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Discovering a Passion

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Installment #24

H20 to Go!

Growing Emotional Resilience and Navigating Through Childhood

with Heart, Humor & Optimism

BY Margo Judge

Discovering a Passion
We can give our children Heart
We can give our children Humor
We can give our children Optimism
But, we are not responsible for their having Passion.
That grows all on its own
with a need for expression so powerful
it can pull them off their appointed path,
And make their journey longer and more conflicted
But having a passion will not, in fact, disorient.
It comes as a gift to give a different direction
and will, with time and freedom simply reroute
and put our children back on course
with a much better road map to follow.

When Passion comes,
it comes with a fury,
banging at a child's door
to stay, to do battle, and to conquer.

A parent sat with me one day, over coffee, to talk about her daughter who was to enter High School, the following year. It seemed that her Emily, though very bright, was having a tough time academically. Her teacher comments were always that she could apply herself more, hand in homework on time, and show more interest in class. This Mom was at her wits end about what to do.
All she is interested in is her theater classes, and I'm thinking of telling her that if her school performance does not improve, she cannot take extra curricular classes anymore, and she cannot go to theater camp, this summer.
How long has she been interested in theater?
Oh, as far back as I can remember, she was always doing little skits for us, and making up songs, and begging me to let her take dance classes, then singing lessons, then acting classes. Now she takes them all at one center. Her father is furious. He says we're spending all of this money to have her run around a stage, while her school work is going to h-II!
Is she flunking out?
No, she gets C's mostly, and I know, and my husband knows she can do better and besides, she's going into high school! She's got to start thinking about college. It's like she doesn't care. I really do not know what to do?
Well, first of all, it's too soon to judge college. Some kids simply don't settle down and get their act together until high school. Remember, middle school grades do not appear on any college transcript. Also, colleges are impressed with students who have steady climbs in their academic achievements. She might begin that climb after she's in high school and once she gets a little older. She might apply herself, once classes offer more choices and she can be a little more creative.
I wish my husband understood that, he thinks she's just lazy. But I don't think that she's lazy.
Either do I. Let's take a look at this from another perspective. Instead of concentrating on what she is not doing well, let's flip the coin, and ask ourselves, what is it that she IS doing well in?
Theater, that's all!
Right! She's doing well in Theater.
Yes, but, that's not as important as school!
Ah, but let me ask you something. When she was younger, did she ever complain about going to dance class?
Was she ever too tired to sing?
Oh gosh, no!
Did she ever say, I don't want to go to acting class, I'd rather go to a friend's house, instead?
Just once, for a birthday party.
Has she ever been sick when she was supposed to dance, or sing or perform?
Yes and in fact, we had running battles over this. She would want to go, and I would tell her she had to stay home, because she had a fever, and besides she couldn't afford to be sick for school. Then, she would cry and scream at me because I did not understand how important it was for her to be there-that she was missing an important rehearsal!
Has she ever gone to an acting class without her lines memorized?
Has she ever complained of too much work or stress in one of her theater related classes
I guess because she loves it. And she doesn't mind doing things that she loves.

Well that's true, but when things stop being just love, and you have to go to the next level and hard work kicks in, it takes more than love to keep someone motivated, and disciplined. So what do you think is driving her in this area?
You know what I think? It's passion! Theater is her passion. And Passion has it's own energy, its own set of rules and its own game plan.
What I am trying to get at is this. If she were a child who was truly floating--for whom there seemed no anchor--I'd say yes, a change is needed, intervention of some sort to help her get on a more secure track. But step back and look at your daughter from a distance, for a moment. She is, in fact, showing discipline; she is, in fact, showing responsibility; she is, in fact, showing focus; she is in fact showing dedication; and a seriousness of purpose, if not where you might want to see it, at least, in her area of interest.

She is willing to go and put in a long day after school. She would go even if she were sick, as much, I'll bet, because she senses a responsibility to her teacher and her peers, as anything else. She is willing to prepare well for class. She is willing to give up something fun, for something she loves. And she is willing to apply energy, and motivation that you may not see, as yet, (and note I say, as yet) in her school work.

