Did you ever watch that show, Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? If you think about it, (and apparently, I did) that show didn’t demonstrate how dumb adults were, but how much completely useless information fifth graders had to learn. Things that they will never use again in their lives.
But everything a child needs to know to succeed in life could be found in the poem If, by Rudyard Kipling. Teach them that.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.
Being able to keep your head amongst the chaos is a skill few master. Being able to do so, while others are trying to make the chaos your fault, fewer still.
But you must do so to succeed at any task. The ability to stop amongst the noise and furor, take a deep breath, focus, and be intentional in your actions is worth learning.
How often in your job have the wheels come off due to some unforeseen circumstances? And then, what happens? A few people panic. And then herd mentality takes over, and the stampede begins. Before the dust settles, they are looking around for someone to blame. To be a rock in the middle of the roiling river is the sign of a leader. Learn to lead the pack out of danger, rather than blindly following it off the cliff.
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too
Self-confidence is a skill that is hard to hold onto. Especially when everyone around is doubting your ability. Or, more likely, they doubt their own skills, and casting doubt your way is easier than dealing with their own. Knowing you know what you know in the face of that doubt is important.
But don’t get cocky. Allow for the fact that you may be wrong. Judge yourself before you judge others.
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise
Remember, treat others as you would have them treat you. Not treat them the way they treat you. That’s the easy way out; the coward’s way out. Facing the indifference, the lies, and even the hatred with a calm, inner peace, is the best way to rise above your detractors.
But again, be humble; be kind. Nobody likes a know-it-all. When possible, take the blame, but share the glory.
If you can dream — and not make dreams your master
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim
Dreaming is important. It’s how most great things have come about. But dreaming is a means to an end, not the end itself. Dreaming about something that can never be is a waste of time and an easy trap to fall into. Dream about what you can do and accomplish. Then put the dream aside and focus on the path to get there.
The same with thinking. Thinking clearly is one of the greatest skills you can master, but it is not an end to itself. You must be a thinker and a doer to get anywhere. Think, but act.
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
Few things are ever as good or as bad as they seem in the moment. If nothing else, this year has taught us this. The triumphs seem so far away but will return. The disaster that is this year isn’t as bad as it could have been. It has taught us many crucial life skills. Not the least of which is how to rely on ourselves and those close to us.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools
There will always be those who will take what you’ve made and break it. But when they do, a person with character will create them again. And again. The worst of those are the ones that will twist your words and break them. They will take what you say out of context, turn it, and repeat to all who will listen and believe. But, if you maintain your character and nobility despite them, those whose trust you actually want will know the difference.
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss
Risk and reward are two sides of the same coin. Without risk, there is no reward. As I wrote in another article, we have been poor but are not now. What I didn’t say then is that the road was not a straight one. The graph was not a line but a jagged mess of high peaks and lower than lows.
Because that’s what you do. You take risks, sometimes risking everything. And sometimes that risk doesn’t pay off.
But that’s one of the advantages of having been down in a hole. You already know how to get out of it. You’ve done it before, and you can do it as many times as you need to. And at no point in that journey, whether highs or lows did anyone outside the smallest of circles know which we were in at the moment.
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
Life is hard. Sometimes, it’s back-breaking and heart-breaking hard. But again, you’ve been there before. You made it out. You can do it again. I’ve written a few times about my time as a marathon runner. For most people, a 10K race is as far as they have ever run. They won’t know the pain of being at the twenty-mile mark, completely drained of energy, hurting worse than ever before. And realize you still have a 10K to run. Having the will, at each painful step to say, ‘Hold on.’
An experience like that gives you inner strength and confidence that none can take away.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much
The world is a tough place, and it seems it gets tougher with each passing decade. With social media and instant access to both information and misinformation, keeping a clear head is difficult. But you have to learn early that it is all just words. They can’t hurt you; they can only teach you. Teach you what to say and what not to say, how to act, and how not to act.
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
In Elementary school, we had recess. I don’t know what they call it now, but it was a time to play for us. A time to stop learning and have fun. And there is nothing wrong with that, but having fun and learning aren’t mutually exclusive. They should have taught us the importance of physical activity and staying in shape.
I know it’s hard to instill a sense of mortality into children, but physical fitness is a life-long pursuit in some countries. For the first four years, after I graduated high school, my fitness level deteriorated rapidly. By the time I was twenty, I was over-weight and out of shape. It was then that I ran that first unforgiving minute. And started the long journey back.
But it didn’t have to be that way.
If only they had taught us a class on Rudyard Kipling from the first grade on.
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!