There Are No Wasted Auditions (Part One)

The hardest thing for a parent to do is watch their kid fail. But without failure, there is no true success.

“Audition Opportunity!” read the subject line of the email. My nine-year-old, Orly, is passionate about acting. He wants to be on Broadway one day. He’s auditioned for several roles in different theaters, which landed me on multiple mailing lists.

“Looking for three to four young actors, any age but under 4 feet tall, to play the role of Theo in our upcoming Tony Award winning Broadway musical, Pippin” University of Miami’s Ring Theater was hosting the audition. Theo was the only child part in the play, meaning the young actor would be performing alongside University of Miami’s junior and senior theater students. They were looking for three or four actors so that the children could alternate in between performances.

Knowing my son would kill to audition for this, I forwarded the message to my husband. Not two minutes later, the phone rang.

“Did you see the email?” I asked, forgetting to say “Hello.”

“He’s going to love this,” Orlando replied. “What a great opportunity.”

“What about the height restriction?” I asked. “Orly might be right on the cusp of four feet.”

“Yes, I think he’s right around that height.” Orlando agreed. “You know who else might be perfect for this audition?”

“Who?”

“Justin.”

Justin was our adorable six-year-old who has an incredible ability to memorize lines, but his personality is very different than his brother’s.

“Do you think Justin would want to do something like this?”  I asked.

“Let’s ask him. They’re looking for three to four actors for the same role. Both brothers could be Theo. How cool would that be?”

“That would be awesome,” I agreed.

We brought up the audition at dinner. Orly’s eyes lit up immediately. “I want to audition!”

Justin was less enthused. “Justy, tell us. Do you want to audition for Theo?” I stroked his cheek.

“I don’t know,” he said nonchalantly. “I guess.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, buddy. But we think it would be a great experience for you and imagine how cool it would be if both you and your brother got to be in the same play.” Orlando said.

“Okay, I’ll do it.” He said casually.

After dinner, Orlando played some of the Pippin songs so the boys could become familiar with the play. Orly began rehearsing right away. For the next few days, I’d hear Orly singing alone in his bedroom and in the shower. He was always practicing. He’d auditioned for roles before but had never taken them quite as seriously as this one.

We’d been trying to instill the importance of preparation in him, and it seemed to have all “clicked.”

He’d get frustrated with his brother who was not as committed. “Justin, you have to be prepared for this audition,” he’d scold him as if he were an adult. “If you’re not willing to work for this, you’re not going to get the part.”

Justin was unfazed.

On the day of the audition, we sat the boys down. “Okay guys, today’s the big day. Remember that several things can happen: 1. Both of you get the part, 2. Neither of you get the part, or 3. Only one of you gets the part. Regardless of what happens, remember that you are brothers. If one of you gets to be Theo and the other doesn’t, be thrilled for your brother; brothers back up and support each other. Understood?”

They nodded their heads and off they went with their dad.

Upon their return, I got the details. Orly had a great audition. Even the director commented on how well he did. Justin, on the other hand, was all over the place. He sang well but was fooling around and being silly. Orlando and Orly were not happy about his behavior.

Every day for the next few days, Orly asked, “Have you heard from UM?”

“Nothing yet.” We continued to prepare both of them for the possibilities we had discussed earlier.

Then I got the call from Orlando. “Are you sitting down?” His voice sounded surprised.

Could they have both gotten the part? Is it good news or bad news?

 “What is it?” I asked.

“Justin got the role of Theo.” Yes! They both got the part. “So they both got in?” I confirmed.

“No, Caro. Orly didn’t get in.”

What?

I never considered that Justin would get the role over his older brother.

“But didn’t you said he was fooling around during the audition?” I asked.

“He was!” Orlando exclaimed. “She liked Justin’s innocence and angelic face. Apparently, not being polished worked to his advantage. The director loved Orly, but he was too tall for the Theo she envisioned.”

“Orly is going to be devastated,” I said softly.

We’d been telling our son to work hard and be prepared and that would get him to where he wanted to be. But his little brother was getting the role even though he barely worked for it. As much as we loved Justin, we felt disappointed. It didn’t seem fair or right. Orly wanted this more than his brother did. He worked harder. He deserved it more.

