A reader commented on my last post that her tendency to coast on her accomplishments is a form of self-sabotage. It may be difficult to reduce where those around us are strong, but it is equally difficult to continue to raise and improve where others are weak. It’s easy to look left and right and see that we’re doing better than most and feel good about ourselves, and it’s tempting to stay mediocre so we don’t appear “holier than thou,” but our children’s futures are too precious for this kind of foolish reasoning. Just as it’s a waste to keep up with our neighbors in areas that don’t mean so much to us, it is foolish to coast in areas we do care a great deal about simply because we’re doing better than most.
If life were a competition, then the Red Ocean mentality would be correct: if you raise the bar then you win and I lose. But I don’t believe that most of life is a competition. Even in a highly competitive field like music where competitions are extremely important and winning one opens many doors to career advancement, far more of a musician’s time is spent collaborating than competing. Most musicians don’t make music alone, but in small or large groups. When the group dynamic is one of competition and one-upmanship then the whole group suffers, not just emotionally, but musically as well. Neither does a group produce inspiring music when each musician is careful not to display too much of his ability for fear of intimidating others. The magic happens when each musician lets his ideas and talents out as he plays while keeping his ears open to what those around him are doing. This produces a feedback loop where the strengths and ideas of each musician inspire and energize the other musicians and the result is a sublime musical experience. The individual efforts to raise benefit not only the ensemble and its audience, but also competing musicians who listen and get fresh ideas and inspiration for their own work. When we raise, everyone wins.
The Blue Ocean analogy is a great framework for keeping this truth in mind. When others react with a Red Ocean mentality to our choice to raise the standard for our family, we can hopefully stay at peace in our own Blue Ocean, knowing that our raising is not ultimately a threat to them, but an opportunity. We can’t change how others think, but we can react calmly rather than defensively to their insecurities (which is much of what’s behind the discouraging words of those who react negatively to our choices.)
Yes, there will be times when others lose when we raise. Only one athlete comes home with the gold medal, but winner-takes-all competitions are man-made constructions. We create them and choose to participate in them, but we don’t have to. Even if we choose to compete, it’s not just the winners who win. Every athlete benefits from his training and experience: the friendships formed, the discipline learned, and the experience gained. There are many opportunities we can explore after a competition, whether or not we have a gold medal sitting on the shelf.
Do you agree? If we raise, will everyone win? Please share your thoughts!
Now we get to the fun stuff. Step three of the Four Actions Framework is raise. It may not be possible to keep up with Super Mom in everything, but since we are willing to let her surpass us in areas we don’t care that much about, we can focus on a few areas of personal importance and outperform even Super Mom. How? Because our energies will be focused and Super Mom’s are spread out. Maybe idealized Super Mom can do everything well, but even the most super of humans can’t be the best in everything. We might have less energy and fewer resources, but because of our narrow focus we can be excellent where Super Mom is only good.
Set a timer for two minutes and write down the aspects of raising children and family life that you care about. You can always cross out later, so during this brainstorm session write down everything that comes to mind without judging yourself. Then take a few moments to review your list and pick out one area that you care about the most (at least at the moment – don’t be a perfectionist about this!).
Are you excited? Overwhelmed? I went through this exercise and found that the first thing I wrote down also jumped out as my top choice. The words I spontaneously wrote down, “parent-child relationship – strong and respectful,” fill me with excitement, determination, and a bit of fear. I love those moments when I connect with one of my children and when they say “I love you,” but I look with horror on those moments when I shout or drag a child into a room and close the door in exasperation. At this tender age my kids still love Mommy most of all, but their little hearts seem so fragile and there is no guarantee that they’ll be saying “I love you” in the teen years.
How can I possibly think I can outperform the competition in the parent-child relationship category? It’s far too overwhelming. Yet the very vastness of the topic can be an advantage as I seek to find a way to move forward. I can’t move in every direction at once, but since there are many directions, I can choose the one that seems most doable and find the very next step I can act on today. As I wrote before,
“You don’t have to do it now, just think what would be the very next step necessary to move in the right direction. Could you act on it right now? If not, then you need to burrow down one more level. You might need to find a tool, or ask a person, or find a number.”
