My daughter sulked through the front door and laid the tell-tale manila envelope on my desk with such a huff that it seemed she was thoroughly deflated. “More of my grades went down than went up!” She barely got the words out before I saw the first tear make its appearance in the corner of her eye.
At 12, she is halfway through the dreaded mandatory schooling years. I call them dreaded because no member of my family has ever particularly enjoyed school, although I know there are others who do. In any case, I immediately knew it was time for some report-card-day deprogramming, which I delivered in the form of a letter — read aloud — from me to her. It went something like this…
My dear student,
Today is the day your school has designated as a report card day. It’s a time in the year when teachers formally tell parents how the student is performing in the classroom. In certain houses it’s a day of celebration, in others one of worry and punishment. In either case, I wonder if sometimes we might put more emphasis on this day — and the paper that comes with it — than we should.
We have a tendency to focus more on the bad than the good, particularly when it comes to grades. We say things like, “What? Your science grade dropped from last quarter? Better bring that back up if you want to keep playing basketball!” Or, “This history grade needs to improve or you’ll never get the GPA you need for college!”
But I don’t want to do that. I don’t want you to hear those statements and buy into the fear that your grades are the most important thing in your young life. The thing is, I don’t want you to draw your value from the numbers and letters on that piece of paper.
I want you to know you are worth so much more than those ABCs! Even though it feels like school is everything right now, it will be but a small blip on the total radar of your life.
Yes, education is important, but it’s not the most important.
You know those A’s you’re striving for? They actually mean “excellence” and seeking excellence is a wonderful goal. But B’s are great too (they mean above average!) and even C’s show you are meeting the average expectations of the class. Could you do better than a C? Perhaps. And we should always be trying, but I don’t want you to make the process of striving for excellence something that controls you life, and provides your worth.
Because at the end of the day — and at the end of your life — I don’t care about how much you improved your grade point average over one particular quarter or even whether you got a “bad grade” (or even a bunch of bad grades) in a certain class. That stuff is only temporary.
And a lot of times in life you’ll hear people say, “that’s OK, as long as you tried your best.” But you know what? Some days you can’t even say you tried your best, because it took everything in you just to show up in the first place. Seriously: Sometimes the act of trying is the best you can give. And on those days, that is OK.
So here’s what I do care about…
I care about whether you are a good friend who is kind to your classmates and future colleagues.
I care about whether you are respectful to your teachers, your future boss, and others in positions of authority.
I care about whether you are a strong but compassionate leader for those under your supervision.
I care about where you find the strength you’ll need to stay strong and be successful in fulfilling your life’s purpose.
I care about whether you are thinking critically and creatively to try and solve the problems that threaten to throw you off course.
I care about how you stand up for those who can’t speak for themselves, and serve those who the rest of the world deems unworthy.
I care about the type of adult woman you are growing into, the sister you are now, and the loving mother and wife you might one day be.
I care about whether you love God and, in turn, love others because of Him.
I know that if you can do these things those pesky little ABCs will work themselves out along the way. And when you fail at each of these things, because you will fail sometimes, I care that you can laugh at yourself (at least a little a bit) and then get back up and try again. Maybe not the same day, maybe not even the same week, but eventually…
And no matter what, I love you. No matter what.