Friday, March 20, 2009

Gold Star Project

I was sitting at a PTA meeting not long ago, listening to a very organized mom talk about a new empowering program for the kids at PS 107, a Math SuperStars program, that would take place before school (ensuring that my kids would never be involved!)Included in the elaborately conceived program was a plan, she said, "to give the kids gold stars, just for trying."

A mom friend next to me, who had quit her job to stay home with the kids and fulfill all the thankless tasks that go along with that, let out an audible sigh. I looked over at her and saw real, honest desire in her eyes: "I want one of those..." she said quietly, almost under her breath. I burst out laughing, causing a stir as per usual. But I couldn't help it. It was brilliant. It was true. It was her childhood self speaking out from her adult mouth. We all want one of those, we deserve one!

Recognition can't come often enough. Job managers do a terrible job, so do spouses and parents and friends. Why do we think only elementary school teachers and volunteers need be cheerleaders and champions of efforts made, of even the smallest attempts to succeed??

We need to get back to that time when teachers were rewarding us with gold stars, to tap into that feeling of great potential and live with that potential in mind, no matter where it gets you. A friend said recently that potential is nothing until realized. I totally disagree. Who decides what realization is? And when you get to that intended place, that place that you or others have decided is the end, what do you do then? Potential has to rear its head again. We better get used to enjoying the process.

I thought of this the other day when I was feeling down, feeling sorry for myself at the possibility that the great effort and emotion I had poured into a piece of writing and actually had the guts to submit for publication might very well get rejected. To boost myself I thought, "well, at least I'm trying." And then it occurred to me: I deserve a gold star! So, I thought, do other people who had probably likewise realized at some point during their day, without recognition, that they'd done a good job at work, they'd gotten the laundry folded, volunteered their precious time, scooped up dog poop, wiped up baby vomit for the 15th time...whatever it was they felt they'd at least tried to do. Everyone would appreciate a little acknowledgment.

I was more right than I could have guessed. The responses, from the very first star, were amazing. A man in line at a cafe I frequent asked me about the sheet of stars in my hand and I explained. "They're just for trying." Immediately, with sadness in his eyes, he spoke of his recent reluctant return to the States after a trip to South America.

"It's hard to be back in America, but you're trying, right?" I said.

"It is hard," he said, nodding in agreement. "I am trying."

"Do you want a star?" I asked, still a bit wary that people would want them, would actually wear them on this, my initial mission.

"Oh, yes, please!" he nearly begged. I gave it to him, this hopeful stranger, and as he placed it on his person, a grin grew on his face from ear to ear. Wow.

The afternoon continued just like that. People varied in their response, but nearly to a one knew immediately why they deserved one or even two stars, maybe even the biggest one on the sheet. Most had me place it smack dab on their chest so they could show it off proudly, this gold, glittery star that showed them to be a person of some merit, for what it didn't matter. My mood had turned completely around as the stars I had given shined up people's days, made them feel good about themselves. They walked away with the stars, thinking not of the giver but of themselves, of how--like a child-they could be great, were great. Just for trying.

I ran out of stars yesterday and nearly caused a fight as deserving folks began to dicker over who was more deserving. I bought more today and plan never to be without them. I have a picture of one on my phone to send quickly to those far away who are in need. I am very enthusiastic about my Gold Star Project. In fact, I'm giving myself a gold star right now.

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