When reflecting on developing our competence, a friend who’s an accomplished opera singer came to mind. When we first met, he wasn’t singing opera and I couldn’t have pictured his career moving in that direction. So, I recently asked him, “When did you know opera was your specialty?” His answer fascinates me:

“It was one of the first things I did musically that challenged me on so many different levels. Not only could it be a great theatrical experience, but it has to also be an incredible musical experience. Opera forced me to work hard at singing in a way I had never had to work before. It really is the triathlon of singing. It has taken me years to learn how to project over a sometimes 90-100 piece orchestra using my breath and two tiny muscles in my throat with no amplification. It also forced me to speak and understand foreign languages, including the language of music. This art form forces my integrity as an artist and as a person.”

How different would we and our children be if we embraced our challenges and worked to develop our skills? How improved might the world be? It’s so easy to give up instead. To take the easy way out. To stay satisfied with what we already do well. To run from the challenge.

Let’s support children and teens who want to persevere to develop a new competence. It’s not easy today. There’s always something else they could be doing and their multi-tasking strength/preference may distract them from a task. Also, because things move quickly and teachers need to move through lots of content, students may not have time to focus on one area. On top of all that, much of life has been easy for them. Therefore, working hard can feel uncomfortable.

If we’re part of their security and belonging, they may let us help them. If we catch them persevering and help them own that identity, they may make real progress. When they discover how the skill is related to their purpose, motivation will grow. Competence will develop.