For a moment, we thought of telling the boys that neither of them got the part. Justin wouldn’t be as devastated as Orly would be—but only for a moment.

Are we crazy? We can’t do that.

Justin deserved to have his moment in the spotlight as much as Orly did. And whether he had been fooling around or not, he had earned his role and it was our responsibility to celebrate that. Besides, we have to let our kids fail. We’re not doing them any favors by shielding them from disappointments. These moments build character. We knew what we had to do, but it was painful.

“Let me be the one to tell him,” Orlando said. “I’ll come by and pick him up in 15 minutes. Have him ready.”

With my poker face on, I told my son to get ready to go to the grocery store with his dad. He put his shoes on and rushed out of the house.

Orlando drove them around the block and parked in a nearby school parking lot. “What are you doing, Dad?” Orly asked.

“Orly, I have something to tell you. Justin was chosen to be Theo for Pippin, but you weren’t.” Our son’s eyes dropped down to the floor.

“Orly, I know this is devastating for you, but you can’t let it get you down. You had a great audition. You killed it. In fact, the director called me because she wanted you to know how impressed she was by you. She said she’d keep you in mind for future performances.”

“But if I did so well, why didn’t I get the part?” he asked.

“Because this wasn’t the right part for you, buddy. You are too tall and mature for the role. You’re not going to be a good fit for every part. And the acting world is full of rejection. If you want to be on Broadway like you say you do, you’d better get used to hearing ‘No’ more often than ‘Yes.’ That’s how it works. You’re going to have to develop thick skin.”

“Okay,” Orly whimpered.

“About your brother. Justin has been your biggest fan, sitting front row at all your performances and rooting for you. He’s always the first one to run up to hug you when you’re done. It’s his turn to shine. He deserves for you to be as supportive of him as he has been of you. And if you weren’t going to get the part, who better than your brother to get it?”

Orlando pulled Orly close to give him a hug. Tears streamed down both of their faces.

I waited anxiously as I saw my husband’s car pull into the driveway. Orly got off and opened the front door. “Justin,” He yelled loudly. “Come give your brother a hug!”

Justin ran right into Orly’s open arms.

“Why are you hugging me?” He asked mid-hug.

“Because you’re Theo.”

“Really?” Justin squealed. “Are you Theo too?”

“No Justy, I’m not. But I’m so proud of you.”

There are moments in life you will never forget. Watching this young boy, whose glossy eyes and pink nose revealed he’d been crying, put aside his feelings to celebrate his brother was one of those moments. I couldn’t have been prouder of my son.

When it was time for bed, I laid next to Orly like I always do. He began to cry again. “Mom.” He sniffled. “It’s not that I’m not happy for Justin. I’m genuinely happy for him, but I’m sad for me, too. I don’t get it, mom. I’ve been working really hard. Is it that I’m not good enough?”

“These things happen, my love—even when you work hard—but eventually your persistence and commitment will pay off.”  I rested my head on my hands as I spoke to him. “You can feel happy for brother and sad for yourself at the same time. You know what you have to do tonight?”

“What?”

“Cry all you want. Feel sad or mad or whatever you want to feel.”

“And then?”

“And then tomorrow get back up again, ready to audition for the next play. Tomorrow, get back to working on your craft to be the best you can possibly be … because there’s an awesome role waiting for you right around the corner.”

Just then, Orlando walked into the room. “Orly, you know what? It doesn’t matter whether you got the role of Theo or not. Remember that the director said you made a great impression on her. There are no wasted auditions. One day, she’ll think of you when another kid role comes up, and this will all have been worth it.”

“You promise?” Orly asked.

We do not take promises lightly in our home. Having our children’s complete trust and confidence is one of our biggest priorities. Orly knows that, so this was an extremely loaded question.

Orlando paused, looked at his son, and replied, “I promise.”

A smile crossed our son’s face. We kissed him and walked out of his bedroom.

On the opening night of Pippin, we left Justin backstage and took our seats in the theatre.

With a huge smile on his face, Orly turned to me and said, “Mom, my legs are jelly.”

