Leadership, Stewardship, Surviving Second Grade

Posted by on June 13, 2013 in leadership, women | 2 comments

children-in-light-zedzapEach of the classrooms in our kids’ school has an end-of-year “Meet the Authors” event for parents. The kids prepare a portfolio of some of the things they’ve written during the year, and parents get to walk around the room and read, and there’s usually a way to write a note to your child or leave feedback on their work. Think adorably tedious.

Beth’s second-grade teacher has a real thing for poetry, so the portfolios this morning were filled with poems of the kids’ own making. I have to tell you, right here, that some of it was brilliant and moving. From another girl in the class:

They waited patiently in the light
for a meeting.

The interesting thing about second grade is that the kids started getting involved in the commenting. A year ago they all just stood by their own desks, beaming, and this year they walked around the room like short, sneaker-wearing book reviewers, writing down which poems of their peers’ they liked and why. They’re just at the age where they start to understand things socially, and it’s fascinating and frightening at the same time: more empathy for classmates hand-in-hand with the formation of cliques.

Which is why Scott asked the teacher how Beth is doing socially. We have reason to worry: she obviously has identical copies of whatever gene it is that determines geekiness and an ability to shut out everything except the book she’s reading. She has friends, but she’s noticed the cliques starting this year and talks about them with the authority and distance of an eight-year-old sociologist. One of her friends — the author of the poem I quoted — is the kid that everyone else makes fun of. Beth is less interested in knowing what she should do about it (“Duh, she’s my friend.”) than she is in why it’s happening (“I wonder why they picked her?”).

Her teacher, who really is marvelous in a strictest-but-kindest-teacher-you’ve-ever-had sort of way, said Beth’s doing fine socially, and that all the things that have me worried about her are actually positive traits: she’s aware of the cliques but doesn’t feel the need to join one, she gets along with every kid in the class, she can do her work without being distracted by drama.

This has me thinking about a lesson I taught in Relief Society last month (you know the “presidency message” Sundays that aren’t scripted? I live for those) about leadership and stewardship. I posited that they’re the same thing, and that it isn’t being in a position with a title that makes you a leader — it’s finding something that has to happen and nurturing it along, helping it succeed. If you’re going to lead, you have to be more committed to the project and the purpose than to your own fame and glory.

And I wonder if this quality of keeping an eye on the goal, recognizing the most important thing and serving it, is the same thing that makes it possible to survive second grade clique drama, and seventh grade gym class, and ninth grade when suddenly everyone but you owns the exact same shirt from H&M, and so on. Whether it’s writing poems or figuring out geometry or understanding Kafka or learning to paint or starting a non-profit, if you’re more interested in the goal than you are in what people think about it — if you’re motivated by figuring out something really cool instead of by being just like everyone else — well, you’re immune.

What do you think is your stewardship — like, you don’t care what anyone says to you about it and you’re going to make it happen if it’s the last thing you do? And how did you survive second grade (or 10th grade or sorority rush or your first job)?

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2 Comments

  1. “it isn’t being in a position with a title that makes you a leader — it’s finding something that has to happen and nurturing it along, helping it succeed. If you’re going to lead, you have to be more committed to the project and the purpose than to your own fame and glory.”

    I love that idea, Libby. I wonder if a correlary church-wise is charismatic leadership vs. institutional (appointed) leadership.

    Your questions at the end are good. It’s a new way for me to think about stewardship. Problem for me is that I do care what people think or say, to some extent. I’m a social being and there are social repercussions to what I say and do — and this makes me semi-cautious at church. I am dedicated to advocating for an expanded sphere for women’s action and leadership in the church, but I pick my battles about when to speak up and when to not do so. I have no doubt I’ve made mistakes doing that in the past. Hopefully in the future I’ll be smarter about it.

    That said, I’ve come a long way since grade school and high school. I was a total pleaser as a child. Never questioned authority. Always worked my buns off to give my teachers whatever I thought they wanted. I’ve grown away from that in some ways since i’ve reached my 30s. I’m far less concerned about pleasing the one in power and far more concerned about doing what I think is right.

  2. Libby, I am still pondering what my answers to your (excellent) questions might be, but want you to know that I read this post and loved this post.

    When I was a child I was a strange mix of brave and private. I tried out for every lead role in every play and usually got it. And won a lot of art awards. But, while I was preparing for either, I wouldn’t tell anyone what I was doing, and would be upset if someone watched me work. When I was in high school my passion was high jumping. It is what I worked for the most, and what I cared about the most.

    As I got older, it took me time to find that new thing that I cared about as much as I used to care about track. I think I found it in reading and in philosophy, and church wise I have found it in caring (and being willing to speak) about Heavenly Mother. It means that the people in my wards, family, and friendship groups that need to find me can, and that I regularly get emails and phone calls asking me what I think about something Heavenly Mother related–which is actually quite a lovely position to be in.

    Now I am also watching my husband in his first really, real job. It is going well for him, I think, but there are moments and conversations that are difficult for him to navigate, like on the second day of work when his new co-workers made fun of Mormons, or the fact that he still hasn’t told his boss that I am pregnant.

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