Yesterday, I told you everything we do we do because we think it will make us happy. I’m sure you already knew that, but maybe hadn’t considered it quite this way before.
The other afternoon I was reminded how strong our desire for immediate happiness can be, so much so that it subverts our long term character and integrity, eventually making us miserable in the long term.
On Wednesday afternoons I trek over to the Alabama Waldorf School to teach the After School Agoge. Generally, I have a group of 15 or so kids that I take through warm ups and a bodyweight workout. I have boys and girls and ranging in age from 10 to 14.
I was having trouble getting full compliance out of the boys. So much so that when we form a circle for the warm up I have to place a girl between each of the boys to keep them from horsing around and spazzing out.
At this point in their lives they’re more interested in impressing each other than actually achieving anything. As far as the workouts go if anything is difficult they just don’t try. Not trying has become preferable to failure.
I finally hit upon a boys versus girls competition, complete with a Sock of Shame, a random sock someone left out on the grassy area where we work, to be borne by the losers the entire week following their defeat. Gross, yes, but generally harmless.
As expected, the boys ,when in direct competition with the girls, put forth a greater effort. Suddenly trying has value if it means declaring themselves superior to the girls.
The girls, who are generally disgusted with the boys, maintained their own attentiveness and persistence, perhaps bolstered by not wanting to give the boys the satisfaction of their defeat.
The first week was too close to call and I explained that we would continue on the following Wednesday. I instructed each team to think about what events they would like to compete in.
That day each team voted on their event. The boys chose pullups and the girls opted to push my truck, with the team that could push the truck with the fewest members declared the winner.
The boys, as expected, dominated the pullup competition. The girls, however, won the truck push. Each team was able to get down to one member moving the truck, but the girl’s team had three girls who could each independently move it and the boy’s only had one.
When I declared the girls the winners of the truck push and the day a tie, the boys erupted in protest. Loopholes were explored and rules cross examined, a general ruckus was raised with boys coming off as sore losers.
As I thought about it I realized I still hadn’t dealt with our original problem. The same issues which had prompted me to try this competition were still at work. Namely, the boys were more interested in appearance than achievement or even effort. They would rather be declared the victors on a technicality than to put in the work to be an uncontested winner.
Were I to declare them the winner right now, regardless of any supporting evidence, they’d be quite happy – for now. Their desire to feel good, to be a winner and to receive the laurels that come with winning has completely supplanted the desire to actually earn it.
They’ve replaced long term lasting happiness with a desire for immediate short term reward.
How many of us have fallen into this same trap? How hard is it to get back out, even though we’ve seen time and again that those “successes” are fleeting and the rewards temporary. How hungry do we become for that “feel good feeling” that we don’t think we can bear the effort required to earn the lasting reward?
Eventually we come to believe a hollow victory is all we can achieve and the reward becomes even more fleeting. In the end, all we are left with is self loathing and disgust.
You are worth more than that. Everything worth doing requires effort, including you. Lasting happiness can be yours, it won’t be easy, but I can assure you it’s worth it.
So, that’s my challenge at the school, support the girls and bring up the boys. Through challenge and honest success the boys can learn the reward of their efforts. I think that sock will accidentally disappear. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the deeper I go into it the more I realize the boys will be insufferable winners and losers and while the girls might bear either with good spirit, the boys as a group are not there yet.
I’d rather we all be “there” together.
To your imperfect perfection,
P.S. My local tribe has really stepped up today. Several members have claimed their places for Mental Meatheads, which shows a great chance of selling out early. We only started with 15 spots and half are claimed. Get yours today!