She does possess these qualities, and that is truly wonderful. Any passion that a child wants to pursue will soon grow beyond the "love and fun" stage. It will take a tremendous amount of hard work, and commitment; it will take pushing beyond what she thought she could do, and it will take making tough choices and sacrifices in time and social life. Emily's passion is so strong that
1) She could never imagine giving it up.
2) She has future dreams connected to it.
3) She is willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve her goal towards it.
And I promise you that the same determination and drive she exhibits at the moment, only for theater, will at some point, and without fail, transfer to other areas. Having a passion will automatically demand a great deal more than just desire and talent, if it is to materialize into achievement. You can't continue in any craft, or sport, or profession without serious concentration, study and practice. That's where you start to notice the difference between those who are gifted, but who don't want to put in the time, and those who are talented, and who dig in their heels, and give one hundred percent.

When you see, in a child, this willingness to persevere without back-staging, or prodding, or nagging, then you know. That child has all the tools needed for success.
So, back to my opinion about Emily.
I would not tell her that she can't pursue theater if she doesn't improve in school. I would not have done that to my own son with his passion for baseball. And looking back-- all the hard work, the training, the practices, and injuries, sense of responsibility to the team, and to the games, and sacrificing for travel and showcases, taught him more ethics and values, getting along, and 'life happens' skills than anything else could have. And, along the way, the determination connected to that passion did help him develop into a serious student.
So, what should I do?
First of all, I would acknowledge what she loves as extremely positive. I would take her out to a place she likes, for lunch-neutral territory. And I would say:
Listen, I know your father and I have been after you about your school work and your grades, but that's our job as parents, to nag all the time, to be involved and keep after you because we expect you to try hard, and we feel very strongly about a receiving a strong education, no matter what you ultimately decide to do. But, I also want you to know, how impressed I am with how you handle your theater classes. You have been very dedicated to it for a long time, and I applaud that.
At which point she will probably faint with suspicion or say, yes, this is what she wants to do when she grows up.
To which you can then reply:
I have no doubt you will because it looks to me as if, you're willing to put in all the hard work you need, to make it happen.
Now, you've done two things with that sentence. One, you have told her you believe in her and two, you have added that nothing happens without hard work.
And then, you use the word, passion positively: I think it's terrific to have a passion-something you care so much about, and that you show such determination and responsibility towards! I am so happy for you. I'm so proud of you!
You have made her see that you understand how deep her feelings are about this, and that this passion has some very positive and important characteristics that she has exhibited. Now, all of a sudden, she can think of herself as dedicated, determined, responsible. Things are looking up.
Rattle these words off to her again and tell her that such attributes will, one day, make her a wonderful role model for someone else. This is music to any child's ears. A role model for someone else.

Kids want desperately for us to be proud of them. They want to be proud of themselves. Achievement makes all kids feel good. We need to acknowledge positive achievement even if or when it's not in an area we would designate as important.

I told Emily's mother, that I had no doubt she would be fine. She had a vision for her future, and a positive one which would expand as she got older. And that's what happened. High School opened up more choices for study. Math and Science remained difficult, but English offered an opening for her creativity, and she discovered that she could write well, especially dialogue. She became a lead in her school's productions, and her grades began the slow climb upwards. Her talent for and devotion to theater was clearly evident. She did became a role model and started (for her senior volunteer credit) a little theater group for disadvantaged children. She later went on to attend a college that offered exactly the kind of theater program she wanted. I actually expect great things from this young lady.

I would never advocate holding a child's passion for something as a sword over his/her head.
As long as a child shows positive focus, curiosity, development, and commitment in some area, the rest will follow automatically. Education comes in all forms. And sometimes, a child has to discover, all on their own, how education can actually help support their passion. Until then, if a child needs some extra support, there are many tools available to help with organizational skills, and study habits; teachers themselves can be of enormous assistance; and time can be the greatest friend. Given time, much can change and improve. But, take away a child's passion, and we take away part of their soul. We risk breaking their spirit, or making them fight so hard to hold onto that passion, that they lose more than they gain.
Having a passion for something (not someone) can be the most positive force in a young heart. So, when it bangs on our child's door, let's welcome it, give it food and shelter, and a place to set up shop, and it will give back three fold to our child's well being.
Happy Thanksgiving
Love and Blessings to all and expecially the children.
Margo Judge

Next Installment: 25/Issue #7

Advanced but Not Mature

Updated 2009

H20 to Go! Copyright, 2004
By  Margo Judge

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Chapter 3/Gaining Perspective One issue At A Time
Issue #6: Discovering A Passion
Installment #24