“I enjoy ironing”.
This phrase did not come from my mother, who for good reason hates the chore, but from a ten year old girl. I was sitting at the table with her father, a close friend of mine, and her brother at the end of dinner. A moment before she had just stood up on her own accord to prepare dessert for the whole table and was melting chocolate in a bain-marie with the dedication of a Cordon Bleu chef. Her zeal had inspired us to talk about children and house-work.
“You have to tell me how you managed to raise your daughter to enjoy such house chores!”, I joked with my friend.
Licking the wooden spoon, Julie* interjected before her father had time to react. “You simply have to love what you’ve got to do, and motivate yourself to do it!” There was no hesitation.
Her answer left me stunned.
A Momo moment
I wish I could portray the conviction with which this girl, on the cusp of teenage, conveyed the concept: one with which most of us still struggle, way into adulthood. You might be tempted to wonder, ‘isn’t that just child-speak? Wait till she grows older!’
Whether in ten years’ time Julie will still love ironing as much, I cannot say, but the girl in front of me had clearly mastered one of life’s simple truths: that it is so much easier to embrace your tasks and learn to love them rather than drag your feet and feel miserable about them. And if throughout her life she applies that credo, she will most likely live happier and be more successful. An interesting article by The Independent, in fact, lists joie de vivre as the first amongst the key traits needed by children to succeed. And what better than enjoying even the obligatory tasks?
It is difficult not to draw on Michel Ende’s Momo for the pearl of wisdom that Beppo, the road sweeper, gives to the eponymous girl. His advice was to sweep a very long street, step by step and breath by breath. “That way you enjoy your work” he says “which is important, because then you make a good job of it. And that’s how it ought to be”.
Perfect skills or the perfect attitude?
Julie’s comment set me thinking: am I teaching the right stuff to my daughters? Should I perhaps teach them fewer skills and more attitudes? Skills are certainly important but I’m starting to believe that learning the right attitude has, perhaps, even more merit. Just to take the ironing example: is it better to learn how to produce perfectly uncreased clothing but hate doing it, or to embrace the task with more joy, even though you are less adept in it? Ironing of course is a banal example. But the same truth may hold for other things in life: school, work, family and civic responsibilities.
I, for one, focus mostly on perfection. I want things to be done well and promptly. But when you think about it, passion is what drives most of us in whatever we do and we achieve the best results when we are passionate about our tasks. Although some things in life are duties rather than optional activities that does not mean that those duties cannot be performed with joy.
Whether or not Julie will be ironing her own blouses or delegating the task to a professional remains to be seem. But today she has taught me a valuable lesson: one which I intend to keep in mind and mostly apply to my own life. After all, as I read recently, an authoritarian approach does not bring about voluntary good behaviour. Modelling does.
*Name has been changed to protect the child’s identity
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