Recently, I posted this:
[...] it depicted Snoopy, the dog from the Peanuts comic strip, attempting to fly off the roof of his dog house using oak leaves as wings. And it said, “Never say you can’t until you try.”I’ve since gotten a couple of private comments from friends, saying that the poster in question is just using a silly image to make a point; that kids should be encouraged to reach for the stars; that they shouldn’t limit themselves to what they already know is possible, but strive for the unimaginable.
It seemed to me that the message lacked some sense of ensuring that one’s goals be reasonable, feasible, physically possible. I mean, do we really want kindergarten kids thinking that they should try to fly using oak leaves, before deciding that they can’t?
Yeah, I get that, and I agree, but that’s not the problem I have with the poster. Maggie gets it; as she says in her comment:
I hate this idea that you can do anything if you try hard enough. It’s nonsense. Maybe it’s just much harder to put "assess your ability and resources and realistically set goals" on a poster. I’d say it ties in with the stupid "self-esteem" movement, but I think it predates the self-esteem movement, and they’re both crap.Tout à fait.
It’s not a question of pushing oneself, reaching for high goals, trying for things you’re not sure you can do. But it is a question of being realistic. “I’m going to win a Nobel prize!” is an achievable goal, if an unlikely one. So are “I’m going to be President of the United States,” “I’m going to be the biggest movie star of the 21st century,” and “I’m going to be worth a billion dollars by the time I’m 30.” They are achievable. That said, if those are the goals you set, you’re almost certain to be disappointed.
And if you want to be President and you were born in Canada, or you want the Nobel prize but the only things you’re good at are in the arts, you’re just setting yourself up for that disappointment — you’re trying to fly using oak leaves.
People — kids, especially — need to set goals that will challenge them, while keeping in mind what’ll keep them moving toward those goals. Realistic intermediate goals are stepping stones toward those big ones and are critical in meeting the challenges. If the big goal is to get a Nobel prize, there have to be smaller goals that involve doing well in, say, biology, getting into a good university that will foster your research work, and that sort of thing.
And along with setting realistic goals goes making realistic evaluations of your progress. We have to teach kids to recognize when they’re failing, and that failure at one thing is not a disaster. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and when one is being held back by a weakness, sometimes the answer is not to keep fighting it, but to shift focus to an area of strength.
By all means, reach for the stars. Just start by working on getting to the moon, and then go on from there.