“Why” I asked.

“Because I’m so excited for Justin.” He squeezed my hand as we waited for his brother to take the stage.

A Moment of Clarity

I felt a little proud, a little sad, and a little hopeful that our son would be rewarded for his commitment, courage, and character.

But no matter what, I knew everything was going to be alright.

(Stay tuned for next week to find out what happened next)

 

 

 

Stop Waiting for Inspiration

I’ve been staring at a blank screen for an hour and twenty-two minutes. My weekly blog post is due, the kids will wake up soon, and I’ve got nothing.

This is the problem with inspiration. It’s not available on demand. She might be tapping on someone else’s shoulder right now, whispering words of wisdom in their ear … but for me, she didn’t stop by today.

So what do I do?

Do I close the computer and skip this week’s article?

Should I dwell on the fact that I don’t have 26 articles written and ready to go like my blogger friends told me to?

Or do I distract myself with busy work so I have the false illusion that I’m being productive?

Everything seems easier with inspiration, whether you’re working, writing, speaking, painting, eating healthy, exercising—heck, it’s even easier to love when you’re feeling inspired.

The key word here being: Feeling.

Feelings are fickle and sometimes we just don’t feel like doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

It’s like going to the gym. Most people know it’s good for them and they’ll feel great after they exercise. But when that alarm clock starts beeping at 5am, they don’t feel like getting out of bed.

A friend of mine told me once how he tackles that problem:  “I want to run but I know I’m not going to feel like running, so I don’t think about the run. I focus on putting on my running shoes and walking outside. I tell myself that once I’m on the street, if I don’t feel like running, I can turn around and go back inside. But I never do. So long as I can get my shoes on and get on the road, I’ll run.”

What about having sex with your partner. We all know that couples who have sex regularly are happier in their relationships. And yet after a long, stressful day, sex doesn’t sound like a good idea. You feel tired, stressed or annoyed. You don’t feel like it. Then it becomes a vicious cycle. The less you have sex, the less you want to have sex with your partner, and the more the relationship starts deteriorating. I asked a friend of mine who was having marital problems how their sex life was going.

“I can’t remember the last time we had sex,” she replied.

“Maybe if you two have sex, things will improve.” I suggested.

“Ugh, I know.” She took a deep breath as her eyes met the floor. “But I just don’t feel like it.”

“Do you want to get a divorce?” I asked.

“No!” She said without hesitating. “I still love him, It’s just things haven’t been going well and I’m not in the mood.”

I pressed her. “Then, do it anyway. Go home tonight and have sex. You might be surprised how you feel afterwards.”

She called me a month later and said “I did what you suggested and all I could think was: why didn’t I do this sooner? We’ve been having sex regularly and our relationship has improved so much in the last few weeks.”

That’s the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people. They’re not solely driven by their emotions.

Do it anyway.

I closed my eyes and set an intention. I’m not sure what I’m going to write today, but please let it serve someone who needs to read my words.

The next thing I did was look back at my old blogposts to see what I wrote about during this time last year. I wrote one post about lessons I learned from a simple story my cousin shared at her father’s funeral and another about lessons I learned as we confronted Hurricane Irma.

I took a moment to express gratitude that I’m no longer facing these difficult times, even if it means I’m drawing a writer’s blank.

But then it hit me. It’s so obvious. Back then I only wrote when I was inspired, which made my writing a hobby, not a profession.  But I’ve made a decision to go pro. And that means this article has to go out—no matter what.

We all face this struggle.  We want to be consistent, produce good work, and get good results. But that means we have to show up even when we don’t want to.

By focusing on my intention of serving others, I realized my lack of inspiration was inspiring a post about lack of inspiration!

Inspiration is nothing more than a feeling. Successful people are willing to do things that unsuccessful people are not willing to do—even when they don’t feel like it.

So what do you do when you’re feelings get in the way of what you’re supposed to do?

Put on your running shoes.

Kiss your spouse.

Look up a healthy recipe on the internet.

Register for that course.

Sit in front of the blank computer screen.

Do something.

A Moment of Clarity

The key is to take action regardless of how you feel. And stop worrying about inspiration. Once she realizes you’re not waiting around for her anymore, she’ll come find you. Isn’t that ironic?

