A few years ago, at camp, Shane and Max were involved in a game called “color wars.” Shane’s team was green and Max’s was blue. The night before Max asked me, “Mom, do we have any blue face paint?” I was really tired and said, “No, we do not and I don’t have time to go get any. You’ll just have to figure something out.” In the morning I heard him and Shane in the bathroom. He was saying to Shane, “Shane, that looks great. Now put more green stripes on your forehead!” I yelled, “Hey, where did you find the face paint?” Max said, “I found some paint in my room and you can use it for regular painting AND for face painting.” I ran into the bathroom and found them there with a tray of acrylic paints and paint brushes. Max had blue stripes on his cheeks and Shane looked like a green Rambo. Shane finally got all the green paint off his face the following morning and Max had blue hands for a week. When I tell my kids to just figure it out, they will. And I am so damn proud of them for that.
I grew up an overachiever. I lived for straight A’s and certificates and accolades. When I had kids, I swore that I would not ever demand that they do the same. Because like any overachiever, I eventually hit the perfectionist wall and froze, in my 20’s. I didn’t know what to do anymore. Because I had never done anything without the approval of someone else, whether it was through a grade, praise, a scholarship, a piece of paper. Obviously, I recovered. But a LOT of therapy, some terrible hairstyles, and rebellious relationships with musicians, had to happen first. I’m probably more of a laid back, hippie kind of mom (my kids say I’m a hippie mom, for the record). But I think, for sure, love and acceptance gets you a lot further towards happiness and a good life than judgment and criticism. And P.S. coming from a lawyer, I have a front row seat to judgment and criticism, every day, and no one is ever happy about it. Also, using my hippie mom method, you may end up with kids with blue and green faces – but it’s temporary, I promise.
When my Max started middle school, he was chubby and shy and a little bruised by the square box intractable systems he kept getting shoved into. But here’s the thing. When beautiful star shaped souls realize that they are not supposed to be in boxes and get their shine on, it’s so amazing to watch. And Max got his shine on.
In 8th grade, Max told me, “Mom, I want to give the speech for my advancement ceremony.” I said, “Okay, what does that mean?” He said, “I have to write an essay and submit it for a contest.” We talked about it for a very long time and about the topic. We finally decided on the topic of failure as being a necessary part of learning to succeed. And he figured it out from there. Not only did Max get selected to give the speech. He was asked to give the speech again as part of a nonprofit presentation, in front of a board of directors and donors.
I am sharing my son Max’s speech, with his permission. I felt like it was important to share because I think, very often, we should remember that we are, each of us, unique and special and shiny. None of us can or should be crammed into boxes. And sometimes, often, love means letting go and letting your loved ones figure it out and paint their own way. Because they will.
Shine on and believe in your damn selves, beautiful star shaped souls. You are special and amazing and the world needs your gifts. Your failures do not define you. They only make you better at what you are meant to do. Keep going. Keep drumming to your own beat.
This I Believe (Max Rosenthal,Copyright 2016)
“Drumming has been my path to confidence. Whenever I feel stressed or angry, my drum set is there to make me feel better. When I need to, I can pop in my earphones, go into the garage, and jam. I have been playing for only 3 years, but in that time I have become fairly proficient. I have not always been confident in my drumming abilities. But after I learned to accept my mistakes, I developed self-assurance in not just my musical skills, but in everyday life. I believe that no one should be afraid of failure.
I had this revelation of self-confidence toward the beginning of 8th grade year. I practiced my drums everyday playing along to music, but whenever I attempted to solo or even do a small fill, I would hesitate and stop. One day, after I had a particularly difficult drum lesson, my instructor told me that I was a very talented drummer, I just needed to be more confident in myself. I contemplated his words as I sat alone at my drum kit in my empty, dimly lit garage. My head was buried in my hands with my elbows propped up on my snare drum. I had my earphones in and was listening to a playlist of Buddy Rich’s famous drum solos. I was so disappointed and frustrated that I could not play as well as Buddy. The garage was completely silent except the moments I would sporadically break out in anger, throwing my sticks across the room and cursing loudly at myself. I had been languishing at my drum set consumed by self loathing for an hour when a thought occurred to me. I realized I was too busy worrying about messing up than actually playing. I was too worried about failing to succeed. I discerned that the thing holding me back was my lack of self-confidence. I decided to stop being afraid of failure and instead embrace it. Since then, I have applied this mindset and gained great confidence in my musical abilities.
This confidence began to leak into other parts of my life. I have always felt like an awkward person and have had a hard time talking to people, but I found it became easier once I had found this confidence. I saw positive changes in my social skills, art, and writing. I became less hesitant. People have too much potential in them to let it be killed by fear and judgement. It is not fair to deprive yourself of great things because you are too fearful of doing them wrong. I believe that once you overcome the fear of failure, then you have the courage to do anything.”