We are all familiar with Aesop Fables and the famous race between the tortoise and the hare. It’s not hard to see the advantages and challenges of both the hare and the tortoise, yet if the race were held today, in all honesty most bets would still be placed on the hare. I can picture the person holding the starter pistol, leaning over and asking the tortoise, “Are you sure you really want to do this?” Then he might whisper something else to the little guy with the low center of gravity, “You should probably reconsider!”
In my mind I can see the tortoise smiling and quietly saying, “Ahh, but I know a secret about this rabbit and his weaknesses that I can use to my advantage. Watch me. I will cross the finish line first!”
We know what happened in this classic story between the two mismatched creatures and often use it to teach our children that although they may be an underdog, they can still compete and even win in the race of life.
When I was in the second grade Tourette syndrome (TS) raised its head in my life, and life has never been the same for me since. OCD and ADD, extra challenges often associated with TS, showed up a bit later and changed my life course yet again.
Looking back today, I recognize my tortoise tendencies in my slow start and plodding path as I struggled to get the education that I needed to pursue my career dreams. Never the top of the class or the fastest student to finish, I eventually caught up to my ability and enjoyed an extremely satisfying career in public health and teaching at the university level.
I was never the hare, the one who gets off to a fast start and learns and excels quickly. I was not one of those top scholars or athletes, or the quick witted who are considered “can’t miss” prospects for future success.
Many of my classmates throughout my education started their race with great vigor, vitality, and speed, and many continue to run a great race even today and accomplish the goals they set for themselves. I am excited for them and continue to wish them happiness and success.
As for myself, I can honestly say that I’ve always run my life race like the tortoise. All of us tortoises have challenges that may hinder fast starts or speedy sprints to the finish line, but we plug along slowly yet consistently, sometimes even catching up with the hares and perhaps even passing them. A tortoise, while traveling in a slow but methodical gait, gradually gains confidence, makes up ground, crosses the finish line, and demonstrates his courage and self-esteem.
Based on my lived experiences, I believe that whatever challenges we have, all of us, children and adults alike, can be like the famous tortoise, know ourselves and our strengths and use them to run a great race.
Like many of you, Anne and I have been giving a lot of thought to the impact of the past year on kids and how to help them use their unique strengths and challenges to engage in life this coming year, whether their style is quick off the mark or slow and steady. We hope that parents everywhere will join us and take a minute or two to think about their child’s strengths, challenges and abilities, accept them for who they are, and cheer them on along their unique journey.
Here's to Failing Forward,
Cal and Anne
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