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What I Learned from a Thousand Little Eyeballs Staring at Me

captive audienceI’m the type of girl who likes her own kids, but appreciates if others keep their distance. I have never pictured my home overflowing with children (mine or otherwise) nor do I ever imagine myself in a leadership position over a large number of children of any age. Several months ago when Addie interviewed author Jeff Kinney with the help of questions from her second grade class,  I never imagined it landing me in front of a captive audience of over 470 kids as I talked about writing, dreams, and telling stories.

I may have been singing Whitney Houston style in my head for an entire hour about children being our future, letting them lead the way, all that stuff.

Jeff Kinney wanted to be a cartoonist, but he was told early on his cartoons weren’t good enough. Rather than giving up and doing something else, he found a way to use his talents to make a living. I’ve been told my writing isn’t good enough, I think we’ve all been told what we love to do isn’t good enough, whether it’s by casual observers, family, friends, strangers, or the own voices in our own heads. Working online has shown me that when someone has a passion and an outlet, there’s no end to what they are capable of. I talked about my friend Chris who is a classically trained singer who was told he was too classical for anyone to really catch on. He finished second place on The Voice last year and is currently on a multi-city headlining concert tour. I talked about my friend Mindy who started posting tutorials on YouTube about braiding hair because trying to explain it in pictures for her friends didn’t work as well. Mindy now has an entire brand built around her family and her love of doing hair.

I’m not sure what the principal and staff were expecting me to say, but I knew what I wanted to say to those thousand plus eyeballs staring me down without the glowing distraction of a phone or tablet to keep them busy.

People are going to say mean things to you, chances are they’re jealous.

People are going to tell you your dreams are crazy, ignore them.

Do what you love to do in a way you love doing it.

Don’t let anyone else tell you how to write your own story. (Unless it’s your teacher and it’s an assignment, then follow their rules.)

You can turn what you love most into a career, even if it’s in unconventional ways.

I was able to ask them questions that most people don’t get the chance to ask a group of Kindergarten-3rd graders. I asked them who preferred to draw pictures (60%) and who liked writing (40%.) I asked them who thought their parents took to0 many pictures of them (99%.) I asked who liked to tell stories (99%) and when I asked them how many of them preferred to work alone compared to working in groups, I was surprised. 70% of hands went up when I asked who liked working alone, compared to the sparse few who preferred group work. While it’s not exactly scientific research, if I learned one thing today, it’s that kids don’t mess around. I just finished reading the book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain, and in it she talks about teaching, leading and embracing introverted kids, Using their quiet strengths to allow them to do their best without forcing them to be something they’re not. I wish every human alive would take the time to read this book to better understand the people both big and little that surround them.

A terrible adult voice in my head tried to speak up and say “But you’re too short to play basketball! The WWE is ridiculous! How many vets does the world really need? A GARBAGEMAN?” I shut them all up and locked them away to never speak up again.

I figure if one kid out of 470 goes home and finds quiet power in telling stories, their own or others, then I will have done my job well. Writing is a form of therapy for me, it always has been. If another kid goes home and realizes that journaling can just as easily consist of cartoons and doodles rather than words and sentences I have done a good thing. I have always loved and respected teachers and the selfless work they do for not only my own kids, but every kid who ever has the privilege of coming across a good teacher. Teachers are amazing people blessed with talents, patience and gifts I will never possess. I cannot thank them enough for sharing their love of learning with this next generation of children.

At the end of my little talk, Addie’s classmates were able to come up and ask me questions.

“Do you get paid real money?” (Yes!)

“How much money do you make?” (Enough!)

“Do you still have time to play with your kids?” (Of course!)

“Where do you work?” (My couch!)

In return I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, what their dreams are.

“Veterinarian!” (x 9)

“Author!”

“Teacher!”

“NFL player! NBA player! WWE wrestler! Policeman! MLB pitcher!”

and my favorite?

“Garbageman!”

A terrible adult voice in my head tried to speak up and say “But you’re too short to play basketball! The WWE is ridiculous! How many vets does the world really need? A GARBAGEMAN?” I shut those voices up and locked them away in a place to never speak up again. When I was their age I wanted to work for Hallmark, drive a red Porsche, be a gardener and marry my dad’s best friend. Any one of the numerous adult voices in my life could have told me how unrealistic my goals were, because in all reality they were all a bit of a stretch. But no one ever squashed my dreams, everyone just smiled and nodded at my desire to make birthday cards and told me I could do whatever I wanted to do with my life. While I haven’t quite written a birthday card yet, I have worked with Hallmark which is more than a dream come true for the little girl inside me. My dad’s best friend on the other hand married someone else,  I can’t grow a garden to save my life and the red Porsche seems a little silly now that I have two kids. One of four aren’t terrible odds for childhood dreams.

Those little kids today were full of all the hope and possibility in the world. They simply couldn’t comprehend why someone would say to someone else that they couldn’t do something, or worse, that they weren’t good at it. This little group of 470 kids (and every kid anywhere) can be anything, but they need us to lead the way, set the examples, teach them to pick themselves up when they fall down and how to adjust their expectations in the future to match their endless capabilities.

Just before they all went back to class I was able to recite my most favorite quote to them:

If you work really hard and are kind, amazing things will happen.” -Conan O’Brien

I believe it with my whole heart and know it to be true with every bit of my existence, if nothing else I hope they remember that kindness always wins.

Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.

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