Tough love

February 5th, 2015

You get a trophy. And you get a trophy. And you, over there, you get a trophy. Everybody gets a trophy.


It feels like that sometimes -– especially in our generation.


I bet you know what I’m talking about.


Pretty much all of us have attended award ceremonies where they give away the legitimate awards in the first part.


Here’s a whopping piece of metal to the top athlete. Good job. Here’s a big ol’ certificate to the top student. Keep studying.


But then, we get into the more, shall we say “padded” part of the evening. It’s the part where they unveil the team spirit awards, the participation awards and the awards for people who breathed.


What accomplishments.


Excuse my sass, but when did we enter this “let’s not hurt little Johnny’s feelings for performing at mediocre or below average and give him a trophy” phase?


The same could be said for parenting. When I was little, I’d look around at my fellow peers, and was fascinated by how their parents talked to them. When little Sally had a solo at the choir concert, her mom would embrace her sweet girl and tell her she was the next Beyoncé. But really, she sounded like a baby whale being tortured.


Either her mother was tone deaf, or she didn’t want to hurt her darling dear’s feelings. Because, as they say, no one wants a kid with low self-esteem.


But, I write this today, asking you, loyal readers, what’s wrong with tough love? What’s wrong with constructive criticism? How will we grow if we’re constantly being told our feces smell like roses?


Losing is good for us. Sometimes, watching your archenemy hold that shiny trophy in their hands and having to partake in the empty-handed walk of shame is humbling.


It can make us want something even more. It can give us the motivation to work harder, fight harder. Or, it can tell us, “Hey, maybe basket-weaving isn’t my area of expertise. Guess I won’t go into that field.”


In the past four years, I’ve watched so many of my peers melt when they’ve been handed honest, constructive criticism. True, no one likes a blow to their ego. But it’s what you do with that criticism that shapes you. It’s how you develop. It’s how you grow. It’s how you become better.


When I was around the age of six or seven, I begged my parents to sign me up for dance lessons. After much whining, I was the proud owner of jazz shoes, and spent my evenings doing grapevines.


But frankly, I sucked. It was probably because I was running from school, to soccer practice, to dance lessons and everything else in between.


After my dad watched me dance to “Tutti Frutti” at our dress rehearsal, he pulled me aside, sat me down, and told me, in the nicest way possible, I didn’t have a future as a performer.


After I cried for a little bit, I took a deep breath. I was determined to prove him wrong. That night, I spent hours in my room practicing the routine over and over again.


And guess what? I proved him wrong. Sure, I wasn’t Chita Rivera. But, for a snotty-nosed girl, I wasn’t half-bad. The owner of my dance studio was even impressed, and encouraged me to keep dancing and to audition for musicals. And, I’d like to say I had pretty successful amateur theatrical career until my retirement during my junior year of college.


Want another firsthand witness account of how tough love can incite hard work? In the first grade, I was told I was a terrible reader and writer. They sent me to remedial reading. Or, as my classmates liked to call it, the “loser class.” Well, look at me now. All I ever do is read and write.


Being told you’re a loser can be good for you. It instills modesty. It pushes you to attain your personal best. And, sometimes, it’s a sign that maybe it’s best to move in a different direction.


So, to my future children, I apologize. Your mother is going to give some occasional doses of tough love. It’ll be good for you, kids.