Category Archives: Character Development

Finding Our Pond

Last week my husband sent me a link to a video that was not only funny, but touching as well — I was actually crying tears of joy by the end of it.  Maybe you’ve seen it, too?  It’s a video showing a group of ducks, rescued from an animal hoarder, experiencing water for the first time.  At first they’re not sure what to make of the pond, but then suddenly, they get it. It’s as if they’re thinking “Wow! My weird webbed feet and all these feathers totally make sense now!”  (Click here to see it.)

I’ve been thinking about this video all week because I’ve realized it’s a truly great metaphor for life.  All of us need to find our pond — the thing we’re meant to do, the place we’re meant to be.  And our kids need to find their ponds, too. 

Here’s a great example.  I have a nephew who most people would describe as “high energy.”  Or, as my husband puts it, “all thrust, no vector.”   He’s a really sweet 8-year-old, with a genuinely bright mind, who only has two settings — “on” and “off”.  This sometimes gets him into trouble, especially at school, although he never has bad intentions.  He’s just trying to manage all that energy in his body.  He’s tried out a few sports and liked them well enough, but this season my brother signed him up for football for the first time.  After the first two weeks of practice I asked him if he was enjoying it, and his response was “Oooh, yesssss!”  So yesterday we went and watched one of his games, and it was like watching one of those ducks in the video dipping his head and flapping his wings — he was in his pond!  For him, all of his physical energy and impulses suddenly make sense.

Unfortunately, as adults, it’s up to us to find our own ponds — nobody is coming to rescue us and take us to them. As a starting point, we need to think about some key questions:  What are we really good at? When do we feel like life makes sense?  Where are we at peace?  The answers are different for each of us, and can be deceptively difficult to find.  I don’t think I even knew these questions mattered until I was well into my 20s, and even then I didn’t have the first clue about the answers until I was in my 30s.  The difficulty for me was that my parents both had very strong ideas about who I was and who I should be, so my true abilities and desires were buried. When I did finally start figuring things out, though — ahhh, it was like a warm bath!

And even if we’re still searching for our own ponds, how great would it be if we could help our kids answer these questions early in their lives?  I don’t mean the heavy “What do you want to be when you grow up?” types of questions, but the more basic questions that will help them answer the bigger ones later on. What do they enjoy doing now?  When do they feel most happy and calm?  For both of my boys, their answers are literally “being in the water” — Sam loves swimming, and Ben loves diving.  Also, Sam loves reading and needs some time alone every day; Ben is more social, and has a natural care-taking instinct.  As they grow older, I’ll need to help them continue to identify their personal strengths and loves so they can uncover their paths to fulfilling, joyful lives.  The hard part of this is making sure to stay in the role of “facilitator” — I can’t find the answers for them.

So where is your pond? Is it a place, a hobby, a profession? How did you find it? And have your kids found theirs yet?  Share it here — maybe your story can help someone else find the place where they feel like flapping their wings…!


Warrior Training

My family and friends are looking at me with expressions of bemusement lately, and a little confusion as well, when I tell them that we are now including “warrior training” as part of our homeschooling curriculum.  For the past year and a half, our approach to learning has been pretty standard — lots of math, reading, and history at the kitchen table, with a healthy dose of “real world” application.  But after a recent conversation with a psychologist friend of ours about the psychology of boys and how to help them thrive, my husband and I decided to add a new “warrior” dimension to their education. So now, in addition to their regular school work and sports (diving, swimming, and martial arts), the past two weeks have also included:  bouldering, archery, laser tag, Ninjitsu “night training”, and an aerial ropes course (complete with ziplines!). 

I’m assuming you have the same perplexed expression on your face that I’ve seen so many times recently. “This is school?” you might ask, or “Why are you doing this, exactly?”  The short answer is because they’re boys, and boys need physical challenges that not only allow them to release energy, but that also connect to their male spirit.  Adventure and risk-taking are hard-wired into them, and showing them how to channel these impulses into healthy and “manly” activities builds their competence and confidence, and feeds their soul.

The physical benefits are truly secondary to the other types of growth we’ve already noticed.  Building strength and endurance are certainly outcomes of this type of training, but they were already getting many of those benefits through their regular sports and play.  The difference in the “warrior” activities is that there’s an emotional component — the boys are facing fears, exploring limits (physical and mental), and learning what it means to manage their emotions.  As our friend put it, “The goal is to help them develop a sense of strength and capability, which will have benefits in all areas of their life, including school work and relationships.”

And building this sense of capability is key for boys (and girls as well).  Tony Deis, the founder of Trackers Earth, a wonderful outdoor education organization where my sons have attended summer camp for the past two years, recently wrote: “We need more educational settings where the teachers believe it is about helping kids become more capable, not regurgitating transient facts, search engine results or philosophy.”   For me, this means letting Sam and Ben think for themselves and figure it out on their own as much as possible, whether it’s doing math or climbing a wall.  

But before you decide to embark on your own form of “warrior training”, I should warn you that it’s not an easy path for parents (especially moms).  Why?  Because parental involvement needs to be minimal.  If the activity is about us wanting them to do something, or protecting them too much, it won’t work.  The goal is to give kids room to make their own choices, fail (maybe even get hurt), and try again. Our job is strictly to give them an age-appropriate venue, and then back away.  The upside, however, makes it totally worth it — both of my boys have been fully thriving the past few weeks, and they even cleaned their “warrior rooms” without complaint!

“The only way to make a difference with a boy 
is to give him powerful experiences that speak to his inner life, 
that speak to his soul…”
(“Raising Cain”, Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson)

Failing Productively

After publishing my last post, I happened upon an article written by a college professor about students’ fear of failure, and her thoughts about how we need to help students learn to use failure productively.  (To read the full article:  Next Time, Fail Better)  The article focuses primarily on comparing how students in two different academic disciplines (computer science vs. humanities) have learned to deal with failure (or not), and how difficult it is for those who are not accustomed to experiencing failure to struggle through this experience, even describing it as “demeaning”.  In my prior role as a graduate-level business instructor I was responsible for reviewing and grading many reports and business plans, and can confirm that business students (and I worked with hundreds of them during my time at the university) very closely resemble the humanities students Professor Krebs describes.

I certainly understand (all too well!) that failure is difficult, no matter who we are or how many times we have experienced it.  But as far as I can tell, teaching kids to deal with the negative emotions that come with failure is a critical skill on the path to adulthood, as is developing related skills:  personal insight, critical thinking, resilience, perseverance, patience.  As Professor Krebs points out, those that learn how to deal with failure also “learn something they can use to get closer to success the next time.”  Failure is not something to fear, but something to use.

So, in terms of the idea of paying kids for good grades…

For some families, getting straight “A”s is the definition of success, and those kids may very well learn how to cope with failure along the way toward this goal.  But what insights are they gaining in the process — what it takes to please the teacher they have this year? And what will inspire them to be patient and persevere — financial gains?  Maybe it’s just me, but this paints a very bleak picture of the world.  As an alternative, what if we defined success in terms of interests they have explored, insights they have gained (“Turns out, I hate basket weaving!”), and effort they have invested in developing knowledge and skills?  This is a different spin on the idea of “failing productively”, with more of a long-term perspective, and I think it’s a useful one.  It may actually help us produce adults who aren’t afraid to think creatively and take risks, who care less about their public image and more about interacting with the world in a genuine way.


“The men who try to do something and fail 
are infinitely better than those 
who try to do nothing and succeed.”  ~Lloyd Jones