My son Austin is seven. He likes to play any game involving Mario, whose last name is apparently Mario because he’s one of the “Mario Brothers.” Or “Mario Bros.” if you’re a purist.
Every time Austin faces a challenge that gives him trouble, like passing levels and unlocking characters in the Mario games, he gets all pissed off. And so his defense mechanism is to announce that it’s just too hard, and that he’s never going to be able to do it.
My natural reaction to this is to get all Progressive Dad on him, and tell him that of course he can do it if he practices. This doesn’t work at all. He’s seven. I can just try and beat it into his head a little bit at a time that practice makes perfect, but it’s not going in wholesale, not yet.
But the thing is, despite all his protestations, he’s always eventually able to do these “impossible tasks” if they’re something that truly means something to him.
If, on the other hand, he doesn’t care about whatever it is, he’ll give up, and he’ll end up totally right about not ever being able to do it.
So for instance, it was entirely too hard to unlock Dry Bowser on Mario Kart, and he got mad and frustrated and had fits about it, and he said over and over that it was impossible, but eventually he managed to do it, because he cares about Mario games.
By contrast, he also wasn’t good at baseball, and the same basic thing happened, re: getting pissed off and saying it was impossible. I encouraged him to keep practicing, but the thing is, he doesn’t give a shit about baseball. So he eventually gave it up.
And that bothered me at first, until I remembered that quitting the wrong things is just as important as pursing the right things.
As adults, we’re often conditioned to think that just because something is hard, it’s one of those “wrong things.” Or we think that because someone told us to do something, that’s is a “good thing” — regardless of whether it turns out to be easy, hard, or impossible.
The trick isn’t always to do the impossible or the difficult. The trick is sometimes to simply figure out what matters and what doesn’t, and then to bravely do the things that matter whether they’re easy, hard, or impossible. Then quit the rest.
If you’re trying to unlock your own Dry Bowser and it’s fucking impossible but it’s something that matters, then don’t give up, ever.
But if you’re playing baseball and it feels impossible to ever get better… and you realize that baseball is a boring and unproductive waste of your time? Then go ahead and quit. Immediately.
Maybe it’s okay to never seek to get better at the stuff that really doesn’t grab you and make a difference, because there’s a lot in this world to do and you’re not going to be able to do it all.
Something to think about.
P.S: Austin does like soccer, and works to get better at it, so it’s not like the only things that interest him are video games. Just sayin’.