Anna is a junior in high school, and with a 2.0 GPA she has attracted the wrath of her parents and teachers who constantly drone on about her lack of effort and motivation. She has been labeled as ‘lazy’ and depressed, and has become more withdrawn at home and with teachers.
Worse yet, Anna has embraced her labels as true, which further discourages her. She has been diagnosed with some learning disabilities, including slow processing of new information and problems with reading comprehension. Anna sits in class and watches peers barely open a book and get straight A’s while she labors away to achieve B’s and C’s at best. It makes sense why after 11 years of struggling she has become discouraged to the point of giving up. I liken it to someone who has minimal artistic talent being forced to attend art school for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, and 9 months of the year while everyone around them drew and painted with ease. They would no doubt develop some antipathy towards their schooling too.
What everyone seems to be missing out on when they see Anna is her tremendous passion and focus with her artwork. That is her hand in the picture, and she painted that design freehand herself in about 7 minutes. I think it’s incredible. Anna may never show that kind of focus and enthusiasm for schoolwork, as many adult artists, musicians, inventors, and entrepreneurs can attest to. For these kinds of kids, we need to value passion where you find it. I do want every kid to leave high school having developed self-efficacy, grit, the ability to initiate and create and go after what they are interested in, and to be come fully engaged in their passions. They can learn this with academics, but some kids will only show it on the sports field, in theater, in a band, by starting their own business, or in their own creative writing.
Anna is showing us she can get fully focused and see things through with her artistic creations. She has thought about going to NYU art school after graduating high school, despite many adults discouraging her with comments about “not being able to make a living as an artist.” I encouraged her to contact art schools and get clear about requirements for admission, because that will have a much better chance of motivating her than nagging adults. It will be her doing what SHE needs to do to go after what SHE wants. I look at kids like Anna and I know they are going to be successful in life because of the joy, determination, flow experiences, and enthusiasm they bring to their passions. Mirror those feelings back to every discouraged kid like Anne instead of criticizing and labeling them.
Value passion where you find it, and appreciate the unique gifts that each child has to offers to our world.