Tell Me About It: Future happiness is not necessarily a school grade

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: I live in a Washington suburb where the school environment is highly competitive. More than 20 percent of the class gets straight A's, and many students are accomplished in their sport, music, or other extracurriculars.

My children are not quite straight-A students (mostly A's, couple of B's), and are good at their respective extracurriculars, but not among the best. I dislike attending award ceremonies or events like it where everyone else's children are winning the awards and mine are getting "participation awards."

My children are healthy and well-adjusted, which is more than enough to make me happy. I do feel anxious, however, that my kids won't go on to good colleges or a good job.

Answer: Competitive child-rearing might be the most popular sport in some parts of America, particularly affluent ones.

The best outcome for your kids - best best, with no meaningful challengers - is for them to find a place in life that feels right to them based on their skills, temperaments, and passions. That some of your kids' A's slip to B's and some of their peers run/swim/dance/sculpt/sing better is not even remotely an obstacle to that outcome. After all, those kids getting all the awards will get their butts kicked, too, probably as soon as they move to the next level of competition.

What often does interfere with finding one's right place in life is a preoccupation with being the best, or with getting into (the best) college, or with gaining whatever form of recognition is most valued in their peer group. This is the stuff that scrambles the very signals they need to be listening for, the signals of satisfaction with what they're doing vs. what they're achieving. An excessive focus on winning also makes people more likely to get intimidated or discouraged and quit.

When people focus on what suits their interests and strengths, they're more likely to find both a revenue stream to support themselves and a resiliency stream to carry them through bumpy times.

Please trust this, and free yourself to like them for who they are instead of worrying about who they'll be.

You didn't actually ask a question - does this answer it?


E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@, or chat with her at noon Fridays at