The assignment was to memorize the prologue to Romeo & Juliet. The teacher gave the students the option of either reciting it in front of the class or sending her a video of their memorized recitation. My son, disliking English as he does, gave very little thought to the task until the last-minute because he had devised what he believed to be a clever scheme. He decided to record himself reciting the selection with the book propped up behind the camera so he could just read it, pretending to have it memorized.
The recording was not convincing. I was frustrated with him. I told him I was disappointed that he would take such a blatant and ill-conceived shortcut. That he had missed the entire point of the assignment and, with it, the chance to excel at something that was so well suited to his strengths.
“You love to perform,” I said. “You’re a natural. Why would you pass up a chance to do your thing? Because it’s English? Because Romeo & Juliet is ‘lame’? Those aren’t good excuses and you can do better.”
That was Tuesday evening. The recording was due on Thursday. I didn’t demand that he redo it. I just shared my frustration and left it at that.
The next day after school I learned that he had spent much of that school day, in between classes, memorizing the prologue. He was excited to tell me that he made the text the wallpaper on his phone.
On Thursday morning he recited it in class. He screwed it up and received a 15 out of 20. He asked if he could do it again, this time in a recording. He received the full 20 points in part because of the recording (included here) but also because on the next day, Friday now, he not only recited it again for the class but did do in song. Yes, a song.
Shortcuts are so tempting, the seemingly easy way. They seduce us with the promise of “getting it over with,” a short-term gain for a long-term loss. What a shame to lose that learning, especially when it is a chance to use the strengths that are just waiting to be called out. When we undercut ourselves, missing the chance to discover what we’re made of, we must have the feedback that gives us the chance to get it right.
Notice the smile on my son’s face near the end of the video when he knows he’s got it. That look of gratification and accomplishment is worth everything. I know my son’s gifts, most of them anyway. To see him waste them like that was hard to watch. To see him reclaim them, in his own way, not because I made him but because he took the feedback and decided to act on it, was the rare and beautiful moment as a parent – as a person – when you think you might just know what you’re doing.
Life is short enough. Better to take the long way round using all we’re made of as long as we can.
DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.