Sometimes I feel like a 6-year-old in the back seat of the family car at the beginning of road trip. I just want to know when we’re going to get there, Mommy, when. I feel that way when I analyze my professional accomplishments, when I get frustrated with the clutter that seems to breed in our house overnight, or when I look at the ocean, dreaming of a home that’s close enough to feel the breeze but yet far enough away to avoid the tsunami I know will inevitably hit Los Angeles. It seems like everything I desire is somewhere off in the nebulous future and, although I am patient, a little immediate gratification would be nice, you know? Sometimes I just want it now.
When my older son was in second grade, a wonderful private school that we had applied to three times finally granted us admission. It happened when I was just about to give up hope, when I had accepted that the public school where he was enrolled maybe wasn’t so bad and wouldn’t scar him for life, despite the fact that I knew in my heart that he deserved better. I was a little nervous at our first parent-teacher conference; I still had a chip on my shoulder for having to apply so many times. I needed confirmation that we were worthy. I breathed a sigh of relief when the teachers said that, academically and socially, our son was thriving. It was like he had been there from day one, they said; he was a perfect fit for the school. He was well liked by everyone in the class, was a strong reader, and, in terms of math, he was right at grade level.
Whoa, wait a minute. At grade level? Not above? Being the ambitious Type A, I asked what we could do about that. Should he have extra homework in math? Should we find a tutor? Is there any cause for concern? Now that we were in the school of our dreams, I wasn’t about to jeopardize it. “It’s not a sprint,” the teacher told me. There was a pause, then I forced a smile. Yeah, right, buddy, I thought. It’s a cutthroat world out there. If we don’t start building his resume in second grade, he could fall behind. Hadn’t this teacher read Malcolm Gladwell? Didn’t he realize that Bill Gates started writing code in high school? I secretly vowed to keep an eye on my son’s math progress and enrolled him in a plethora of extracurricular activities.
By third grade this child was so busy after school that he hardly had time for play dates. His report card showed that he was an advanced reader – so advanced that the teacher was hard pressed to recommend age appropriate books that challenged his vocabulary and reading comprehension. In terms of math, though, he was at grade level. My husband shrugged his shoulders; we both sucked at math in school. What did I really expect from a product of our combined DNA?
Our second child has proven my husband wrong. His reading and math are both way above grade level. From whence does his gift with numbers come? Probably the same gene that makes him the second tallest kid in his class (behind the daughter of a pro basketball player). Child number two also has a sunny extroverted personality. He loves team sports, dressing up in fancy clothes, and being the center of attention. Does this mean he will be more successful in life than his more intense, introverted, older brother whose gifts are centered in the arts and humanities? Of course not. He has just been dealt a different set of cards. “Success” and the speed with which he does or does not achieve it, will be up to him.
Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe that teacher wasn’t so wrong. Maybe it really is the slow and steady pace that wins the race. Just look at Abe Lincoln. Or Ray Kroc, Julia Child and Harrison Ford. Or my husband. A long awaited professional dream recently came true for him. It came after a lot of hard work, perseverance and, toward the end, prayer. I’m so proud and happy that his career, which started off as a sprint and for about a year slowed to a crawl, is now at a healthy jog. He had the choice to stay in the fast lane but purposely slowed down in order to go after what he really wanted. It’s not who gets there first, or even who gets the farthest. It’s who gets there, centered, connected and true to themselves. Sometimes that takes a lifetime.