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Pundit David Wong calls it “effort shock” and he blames it on movies like Rocky and The Karate Kid. It’s the tendency to think that every shortcoming can be solved with championship-winning results after only enough practice needed for a film montage of under five minutes.

You know the plot: hero desires to be great, hero practices under guidance of wise elder, hero suffers setback, hero triumphs and is recognized for astonishing greatness. This plot is such a familiar formula that we’ve all bought into it and think it might apply to real life. I once knew a man who believed he could learn to play the piano brilliantly in just six weeks.

With this sort of fantasy timeline firmly in mind, it’s no surprise our children might suffer from “effort shock” when they realize that a couple hours of practice do not produce Olympic-quality results. Or American Idol quality results. Or Biggest Loser quality results. In fact, accomplishment to even ordinary levels of expertise takes a lot of time and a huge amount of effort. Writer Malcolm Gladwell suggests it takes 10,000 hours of hard work: that’s two hours a day, every day, seven days a week, for nearly 14 years.

So while we want to encourage our children’s dreams, we have a duty to help our kids see the trajectory of greatness. It’s not a short, steep climb to acclaim. It’s a long, hard slog with maybe no parade at the end. Everyone has more to learn than they think they do.

So it’s important not to inflate for a child her chances of fame and fortune. We do our kid a disservice to spin dreams of the major leagues when she’s still just the best on the local park district roster. And we have to be ready to support long years of study. We can’t demand of our child a trip to Carnegie Hall as payback for even years of private lessons. We have to keep our expectations in line with reality. And we have to be committed to the long haul.

No matter what your child’s aspirations, help him realize that hard work will be necessary. You’ll be there every step of the way, but success will not be immediate or easy. When we help our kids understand the work involved in reaching any worthy goal, we help them learn to be persistent and dedicated and appreciative of true expertise.

And we keep them from falling victim to effort shock.


© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.