I hate the movie Rudy. Really, I do. Mostly, I hate what the movie purports to teach kids about setting goals and what it takes to succeed.
Disliking a movie like Rudy, where an underdog triumphs against seemingly insurmountable odds, makes me almost un-American, doesn’t it?
As the true story goes, Rudy Ruettiger is minimally talented high school football player who dreams of playing for Notre Dame University. After being rejected for admission several times, he is finally accepted and walks-on to the football team as a “practice extra.” He’s not a good football player, but he is persistent, or rather a pain-in-the-ass. Finally, the head coach puts Rudy in for the last play in a game, and Rudy sacks the quarterback.
Woo hoo! You did it, Rudy! You did it!
Rudy spent most of his time pushing for a goal in which he had little real chance of succeeding. True, he had 15 seconds of glory, and true, he persisted in interesting movie makers to take up his story, but what lesson does this movie really have for our kids?
The message is: ignore your strengths and fight like hell to devote yourself to a weakness.
If I put that idea into practice with my son, who has dyscalculia (a math learning disability, or, simply put, dyslexia of math), it might sound like this: ”I know that it takes you years to memorize simple math facts, but you can be an accountant if you put your mind to it!”
If my parents had put this idea into practice with me, someone who loves music and can, on occasion, carry a tune, it might sound like this: ”Debra, you love music, and you have a singing style all your own. If you really want to, you can be a famous singer!”
Before becoming a parent, I read a book called Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Strength, Hope, and Optimism in Your Child by Robert B. Brooks and Sam Goldstein (both Ph.D.s, I might add). The authors focus on the importance of fostering islands of competency in our children. Isn’t that a wonderful concept? Islands of competency.
What Rudy did was create an isle of incompetency and then become famous for it.
In the book Strengths Finder 2.0 author Tom Rath says that, as a culture, we tend to focus on our weaknesses. These are “areas of improvement.” And the way to improve is to spend time focusing upon improving them. Time and effort. Focus, focus, focus. In the meantime, Rath says, we are ignoring our strengths. We are not shoring up our islands of competency, rather we are letting their shores erode.
As parents, we encourage our children to focus on that low grade and bring it up. We devote more time, hire tutors, create reward systems around improving upon the areas of weakness.
Neither I nor Rath is suggesting that we completely ignore areas of weakness, but what if the effort of improving a weak area were applied to increasing an area of strength? What genius, what skills, what new heights could our children reach, if we delved into areas of strength the way we climb the mountains of weaknesses?
And, gasp, what if we applied the same philosophy to ourselves? My, what we grown-ups might be able to do!
This idea does not mean that my son is off the hook with math. But it does mean that I focus on the minimum of what he really needs so that we can spend more time building, reading, fixing, playing music, and working to take his strengths to otherworldly places.
And oh, what joy it is!
What “areas of improvement” have you had enough of?