“Why Are We Afraid to Take a Risk?”

“Stay focused! Please! No…not like that! I thought you would do so much better. You need to color in the lines. Why are you doing it that way! Don’t you want it to be perfect?” Those were the words I heard three weeks ago as I sat in a two-foot blue plastic chair next to a fellow parent at Kansas City’s Pottery Playland. This was no typical Saturday at the “Playland.” Oh no. In fact, there was a Princess Pottery Party going on, and I found myself surrounded by a pack of five year olds dressed as Cinderella, Snow White and Belle. Unfortunately, I was also surrounded by a pack of parents who, without trying, were playing the parts of the Evil Stepmother, the Wicked Witch and the Beast.
As I listened to these evil characters do their best to help their children create and paint the perfect piece of pottery, what I realized was that to these parents, their kids were like there own pieces of pottery. And as they encouraged their kids to create perfection, it was actually their kids that they were trying to make perfect. Now I don’t claim to be Dr. Phil and don’t expect any Father of the Year Awards anytime soon, but I learned a lot that day with my daughter by my side and a paintbrush in our hands. When I saw one little girl “paralyzed” with that brush, afraid of coloring outside the line, terrified of taking a risk and petrified at the thought of disappointing her mother, it hit me. Will that little girl dressed up as Cinderella, ever be willing and able to be confident, take a risk, be creative…live a little! I wonder.
Toni Morrison, the first African-American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature tells us:
“I want to discourage you from choosing anything or making any decision simply because it is safe. Things of value seldom are.”
And this is a lesson that we need to be reminded of regularly. So ask yourself, what do want for your children? How do you want them to make decisions? Do you want them to tentatively grab their paintbrush, paralyzed and afraid to pick the wrong paint, color outside the lines, and disappoint their teacher, coach, parent…and someday…boss.  I say,”LET IT GO!”
And this goes for you too! This year, grab that brush, pick the wildest color you can find, and unleash that creativity that makes you stand out among all others. You will set an amazing example for your children. Why? Because nobody notices the piece of pottery (or person for that matter) that “looks” like all the rest. They will, however, take note of the one that shows creativity.
Lesson for Parents
Just last week, my daughter and I went and picked up her pottery creation after they “cooked” it for a few days. While the ceramic bear she painted was born a shade of powdery white, after my daughter was through with it, you would have thought that it was the reincarnation of Tammy Faye Baker. The arms were pink, the nose purple, and the head had a mix of green, red, black, opal…and the eye shadow…horrifying! But to her, it was awesome! Because she did it!
Is there any doubt that if I had told her exactly how to do it, criticized her for not doing it the “right” way, and then grabbed the brush and did it myself, not only would she have a horrible time, but I would have risked making her afraid to make mistakes. And worse, that would be the last Princess Party I would ever be invited to! (bad thing?) And you and I both know that adults, like daughters, are going to do it their own way some time. And sometimes as parents we need to just “LET IT GO!” Because once we stifle our kid’s willingness to make their own hard, fast decisions, we risk “paralyzing” them. And a “scared” kid will never reach their full potential.
As I sit here in my office, staring at my daughter’s creation, I am reminded just how great life can be if we just live a little. And I can almost hear that Tammy Faye Bear saying, “I made a living painting where I wasn’t supposed to. And let me tell you, it can be pretty lucrative.” So grab the brush, LET IT GO, and let the Princess Party begin! Tammy Faye would have wanted it that way.
Brian Sullivan is an author of two books, a radio show host on ESPN 1510, CEO of a company called Kidsport GPS (cool GPS sports band that let’s parents follow their kids on their iphone while on vacation), and most importantly, father of three wild and crazy kids! Visit him at www.preciseinnovation.com.