Yesterday I had lunch with a college student who looks back on her grade school years with a certain regret. She won awards in three different sports, had a full schedule of activities, made great grades, and got into a wonderful college. She’s a triathlete. She’s a straight A student.
I look at that life and see how many parents in my community make extraordinary sacrifices for their children to have that kind of resume. Even in elementary school, children are in multiple sports, multiple classes, multiple shows.
If I’m honest, I want to be that parent. I feel so badly that we can’t afford to have our children in more activities. I feel like I’m depriving my daughters of all the good things in life. But talking to this college student changed my attitude.
“I feel regret when I look back,” the student said. “I spent all that time developing my skills in all those activities, but I did nothing for my community. I did nothing for the world.”
She challenged me to put my girls in one or maybe two activities and let the rest of our days be spent engaged in community service.
“Did you know that right now children are enslaved in sweat shops?” The student leans over the table in disbelief. “Should I join the Peace Corps? Should I start an awareness campaign?” She asks the question with tears nearly filling her eyes. “Nobody is reflecting on anything because they are all so busy doing their activities!”
She spent hours in clubs and activities that bred a self-focus she laments. Her perspective left me as flabbergasted as when the mother at church said I should teach my children they are not special.
I went home and looked at the list of possible activities for my children. And then I looked at my own personal calendar. I could book gym classes, lunch outings, shopping trips with girlfriends, Bible studies, dance classes–all for me! What if I put a stop to everything and took a look around my community? What if I gathered my family together and asked my girls to change the world and not their dance shoes?
There’s nothing wrong with sports and activities. Children and adults learn vital life skills in extracurricular activities. There is something wrong with cultivating a self-focus that excludes community, nation, and world. I want to raise compassionate citizens trained in community organizing. And as a citizen, I want to forgo my devotion to self-improvement (hours at the gym!) and think about how I can serve someone else. What a hard paradigm shift!
Living with flair means we live in a community and serve that community even if it means giving up another sport, another club, or another performance.