The other day, I was discussing an award given to the highest-achieving senior in our school with one of my dear friends, T. She was discussing the limited nature of such an award-it is impossible to measure how hard any one student has tried. And she was completely correct. No award will recognize one of my friends who came to high school not knowing English, or my other friend who is the incredibly responsible eldest of five siblings, or the fight of a student who lost a loved one or struggled with other unimaginable impairments. By this time P had come by, and we questioned why the award seemed so important to us, since the people we were close to already knew how hard we worked. It soon became obvious that what we wanted was the recognition of strangers.
We tied this desire to have the approval of strangers and acquaintances to many of the things we worked very hard to do. Getting into a good school was nice not only because of the superior education, but because then everyone knew you were “smart.” Dressing nicely and wearing makeup can make you feel good about yourself, but it can also become unhealthy when it becomes about pleasing other people (mostly because on the inevitable day you do not think you look good, you will feel horrible).
This reminded me of two books I had read in the past. One was a children’s book called “You Are So Special”, by Max Lucado (cheesy title, I know). In the story, there are characters called Wemmicks that place dots and stars on each other according to how pretty and talented they are. Stars represent positive praise and dots represent negative praise. The protagonist, Punchinello, is sad because he had no stars and loads of dots. Then he meets Lucia, who does not have any dots or stars:
He asks her what her secret is, and she says that she talks to Eli, the carpenter (who represents God in this story), which gives her sufficient self-worth so that the dots and stars do not stick to her.
The other book I was reminded of was “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens” by Sean Covey, which I probably read when I was about thirteen or fourteen. In the chapter about priorities, Covey writes that instead of basing your life around things like friends, material possessions, or a romantic interest, your main pursuit in life should be for the principles you want to define you, like courage, friendship, or optimism. This is a powerful idea, and can become powerful enough to make you not want approval from strangers. It can make the dots and stars fall off. Trust me; you don’t realize what burdens they are until they are gone.
Strength and courage,