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Required Summer Reading … and other product-pull that can sap joy from the process

required-reading

It’s that time of the summer – at least for homes with school-aged kids. These are the days when we look up and see Summer’s end creeping ever closer. (boo-hoo-hoo, sob, sob, sob!!)

And I watch my kids try – okay I chide them to – complete their Required Summer Reading, I know that a lot of the wonder that could accompany such a task gets lost in the completion of it. “Required reading” tends to be done rather than savored => product over process.

The books my kids have on deck this year are actually terrific. Each of them, in their unique genres, has something to offer any reader. I picked one of them up, The Sufferings of Young Werther, and have found myself annotating. I know I’m a complete geek. I’ve even had to order that kid another copy since I’m now keeping his.

But will he savor it the way I am? Will be able to move beyond the task and enjoy the process?

Summer reading, at the onset, was never meant to be a checked box. The impetus was simply to keep kids involved, encourage brain exercise during time away from formal learning. But here’s where we can witness up close and personal the issue of making a task about completion rather than the process.

If my kids read their books to check a box, i.e. completion of the requirement – performance based on an audience made up of his/her teacher and their peers – then they don’t get much out of it. But if by some chance my child picks up the book, reads it, wrestles with it, goes so far as to consider the meaning behind the writing, there is a high likelihood that something of worth might occur in the process. Something that means so much more than a box-check. I don’t want these books to be lost in my kids’ lives because they were a task.

And, I wonder, what else is being lost in our obsession with product.

Summer reading is one of so many areas in life that promotes checked boxes. We have countless tasks to accomplish that added together supposedly get us to where we need to be. Sometimes I find myself getting lost in the product, too.

I’ve noticed product-pull in my writing effort. It’s hard to avoid being tripped up by tempting likes/shares/publishing awareness. It’s a challenge to stay true to the process, (i.e. writing, in my style, about topics that interest me) rather cater to a desired result or a hoped-for product. Because if I give into product-pressure, the end result almost always seems lacking. It can feel forced. It limits authenticity. And it lacks depth for everyone involved – me and the reader.

And, product-pull sucks the joy out of the process.

Interestingly enough, product-pull bleeds into almost every area of life, not just our work. If I stop long enough to consider, I can see it almost everywhere. I can even have product pull in relationship – because relationships are “supposed to” look a certain way. See also: marriage, family, friendships. Even my relationship with the Lord. Do I read Scripture to know Him? To sink into and relish its beauty and promise? … or to check a box… make it about prescriptive/measurable standards related to arrive at a hoped-for product.

In education, we’ve become so driven by Blue Ribbon and top-tier lists, the love of learning gets lost along the way, shoved behind loads of good intentions. In business, we’re driven by stock price and the ever-changing consumer preference, and forget about creativity. Because creativity is always accompanied by its annoying, yet best friend and teacher – failure. And no one likes a failed product. In politics, we are slaves to instant polling and public opinion, and have lost decorum and leadership. In the race for product, we lose sight of relationships that form as people join forces to forge the way together. But that method is slow… and can be messy.

Product-pull might be the fiercest as it relates to raising kids … probably because we care so deeply about the kids. Sure I strive to do well in other areas; but my kids – I desperately care that they come out okay. And blinded by such hope, I can lose sight of the process in my effort to get to the product.

Kid product-pull comes in many forms. For me, today, I seem to be fighting against the college application current. I don’t want the kids to have their lives be about a resume, but society lures me to believe it is. We herald the resume:  community service – “for the hours” rather than the joy of serving; summer jobs – “looks good on your resume” “shows initiative”, clubs – “communicates your well-roundedness”, athletics – “that you’re a team player,” etc. It is a game. It must be played. Which is fine … as long as we don’t sacrifice the process for the product.

So, as I watch and chide, I wonder … will my kids finish the task of churning through hundreds of pages so they can check a box? Or might they, just of a moment, lean into the process –opening the book and turning pages – and learn something. Something that might promote consideration of the world around them. Something that could provide insight into life, moral dilemmas, purpose, suffering, humor? Something more than a Summer Reading Requirement.

Here’s hoping I do the same, savor the process with each of them rather focus only on the product. The process just might be where joy resides.

Thanks for walking the road with me.

-Kay

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