Pressure, Progress, and Perfection

Dear Eleanor,

Recently, you recieved your first preschool report card. You know what this means don’t you? You’ve entered the wonderful rabbit hole of measurable progress. From now until… well… forever, you will be questioned, tested, scored, rated, categorized, ranked and evaluated on an endless string of shifting criteria. That is the way our world spins. All of this happens in the name of learning, productivity, progress, and ultimately success.  However, there are undisclosed side effects and you need to know about them. 

You are not your failure 

An obsession with success is baked into the modern sensibility. We ignore those who struggle. We lift up those who do well. As you grow, you will find things that inspire you. You may even start to be recognized for them. At this point you will notice a creeping fear inside that one day people will find you to be a fraud, and they will discover that you are not what they thought.

Given free reign the fear can be crippling. Know that you are not your failure. Even grand failures cannot define us. Though they can hurt a lot. Instead, see failure as an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to change. 

Full disclosure, I struggle with failure. Just the idea of it. People who are known for rage quitting friendly board games have clear issues to work out. I’m terrified that you will be saddled with my fear and expectation in some way. Maybe we can work this one out together. 

You are not your success 

“Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” People love this cliche. What no one ever really talks about is how success can be it’s own kind of curse. No one, except for the late John Candy playing a Jamaican Bobsled Coach in the movie Cool Runnings: “You see, Derice. I had made winning my whole life, and when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning, no matter what.” 

Every achievement raises the expectation and the pressure that much higher. Should you begin to experience success, guard your heart against the god of the next big thing. I’m sorry for the pressure you will feel because of me. Know that you have a father who is thrilled about who you are, not just what you do. 

Achievement is not the enemy

With all of that said, the temptation arises to avoid opportunity all together. There is always the isolated cabin in the woods route. But it would not work. We were made for world building. Humans have a drive to carve out a slice of space and flourish within it. Some strive only for their own flourishing. Others make an effort that their family or narrowly defined community will thrive. However, there is a special variety of person that works towards a universal flourishing in their own way, big or small. 

I believe that is the type of person we were created to be. This is the reason that engaging in immense efforts and facing fears are worth it. I strive to embody that identity and it is also my dream for you. Every obstacle and evil will combat against this intention. The vise-like pressures squeezing our experience are real. Still, put your very best into the universal flourishing of the world around you. In the end, you might just manage a taste of the way things were meant to be. 



  1. I am not my failure? MY DAD WAS WRONG!

    Hahaha, great letter Daniel. It is my hope that I’ll be able to quote Cool Runnings when my kids get too many A’s in a row.

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