 :)
(But let's be honest, it's probably going to be that wretched perpetual-teacher's-pet daughter of that wretched Mom who doesn't get it. Brat.)