Shake On It

Working out early in the morning is an absolute priority for me, but my kids’ back to school schedule presented a conflict. I knew I wouldn’t make it home in time to wake them up and get them ready. The first week of school, I skipped my morning runs, and one pilates class. I was not happy about it.

Unwilling to make this compromise, I sat my kids down and explained the situation.

“Mommy has to exercise in the mornings and the only way she can do that is if you guys help me. You each have an alarm clock. I’m going to set the clocks to 6:30am and I’m going to leave this list on your desk. Your job is to get up by yourselves, and start working on the list. By the time I get home, you need to be dressed and have brushed your teeth and hair.”

I couldn’t tell if they were taking me seriously, so I added, “Here’s the deal.  I know how much you love staying up late on the weekends. That privilege comes with responsibility. If you can’t wake up in the morning by yourselves, then you won’t have the privilege of staying up late during the weekend.”

Eyes grew wide and mouths dropped. “What?” Justin exclaimed.

Now they’re listening.

“In life, privilege comes with responsibility and consequences, buddy. You need to be responsible for waking up to the alarm and starting your day on your own.”

That was all I had to say. The next day, I went to my pilates class and when I returned my three boys were fully dressed and ready to go. Everything was going well until the following Wednesday evening.

“Okay boys, let’s set your alarms. Tomorrow I run so I get home a little later than usual. It’s very important that you’re ready to go by the time I get back. Let’s go over your list.”

Orly had had enough. “Mooooom!” He whined.

“What?” I was confused. I hadn’t said anything different than the other days.

“You’re doing this every day. When are you going to stop running and doing pilates?”

“I’ve been exercising every morning for years, Orly. Nothing has changed.”  But something had changed, because my morning routine was now interfering with his life.

“I know but every morning is the same thing. We have to wake up by ourselves, and you’re not here. Enough already. Until when are you going to do this?”  He pressured me.

“Until I’m 100.” I answered, nonchalantly.

His eyes rolled. “Mom, give me a break. I’m being serious.”

“So am I,” I said. “I’ll be running and doing pilates until I’m 100.”

“No you’re not, mom. You can’t run and do pilates at 100 years old,” he scoffed.

“Wanna make a bet?” I challenged.

“Mom, you may not even LIVE to be 100!” He kept arguing.

I put my hand out. “Okay, let’s shake on it. I bet you if I’m alive at 100, I’ll be running and doing pilates.”

“And what if you’re not?” He asked.

“Then you’ll be telling everyone you know that if your mom were alive she’d be running and doing pilates!”

Orly’s hand met mine and we smiled as we exaggeratedly shook our hands up and down.

I laid with him in bed for a few minutes. “You’re funny, mom.” He said as his eyes drifted off to sleep.

I better stay in good shape! I laughed to myself as I walked out of his bedroom. I can’t control everything that will happen between now and when I get to 100 (or if I do). But by shaking hands with my son I did three things:

1. I showed him that I’ve set an intention to stay healthy and strong for as long as I can.

2. I made him my partner in the journey.

3. I held myself accountable to the kind of lifestyle I want to lead.

What seemed like an annoyance for my son at the beginning (running through the checklist and setting alarm clocks) became a light-hearted team effort.  My son’s paradigm had shifted to helping me work towards my goal of exercising until I’m 100 by cooperating with me in the morning.  And by me going for my run, I’m sticking to my end of the challenge.

I walked through the door the next morning and headed towards my kids’ bedroom. They were awake and ready. 

“How was your run, mama?” Orly asked.

“Great.” I said, “But Orly, I suggest you start training soon—because when you’re 70 and I’m 100—you’re not going to be able to keep up with me!”

A Moment of Clarity

Sometimes we feel like we have to put our goals and dreams aside for the sake of our kids. And sometimes we do have to shift focus and readjust for them. As they get older, though, it is quite powerful to dream and partner with your kids. It’s important for them to know what you’re working towards, and how their cooperation will help you get there. That’s what great families do. They help each other, they push each other, and they hold each other accountable. Great families are always there for each other, even when they’re not physically there.

