With beautiful weather upon us, park time has reentered our picture. Blessed to live less than a block away from one of the prettiest parks in our area, we often grab rackets or soccer and volley balls then race to see who gets their first. “We” might be a bit of a stretch. On most days, I plop my lazy old self on a bench and watch Jack maneuver his way around the park’s cool play equipment.

I love watching kids play… when they get to. Some rarely nab the chance to brave their way down a slide or test their skills on the monkey bars because their hovering parents are making for darn sure little Suzy doesn’t get hurt, or have a toy taken away, or …. But that’s another story.

On these nice Spring days, as I settle in and watch, I often find myself seeing very little kid-play activity. It’s not so much play that’s out there, but more along the lines of aspiring efforts.

Instead of a couple kids hitting the tennis ball – learning the game together, our courts are filled with personal coaches tossing balls to their aspiring athletes under the watchful eye of hopeful parents. A few feet away, another trainer landmark at our park towers above a young man barking commands that are sure to guarantee excelled sporting prowess. From jumping jacks, to running with a medicine ball, to quick footwork drills, the budding athlete goes through the motions then races to a waiting car where yet another parent watches from a distance. Around the corner, is a personal soccer coach going through the motions with one young budding star while another waits patiently for her turn. Two mothers stand on the side-line politely chatting while sizing each other and their children up.

It’s so interesting.

Next, in an activity that drives my children crazy, I strike up a conversation with the stranger next to me. We quickly discover that our boys are close to the same age. School comes into the conversation. The mom, in a feigned self-deprecating manor, starts to tell me how they can’t decide where to put their boy for kindergarten. He had done so well on entrance exams (kindergarten entrance-exams!) that they just can’t decide. The pressure of being so smart was almost too much. Apparently, not only was he the smartest kid, he was the best on his soccer team, could play lacrosse and tennis. “It’s so hard to make decisions with so many options these days,” she told me as if I could commiserate. I looked at poor Jack who barely goes to school, let alone has never played an organized sport. My laissez-faire attitude might land him yards behind the eight ball. He sure can draw, though… and deliver mail. That’s his favorite activity at the moment. Drawing pictures then delivering them to all the neighbors. Poor Will next door could fill a few trash cans with all the letters.

So there I sat in a sea of “Best”. Everyone striving to be the best. Hiring trainers, coaches, tutors to make our kids the smartest, to insure a spot on the winning team, to … the list seems to go on. How can we settle for something less than “great”?! Because somehow there is comfort in that “best” seat.

But is there?

I thought about my park day when reading  “Educated and Jobless: What’s Next for Millennials?” from NPR. Barry Schwartz, a psychologist at Swarthmore College, refers to seemingly endless options, but it was his ideas about “best” that caught my eye.

“When we live in a world of essentially limitless options our expectations about how good the option we end up with go through the ceiling,” Schwartz says. “So you get something that’s great, but it’s not perfect, so you feel like you’ve failed.”

Those high expectations instilled by parents and teachers do not quite catch up to reality, Schwartz says. “Those days are gone.”

What Schwartz says he tries to tell his students is that a good job is good enough; they don’t need to have the best job.

“If they can go through their lives looking for and appreciating what’s good in their friendships, in their romantic relationships and in their work — even if their work is more modest than it would have been 10 years ago — they can live an incredibly satisfying life that way,” he says.

Is setting our kids up to expect or to be “the best” a good thing? Why accept something good when “great” or “best” might be around the corner? (See also: a generation where, according to recent Pew survey, six in ten that are employed have changed careers more than once, who’s average age of marriage is mid to late thirties, who think success is more about luck than hard work.) So why not ditch the good and try your chances at best?

But…is there even a “best”?

It sure can be unsettling trying to get there. Maybe even paralytic.

What about adding and “ir” to “the” and promote doing their best; letting that be okay – maybe even great. What about promoting commitment, authenticity, others… rather than catapulting ourselves or or kids to the top of the proverbial ladder? Hmmmm… worth considering… out loud with our kids.

Thanks for walking the road with me.


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