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Win at the starting line

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (June 7, 2014)

My new year’s resolution this year was to be able to run 10k. For someone non-sporty like me, it’s quite a stretch! I haven’t been able to achieve it yet but I’m working hard on it. And since I am so new to running, I have been asking my marathon-running friends for their advice. I’ve had them teach me about the right way to train, the best shoes to buy, the posture I should run with and also the pace that I should run at. I’ve heard lots of different advice but one I’ve consistently heard is that you should pace yourself so that you have enough energy towards the end of the race to actually finish it. I was told that I shouldn’t sprint at the beginning only to collapse before getting to the finish line. At the beginning of the race, you should start slower and go at your own pace and save enough energy to push harder towards the end.

Many people have started to use the phrase ‘win at the starting line’ with regards to raising a child. The premise is that if we start our children off with the right start, they are more likely to do well and be ahead of the others. If they can get into the right playgroups and learn as many languages as they can, play as many sports as they can, learn as many Chinese idioms as they can – all before they hit the age of 2 – then they are off to a good start. Since this perspective uses the analogy of a race, I would like to share my perspectives on running this race called life.

1) Everyone is unique

I have talked to lots of different people about running races and they give me lots of different advice and share with me different things that work for them. They like different shoes to wear, different times of day to train, different postures of running to have. All that goes to show that everyone is unique and different things work for different people. In the same way, each child is unique and is created to be special in their own way. Each child has a unique personality, learning style, developmental growth rate and different gifts and talents. With all the comparisons that go on between parents about their children, I hope that they don’t forget that every child learns at a different pace and is good at different things. One child might be able to have 10 after school activities a week and thrive but another might crumble under the stress. Just because they don’t excel at the starting line, doesn’t mean they won’t do well during the race.

I remember vividly being in 1st grade and had a teacher who told me I was hopeless. I was 6 years old at the time and the combination of being quiet in class and not being quick in doing math equations made my teacher come to the conclusion that I was slow in thinking. My mother went to ask her how she could help me but my teacher told her that there’s nothing that can be done to help me and that I was hopeless. Of course, this devastated my mum and I was pretty traumatized too. Math was just something that was very challenging for me at that age and worksheets that took my classmates 20 minutes to complete, took me at least double the time and ended up with half the answers wrong. But 12 years later, I took Math for my A-levels and aced them and ended up doing Economics at LSE for my undergraduate degree. I didn’t do well at the start but I ‘caught up’ in the end. Everyone learns at a different pace.

2) It’s a race against yourself

One thing I enjoy about running is that it’s a personal race. I like that I’m trying to beat my own distance or beat my own time. I love running with other people (and it helps keep me motivated at times) but the joy of running is that I’m always working on improving myself, not trying to be faster than the person next to me.

And when educating children, I stand by that motto as well. I believe that it’s not about beating other people, winning over others and getting 1st place. I think it’s about improving on oneself and always striving to do better. I’m more proud of a student who worked really hard and put all his effort into raising his C to a B than one who didn’t study hard in order to get an A. It’s the effort and motivation to improve that counts for me. Of course, we all want our children to excel and do well but the most important thing is that they put effort in to do better each time.

3) It’s the finish line that counts

When running the race, it doesn’t matter if you were the fastest runner at the first 10 metres of the race, it’s what happens at the finish lines that count. It’s important to keep the eyes on the goal and keep on going.

In the same way, it’s important for parents to have their eyes on a long-term goal. If it’s just on the next milestone, we can sometimes forget the big picture. So it’s important to ask what you want your child to be like or able to achieve when they are a working adult or beyond, and not just when they go for their primary school interview. Help them succeed at their finish line.


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