I had a poster hanging in my childhood bedroom that read, “Shoot for the moon – even if you miss, you’ll be among the stars.” It got really mixed reviews from anyone who knew about it – my high school therapist thought it meant I was putting too much pressure on myself, for example. But I loved it because it inspired me to push myself and to aim high. And I think it’s (mostly) worked for me.
In the epilogue to Hidden Potential, Adam Grant shares that “people with bigger dreams go on to achieve greater things,” explaining data that shows that aspirations formed in adolescence foreshadow adult lives. I’ve always had big dreams. And while I’m not sure I’ve ever landed on the moon, I like to think that I have spent much time amongst the stars.
But it’s one thing for me to put that kind of “pressure” on myself. What about my role as a mother and an educator?
Most nights while I’m putting my kids to bed, my almost-ten-year-old son likes to talk to me about what he wants to be when he grows up. He asks me about what type of schooling or experience is required for one profession or another. He asks me what I think he’d be good at. He talks about what he thinks he’d enjoy or what might be interesting. Sometimes he tells me that he wants to do what I do (and when I ask him what that is, he replies, “consultating”). And the conversation always ends with my saying, “You can be anything that you want to be, but right now you need to sleep.”
He’s not quite sure for where he wants to shoot…but he knows he wants to be prepared (definitely resonates there).
My thirteen-year-old, however, is less open and likes that talk to me about his dreams of being in the NFL (note that he’s currently attending private Jewish school whose entire sports program consists of a basketball team, and the closest he’s come to playing competitive football is a week at summer camp as his afternoon elective). Last week he asked me how likely I thought it was that both he and his brother would play for the NFL at the same time, and who I would support in a game if they played each other. I don’t have the heart to tell him that chances are pretty slim that he (or his brother) will ever make it into the NFL, so, instead, I focus the conversation on the skills, traits, and habits that it would take to make it…and that won’t hurt him in general.
We talk about nutrition. I bring him to the gym and have him meet with a trainer who specializes in youth. We talk about the value of teamwork and consistency and endurance and discipline. We focus on grit and perseverance. We discuss strategy and sportsmanship. We watched the Netflix series “Quarterback” and discussed the similarities and differences between the players profiled (hint: they all work really hard…and show very different styles of leadership). We consider competing priorities and how to handle them (for example, he is very concerned about being a college football player who plays on Saturdays and how that conflicts with his observance of Shabbat). We talk (or he talks, and I listen) about the different positions and the specific skills needed for each one and how to develop them.
He’s certainly got his eyes on the moon and is trying to build his spaceship to get there.
In the final pages of the book, Grant discusses imposter syndrome, stating:
“Imposter syndrome says, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s only a matter of time until everyone finds out.’
Growth mindset says, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing yet. It’s only a matter of time until I figure it out.’
Scaffolding gives you the support you need to figure it out.”
I don’t know that my son will end up playing in the NFL (the protective mama bear in me hopes he doesn’t – have you seen the hits those guys take??). But the fact that he thinks it’s a possibility is inspiring and reflects a state of growth mindset that I don’t want to squash. And the scaffolding of health and fitness and mindset and character development we’re building as part of his exploring this path will help him be successful, no matter what.
And, quite honestly, I would so much rather him believe that playing in the NFL is possible over his feeling like he has no options. His belief that something as lofty as playing in the NFL is possible (without getting too locked into that as his only option) shows that he has belief in himself and his potential, which is so important for him as he navigates life.
Grant also adds, “I now believe that imposter syndrome is a sign of hidden potential. It feels like other people are overestimating you, but it’s more likely that you’re underestimating yourself. They’ve recognized a capacity for growth that you can’t see yet. When multiple people believe in you, it might be time to believe them.”
My son sees his own capacity for growth and is open to growing. And he is certainly shooting for the moon.
After spending an entire book looking at different ways to uncover and unlock the hidden potential in ourselves and others, Grants end with the following:
“The most meaningful growth is not building our careers – it’s building our character. Success is more than reaching our goals – it’s living our values. There’s no higher value than aspiring to be better tomorrow than we are today. There’s no greater accomplishment than unleashing our hidden potential.”
I engage in a daily journaling exercise. Each morning, I respond to several short prompts I’ve created as a way to be mindful and intentional about my day including setting an intention, listing three pieces of gratitude, and including any pieces of advice my intuition has for me that day. Starting in 2024, I added the question, “What is one thing I could do today to be a better version of myself than I was yesterday?” For the last few days, I’ve answered, “Drink more water,” and that’s what I need right now…and soon I’ll get to something a little deeper.
I’ve taken a similar approach with my son and his NFL dreams. We are focused on building his character and living his values (and – NFL or not – seeing where that will take him).
If you wanted to play in the NFL (or become a published author or win an award or get promoted or otherwise “shoot for the stars”). Or just be a “better” version of yourself, what could you do now?