Are You A Turtle or A Hare?

Do you remember the old story of the turtle and the hare? The turtle challenged the hare to a race. The hare ran so fast that it was impossible for the turtle to win. Because he was so ahead in the race, the hare stopped to rest and gloat. But guess what? He fell asleep. Slowly and steadily, the turtle kept walking, inching his way toward the finish line. The animals who were watching cheered so loudly for the turtle that they woke up the hare. The hare began running again, but it was too late–the turtle had already crossed the finish line. 

The moral of the story: “Don’t brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!”

In real life it can feel quite frustrating to feel like you’re the turtle. Looking around, people appear to be making more money than you, have a larger social media following than you, are more successful than you, have bigger homes, nicer cars, and slimmer bodies. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there’s something wrong with you and everyone else has it all figured out.  In moments when you’re feeling like everyone else has more talent, physical ability, and resources than you have–remember that it pays to be slow and steady. 

Three years ago, a group of us got together to hold each other accountable to exercise. I created a chat for the crew and the challenge was that we each post pictures or proof of daily workouts. We all started strong, exercising daily and showing each other our progress. One of our girlfriends agreed to join the chat but didn’t seem as motivated as the rest of us were. She didn’t go out and buy new workout clothes or running shoes.  She made no proclamations of exercising daily. Walking around her neighborhood a few times a week was about as much as she was willing to commit too. Even though she didn’t go “all in” at once, she was pretty consistent about her walks. 

After a while, I noticed she was posting pictures on the chat on a more frequent basis. She was definitely thinner and she’d joined a gym.  Slowly and steadily, this friend of mine became increasingly committed to her exercise routine and even started making some dietary changes.  Today, she looks amazing. She’s managed to lose weight, keep it off and maintain her lifestyle. She probably goes to the gym more than almost every one of us on the chat.  

My friend is a turtle. 

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get excited about a new project or venture. It’s fun to start something new and I love the enthusiasm that comes with it. But often times we get caught up in the thrill of the new at first and then taper down.  We behave like the hare. We may be talented, or have all the skills necessary to succeed – but we lose motivation and momentum …and essentially, we fall asleep. We want quick results and when we don’t see them, we quit. Hares are marshmallow eaters.

We often confuse turtles for hares. Like Lin Manuel Miranda who wrote the wildly successful “Hamilton” musical. At a glance, this young man seems like he got lucky and struck gold with a Broadway play–but that’s because we don’t see the six years he spent writing the play. Did you know it took him one year to write just one song? We see the super-star athletes making millions of dollars but we don’t see the sacrifice, commitment and time they spent working to get where they are. 

With the exception of some unicorns, most really successful people are turtles in disguise. They deliberately move forward, overcoming obstacles, gaining momentum, and thwarting distractions.  They stay in the race even when everyone around is passing them. 

But we don’t see that. We see them as hares because we only see them when they’re rich and famous or have made it.  

So what does this mean to you?  It’s great to use other’s success as motivation for the goals you’re working toward but it is not useful to use those comparisons as a measure of your inadequacy. If that’s the case, stop comparing. Don’t eat the marshmallow!

A Moment of Clarity

 Invest your time and energy in your work. Build your foundation. Be frugal and save your money. Stay focused on your goals. Prioritize your values. Strengthen your core. Keep moving forward. Stay in the game. Don’t be ashamed if you feel like a turtle. 

One day, someone might even confuse you for a hare. 

 

Accepting Responsibility

In life, you must take responsibility for what happens to you. There are some events in life that we can control, and others that we cannot. We definitely cannot control other people or their behavior. But we can control ourselves. Through our example, we will be respected by others and will influence them as a result. How to Survive Among Piranhas

Last week I encountered a rough patch with my husband. He’d been in an unpleasant mood and seemed generally unhappy with me. I didn’t know why, so I pointed it out.

“Orlando you’re cranky and unpleasant lately and it’s no fun being around you,” I said, expecting him to apologize and readjust.

“Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t think you’ve been acting like a very good wife, lately,” he said matter of factly.

Immediately my brain went into defense mode: What? How could you possibly think I’m not a good wife? I live for you! 

