I almost never tell my daughter she’s smart. (I do, sometimes, when I forget not to and it just pops out in response to something unexpected she came up with.)1
That’s not because she isn’t – by all accounts and early testing, she’s a bona fide smarty pants and will no doubt excel at her chosen profession (a profession that probably doesn’t even exist today, and which she’ll have to patiently re-explain to me and my doddering old friends every time she drops in for a visit) – it’s because ‘smart’ isn’t the thing I want to reinforce/reward during her formative years.
So what do I reward with praise?
Hard work. Attention. Focus. Bottom line, that’s where success comes from. Smart is nice, but I know a lot of smart people who can’t hold down a job or pay their bills or even take care of their kids; a lot of pretty people too.
There were better writers than Zelazny back in the day; he was successful due to a solid work ethic. (And talent, sure, but talent honed with practice.) There are more talented writers than Stephen King, but some work of his is more likely to survive to 2200 simply because there’s more of it (ignoring the fact that I think he’s an as-yet unrecognized laureate of American literature). Again, the guy works.
This lesson was a hard one for me to learn, because I had a lot of smarts and talent in high school and college – never really had to work at anything. Then I got out into the real world and people actually wanted me to… you know… hit deadlines. Show up to work on time. Stay until quitting time. I couldn’t hold down any part-time job in college simply because I didn’t know how to work, and learning that took me almost ten years.
I’m better now, and when I praise Kaylee I praise her for the thing I think is most valuable:
“You worked really hard on that, and you did a good job. You should be proud of yourself.”
That’s what NaNoWriMo is really about. Finding the time. Sitting down. Finishing something big. Slogging when it’s not fun, and not losing control when it is. In short, doing the work.
So, let me be the first to say it:
You’ve worked really hard.
You did a good job.
You should be proud of yourself.
(Now get back to work. Have fun.)
1 – I try not to tell her she’s pretty all the time, also, but at that I utterly fail, due to this.