I do. I was a near-sighted kid in a very small school in a very small, nondescript town in the South. Where I grew up we didn’t have a huge athletic anything. There weren’t three different schools — elementary, middle and high school. It was one big building that stemmed from a wealthy guy’s idea of a school back in the late 1870s. I don’t know all the history surrounding it but it was a nice school. Our lockers were just square cubby holes with no locks or doors on them.
We had a big gym where our always-losing basketball team would play bigger, better teams, but it was used for community functions as well. My mother and father met in that gym — they used it then for rollerskating.
For the most part, there were excellent teachers. Despite the “disadvantages,” I learned a lot from those teachers and figured out what my passion was.
We didn’t have several classes and choices like kids in larger schools had, but I turned out pretty good anyway. I think I had the same opportunities as anyone else and although I couldn’t wait to get away from that small-town closeness, as an adult I realize how growing up there gave me a true sense of community. My mother and her mother went to school there. The school isn’t a school anymore — it’s a community center or something like that now I think.
My First Goal
I was in the second grade and my teacher gave the students a challenge. Whoever read the most books would not only get a gold star up on a board next to their name, but pencils with gold stars and their name printed on them! This was right up my alley, as I’d read voraciously ever since I could make sense of words strung together into a story, a thought, a feeling. I set a goal that I wouldn’t just read more books than anyone else, I would read way more than anyone else. I really wanted those pencils and the recognition. I wanted it badly.
I drove my Mother crazy bringing home stacks of books everyday. When I ran out of ones that I could read all the way through on my own, I checked out more from the library that had bigger words. Words I didn’t know or understand. She’d spend whatever time she could (she had two other kids) and a house to run, but I’d cry in frustration when I couldn’t figure out a big word and what it meant. She was patient, making me sound out the words, then look them up in a dictionary. My memory of this is that it went on for weeks.
I read 300 books. I got my gold star up on the board and I got ten pencils with gold stars and my name printed on them. I didn’t trim those pencils and use them for a long time. It wasn’t just the “award” or recognition though — it was that feeling — you know the one — when you work really hard and you get what you set out to do. When you make a promise to yourself and you keep it. It’s that.
When Life Gets in the Way
I’ve accomplished other goals since then of course. I read a book about Nantucket when I was in the seventh grade (still in that tiny town) and after I read it, I thought to myself, I going to go there one day. I did, three times, once by myself. It was everything I dreamed it would be, idyllic, one of those places that lived up to the pretty brochures. Not every place does. Odd, though, it’s much like that small-town thing that I wanted to get away from so badly, with way more wealthier people in it and an ocean surrounding it, but still.
I guess the point to all this, is why do our goals become less important as we get older? We put them off (at least I’ve been doing that) because we have to do something else first. There’s always a reason and then ten years go by and you’re thinking, why I haven’t done this yet?
Maybe it’s the childlike wonder. When I set that goal as a child, it never occurred to me that I would fail. I pictured myself up there, the teacher handing me those pencils, her making a big production of putting a star up next to my name. Making the other kids clap. And me, all red-faced, proud and near-sighted feeling so good about myself. That’s pretty much the way it happened too.
I think that’s it. I’ve got a couple of goals now. So I’m going try to find that little second-grader in me again and ask her how she did it.
Happy Monday everyone and here’s to achieving those milestones that make you feel so good.