But that’s not what I told him. Instead, I asked, “Why would you say that?”

“Because you’ve watched me drowning with the move and trying to run my business and you’ve done nothing to help. You know I can’t stand things being incomplete and yet you know I have frames on the floor, I’m missing furniture, and you don’t care.”

Let me tell you the backstory:

Orlando moved offices a couple of weeks ago. You know how many moving parts go into a move. Foreseeing how stressful this was going to be and knowing that neither Orlando nor I are good at or enjoy decorating or shopping, (he’s better at it than I am, actually),  I suggested we hire our girlfriend who is an interior designer to decorate the office. Sure, it would cost us more money but it’d be done quickly and beautifully. Orlando refused.  “It’s a small office, not our home,” he said. He didn’t think it was necessary to spend additional money on an interior designer. I knew he was wrong, so I figured: Well, if that’s how you feel then you can do it yourself. 

As I suspected, I’d seen him struggling with choosing a desk and furniture, what color to paint the office,  what to hang on the walls and what to put where. But I had an I told you so attitude because this wouldn’t have happened if he’d listened to me.

And now he was angry with me.

I started to defend myself, “Orlando, I told you we needed to hire an interior decorator and all of this would’ve been avoided.”

He didn’t back down, “I needed YOU.”

The truth is that my husband does a lot for our family. He runs a very demanding criminal law practice, buys groceries for our home, cooks dinner almost every night, and helps a lot with the kids. He’s been supportive of my giving up my law practice to focus on my writing and speaking career. He needed to feel that I had his back, like he has mine.

The next day I stepped up to the plate. I put my pride aside, took responsibility, and focused on helping my husband finish his office so he could work in peace. I spent the next week doing everything I could to relieve stress and move things along. It wasn’t all smooth, but what matters is that my husband saw that I listened, I understood, and I took action.

Why am I sharing this uncomfortable story with you?

Because our argument could’ve gone another way. I could’ve been insulted and pointed out all that I do for our family. I could’ve maintained my position that I was right and he was wrong. I could’ve accused him of being unreasonable and unfair and searched through my mental rolodex for times I felt let down by him. That’s what we often do in the heat of the moment, don’t we? We search for the reasons we’re right, we stand our ground, and we aim to win the argument at whatever cost.

I was raised in a family that’s full of divorces, so logic suggests that my marriage would fail. But so far, we’ve maintained a healthy, strong marriage. I attribute my part of our success to the principles I’ve been learning my entire life.

I was grateful that my husband was honest and open about his feelings in a stressful time, instead of silently building resentment towards me. We often want our spouses to read our minds and fix their behavior without us having to tell them what’s bothering us. But that’s a recipe for disaster. I didn’t really know how much it upset my husband that I wasn’t involved in this project.  Once he told me what he felt, I stopped talking and adjusted my behavior. I accepted responsibility.

For years, I sat in the front row of my father’s seminars hearing him deliver speeches and workshops. I must’ve heard him tell his Ghandi story on accepting responsibility a thousand times. The more you listen, read, and study a set of principles, the more they are ingrained in your cells, becoming a part of who you are.

In this case, I couldn’t control how my husband felt. The only thing I could control was how I reacted to his feelings. I looked inward and changed my behavior.  The marriage thrives.

And so it goes in love and life.

A Moment of Clarity

Invest in your personal development. Read, study, listen, over and over again. Before you know it, these skills will help you thrive in your relationships, and your life.

What Successful People Are Willing To Do…

Let’s say you play soccer. And let’s say you belong to a team that hired David Beckham to coach you. Would you take advantage of that opportunity?

I assume your answer is: “Of course I would!”

I’ve been shocked to see how many people let opportunities like this slip through their fingers.

My kids play chess. This summer, they were invited to participate in a competitive five-week chess training program, which included competing in the 2018 Southern Open Chess Tournament. This intensive training was taught by an International Grand Master, currently ranked 165 in the world. Considering that there are roughly six hundred million people who play chess, being ranked in the top two hundred players worldwide is pretty remarkable. This guy even won a gold medal in the Olympics!

