Don’t become society: Do you want to be ordinary or extraordinary?

Fleas are funny old creatures. They might seem small and insignificant. But if you look at them closely. And I mean really closely. You might see that we can learn quite a lot from them. Their life expectancy isn’t much more than around 3 months. Even that is assuming they are living in the right temperature, with a good humidity and an ample food supply.

Without these correct conditions their lives could be as short as just a few days. They have to make every second of their short existence count.

You and I won’t live forever. We exist for a blink of the universe’s eye. In the grand scheme of everything our lives dim with insignificance. But whilst we are alive, we may as well live as though we mean it. Our importance and significance to our loved ones in the fleeting moments we are alive have a meaning greater than we could ever comprehend.

We only get one go with life. No practice, no dress rehearsal, and no rewinds. We need to seize it with both hands and give it the best shot we can. When those children step into your classroom you are the one giving them the skills they need to make the most of their one chance at life.

Back to fleas.

If you were to put a swarm of fleas inside a glass jar without a lid, then they would leap and jump and do their best to surpass the limits of the jar’s ridge. But if you were to seal the jar with a lid, there would be a different story.

At first the fleas would continue jumping. Their attempts would be futile and they’d simply keep hitting the underside of the lid. After a short time, a couple of days at most, the fleas would have adjusted their jump height and would jump no higher than the height of the jar.

Here’s the eye opening, grandiose, significance of the universe part. If you removed the lid of the jar then the fleas would remain safely inside. They would have learnt to not jump any higher than the lid – and so would not even try.

The fleas’ pattern of behaviour has been fixed for the rest of their short existence. Their offspring are born believing they can only jump a set height. The cycle is complete. The limiting beliefs of the adults have been imposed on the children.

And there it is. Our similarity to fleas is extraordinary. The lid placed above the heads of our children is society. Today’s world is geared towards being right all of the time. Being successful means never being wrong. For many, it is better to not try at all than to try and not be right.

The psyche of society, and these are somewhat sweeping generalisations, impose limiting beliefs on us from an early age. The five-year-old who wants to be an astronaut is told the chances of him making it are slim has had his whole future limited. The six-year-old who wants to climb Everest is told it’s too dangerous has had her potential limited before her seventh birthday.

When my daughter was two years old lots of people said to me and my wife, “You’re so lucky with how she is.”

She’s well behaved, she’s funny, resilient and an excellent problem solver. From only a few months old she started sleeping right through the night, 7pm to 6am. Not so much as a peep during the night. Again, the L-word came out. “You’re so lucky she sleeps right through.” It got to the point where we started lying to people about her sleep.

When others were moaning and complaining their kids were keeping them up all night, we lied so we could join in. We seemed like oddballs for talking about our child’s sleep so positively and as if we were gloating.

It was a moment of revelation when my wife and I were discussing the L-word. Were we lucky? Luck implies good fortune attained at random. Our daughter wasn’t randomly born. Her neural pathways didn’t randomly link up. Her personality didn’t randomly form. This was the revelation, the epiphany. We were not lucky at all. Far from it. The experiences we gave our daughter, coupled with the sights, sounds and the words we chose to use with her and around her had shaped her personality, behaviour and habits.

I am not for a single moment believing I am in parenting guru territory here. What I am suggesting is that our relentless desire for our daughter not to become what society tells her has shaped her into a being something you could not possibly call bog standard – and something you could never limit with something as simple as a jar lid.

For decades, society has been imposing limits, ceilings and metaphorical jar lids on top of our children’s potential. We should be born and taught to believe there is no ceiling on our potential or what we can achieve. Instead, society fixes our behaviour to be just like everyone else. Bog standard, middle of the road, beige.

You are the teacher. You have chosen this career. You don’t do it for the money. You don’t do it for the recognition. You do it because you want to see others succeed. Take those children and teach them to jump higher than any jar they could ever be put inside.

So what kind of teacher do you want to be remembered as: ordinary or extraordinary?

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