It’s still overwhelming to think what my next step should be, so I’ll give myself some time to think and will report in the comments when I’ve decided. I would love for you to do the same! We can all be encouraged to see the small steps others are taking to make their family culture even better!
“Aren’t you cold?” a friendly stranger asked me as I straightened up from attending to my toddler while supporting my large baby belly. I sighed and answered with a friendly “no, but thanks” and wiped the sweat from my brow. I knew what this was all about: shoes. I had none. It was a beautiful spring day and my feet were enjoying a bit of freedom after the long winter months, yet no matter the weather I’ve found the Swiss tend to be shocked at the sight of bare feet.
Cultural context is a common barrier we will face when choosing to eliminate – even if that culture is our own. “It’s just not done” is a natural, if not thoughtful, response when we’re faced with something we’ve never seen before. When creating our own Blue Ocean we’ll have to get used to facing the natural, but wearying questions of strangers. We might well want to count the cost before we cut. The Swiss don’t bother me more than saying “Aren’t you cold?” so I’m okay with occasionally eliminating the industry standard of shoe-wearing. I’ve also eliminated make-up yet have never gotten a comment about it. It might be different if I lived in Texas, where make-up is considered an integral part of womanhood. I might choose to start wearing make-up just so I wouldn’t have to explain myself. Consciously deciding to fit in is a valid Blue Ocean choice, too. We need to consider our cultural environment and choose our battles.
On the flip side, knowing other cultures is a great way to get ideas for elimination. When we get out of our own cultural waters we can observe how many people do without something our own culture considers essential. For example, the Swiss don’t expect parents to watch their kids every moment of the day. In fact, it’s considered an important developmental exercise in independence for kindergartners to walk to school without adult supervision. It still may not be wise for an American to let her kindergartner walk to school alone, but knowing that somewhere else in the world young children do, and turn out just fine, can free the imagination to find other ways of helping our children exercise their independence.
What cultural context do you struggle with? Have you adopted a cultural norm from a place you’ve visited or lived? Please share!
Let’s go back to step one of the Four Actions Framework for creating a Blue Ocean: Eliminate. It’s hard to expand our thinking enough to identify something we could cut altogether. What part of parenting can we possibly cut? Food? Education? Potty training? It seems at first glance that the jobs that go with parenting are a given and we just have to accept them. I’m sure it looks that way for businesses, too. Who could imagine a circus without animals? Yet Cirque du Soleil eliminated animal performers and I doubt anyone has left a show thinking it was lacking a special something because it didn’t have animals.
Even if we could be imaginative enough to think of a standard part of parenting that we might choose to eliminate, the worst is yet to come. Cutting is even scarier than reducing. If we choose to reduce we might just look like we’re struggling to get it all done. Others might react with pity saying “Aw, that poor Mom, she’s so stressed she can’t manage to pack her kids a lunch.” If we eliminate something it will most likely be apparent to all, and we’ll have to answer the questions and bear up under the disapproving looks. Such social consequences can be especially difficult to take when we ourselves are unsure we have made the right choice. In my short years of parenting I’ve already learned the lesson that there are no guarantees and every choice comes with risk. It’s a scary business, yet there is no safe place of protection. Even if we go along with the norms of our time it will not shelter us from the scorn of the next generation decrying our inhumane practices. Life is risky. Let’s face the fact bravely.
From the book, Blue Ocean Strategy,
“No company . . . can afford to be a riverboat gambler. And no company should.”
They emphasize “creating blue oceans in a smart and responsible way that is both opportunity maximizing and risk minimizing.”
I’m still reading through the book and have lots of work to do to translate how it applies to families, but the warning against gambling is more important for families than for business. Businesses are finite. Every company, every organization, and every country will one day come to an end. The family’s business of making and shaping people is of utmost – and I believe eternal – importance. Even if you don’t believe in the afterlife, clearly raising children well is of great importance to you or you wouldn’t be reading this!
So how do we eliminate a commonly accepted “necessity” of parenting without being fools?
How do we continue to live socially in our communities when our choices set us apart?
There is so much more to explore and discover. Do you have questions or thoughts? Please share in the comments. I’d love to hear your perspective!