It would be an incredible opportunity for any chess player to spend five weeks learning from this master. My sons’ chess school has hundreds of enrollees, and of that group, only thirty-eight were invited to participate in this elite track. But of those 38, only 17 kids participated. This small group included several kids who had spent their entire scholastic year working towards the goal of getting invited to play and yet their parents didn’t register them.

An opportunity lost.

After the tournament ended, we learned that our grand master has been given a full scholarship to an American university where he will play on its chess team. So, unfortunately for us, our kids only have one more month to learn from him. Yesterday’s class was designed to review the games the kids played at the tournament – to see what they did correctly, what they did wrong, and how they can improve. Of the seventeen kids who participated in the program, only three showed up to class (and two of them were mine) even though this type of exercise is one of the keys to improving your chess skills.

Another opportunity lost.

Of course, the kids have no say in this matter. Their parents are in charge of enrolling them, paying for them, and driving them to activities. Kids only decide whether they like it or not. And to some parents, that’s equally irrelevant because you don’t enroll your child in a sports program, so they make it their career.  After all, it is highly unlikely that your kid is going to be the next Yankee baseball player or prima ballerina or international grand chess master. Instead, you enroll them in sports programs to develop mentally and physically, to entertain them, to explore their talents, to keep them busy, to teach them discipline, and to help them discover their passions.

But this article is not about playing second base for the Yankees or doing plies at the Met. And it’s certainly not about playing chess or becoming a grand master.

This article is about life.

It’s about training.

Sure, the boys learned some good chess techniques with this teacher and their games have improved. But that is the least important of their training.

 What really matters is that they learned that this grand master has been studying chess five hours a day for twenty years. They learned that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, what matters is your progress. They learned that no matter how much higher someone is ranked above you, you can beat them if you play a particular game better than they do. They learned that to succeed you need self-discipline. They learned that their talent only makes up about 20% of their success, the other 80% is consistent dedication, discipline, and hard work. They learned that when you are amongst the best in anything you do, you have more possibilities (like this master who received a full scholarship and room and board for his family at a prestigious university.) These are lessons they can apply to anything they do.

I don’t care if my kids excel in chess or not. I want them to succeed in life.  As “Dilbert” creator, Scott Adams, said, “You can’t control luck, but you can move from a game with bad odds to one with better odds. You can make it easier for luck to find you.”

I know we all want our kids to be successful, which is why I was so surprised to see how few of the kids who enjoy playing chess were allowed to take advantage of this rare chance. Maybe the school didn’t communicate the magnitude of this program effectively or maybe there were some legitimate reasons for some parents not to enroll their child in the program. But regardless of what the reasons were, it reinforced a valuable lesson that I learned a long time ago…

A Moment of Clarity

Successful people are willing to do things that unsuccessful people are not willing to do. And sometimes that simply means showing up.

The Hardest Promise To Keep- A lesson in Delaying Gratification

Do you ever set a goal like quitting smoking, losing weight, or writing a book, and then decide not tell anyone about it? We all do that. Do you know why? Because it’s easier to make excuses when no one else is counting on us or expecting us to keep our word.   

The hardest promises to keep are the ones we make to ourselves. My seven year old, Justin, was confronted with a promise that was hard to keep, and his experience taught me a lot about parenting and self -control.

I’ve invested a lot of time teaching my three boys to eat healthy although they love pizza, fries, chips and desserts like other kids. Justin, however, is the one who has most taken to a healthy lifestyle. Lately I’ve found him more conscious of his food choices. He’s learned to read the ingredients of anything with a label on it and he knows whole foods are best, even though he still treats himself to the unhealthy stuff.

We were vacationing in Asheville, North Carolina when we unexpectedly ran into Nick and Chris, Orly and Justin’s best friends from school. They were staying in a cabin in Black Mountain and their parents invited us to come spend the night. The boys had a blast eating Oreo cookies, pizza, chips, and any other treats they could find.  We allowed them to let loose because we were on vacation— but Justin knew exactly what he was doing.

In the midst of hide-and-go-seek games and running around like lunatics, Justin took me aside and whispered quietly, “Mommy, I’ve eaten a lot of junk today so, as of tomorrow, I’m not going to eat anything with sugar for two days. Okay, mommy!”  And off he went to play again. I admit I didn’t take Justin seriously or thought he’d follow through with his promise.

The next morning was New Year’s Eve. I woke up and went upstairs to make my coffee and write. Our friends were making breakfast, and a delicious aroma of bacon and warm croissants wafted through the house. Eventually, I heard voices echoing and little feet stomping downstairs.

“Mommy,”Justin said proudly as he came upstairs. “Nick gave all the kids Oreo cookies this morning, but I didn’t even have one.”

“That’s great, Justy,” I smiled.

He insisted. “Remember I told you I wasn’t going to eat sugar for two days, Mommy? That’s why I refused to eat the Oreo cookie.”

“Yes, Justy, I’m very impressed that you’re sticking to your promise. Great job, buddy.” Pleased, he went off to find his friends.

Moments later, a yell sounded from the kitchen: “Boys, breakfast is ready.” The kids gathered around the kitchen island and took their seats. Eggs, bacon, potatoes and chocolate-filled croissants were arrayed on the table. Everyone migrated towards the croissants. Justin stared at them with a pained expression.

“How are you doing, buddy?” I asked.

“Those croissants look so delicious,” he licked his lips. 

I could tell he really wanted one. I wondered if he regretted ever telling me about his pledge to avoid sugar. Would he feel judged by me for quitting? He’s only seven years old, I thought. I’m not going to make him feel bad if he wants to eat one little croissant.

“Justy,” I said gently as I stroked his arm, “Don’t worry about the promise you made not to eat sugar. It’s New Year’s Eve; You’re with your friends; We’re on vacation; Maybe today was not a good day to make that promise. Eat the croissant.”

Justin stared at it. His little lips tightened as he thought about it. “No, mommy. I’m not going to eat any.”

 “Justin, you realize you didn’t make this promise to me. You made this promise to yourself. I won’t be disappointed at all if you eat the croissant. I want you to be happy and enjoy yourself.”

“I know mommy. Can I have some eggs and bacon please?”

I was amazed. My little boy was showing self-discipline and strength. I put a generous serving of eggs and bacon on his plate and handed it to him. “Justin, the hardest promises to keep in life are the ones we make to ourselves. The fact that you’re keeping this promise to yourself shows me that you can do anything. You’re going to be successful in everything you do, son.”

A huge smile came across his face. He enjoyed his eggs and bacon.

Delayed gratification means you resist the temptation for an immediate reward in order to receive a later reward. This concept was proven many years ago by a psychological study known as “The Marshmallow Test.”  My dad popularized this test with his book, “Don’t Eat The Marshmallow…Yet!” Delaying gratification is something anyone can learn to do, but it’s not always easy.

Although I’m a big proponent of “not eating the marshmallow” the way my dad taught me, here I was encouraging Justin to do just that. I didn’t want him to feel deprived of something he wanted on his vacation, nor did I want to see him suffer. I reassured him that I would not judge him if made an exception to his promise. I used every excuse in the book, and then realized, those are the justifications we all use when we want instant gratification. We spend more money than we should, we eat things we should avoid, we sleep in and don’t make it to the gym. And we justify our actions with acceptable excuses like:

“I’m on vacation,” or

“This is a special occasion,” or

“You only live once.”

True or not,  those are all excuses.  

Justin missed eating that croissant for five minutes, but what he gained in exchange will last him a lifetime. He felt empowered by following through on his choice, and that made him happy.

It’s hard to keep promises we make to ourselves because it’s easy to talk ourselves out of it. That’s why you should always have an accountability partner when trying to reach goals. But even your accountability partners can enable you to make excuses for yourself, like I did with Justin.  

Next time you want to break a promise you’ve made to yourself, and no one is watching—or someone is encouraging you to do it— remember you have the power to delay gratification. The more mindful you are about it, the more control you can take over your own actions. See yourself empowered by your own self-control. Even if it doesn’t come naturally to you, you can develop self-control. It’s the little wins that set you up for the big wins.

A Moment of Clarity

With every choice we make, we create our own success story.

My little boy taught me that.