My blogroll and Twitter feed were abuzz with comments about Christina Aguilera's performance of the National Anthem on Sunday's Super Bowl. I actually missed the game, deciding instead to go to Disneyland, but I had to check it out for myself:
All I could think of was, "WTF." But not "Christina Aguilera, WTF," but rather "America, WTF."
In today's nano-judged world, where you can elicit a million belly laughs by pasting the word "FAIL" in white sans serif font on any image, and where even the world's most beautiful people supposedly need the help of a Photoshop expert every time they pose for pictures, Ms. Aguilera's lyrical gaffe is more than enough to fill one's social media tittering quota for the day.
But do you want to know what I saw in this video? I saw a consummate professional teaching us a lesson on how to handle crisis.
Po Bronson, in his book Nurture Shock, introduced me to the concept of stick-to-itiveness. It turns out that when we praise our kids for being smart or fast or any other innate talent, we don't actually raise their self-esteem; by praising something that seems to be "either you got it or you don't," kids feel powerless when faced with challenges and actually feel less confident in their abilities to overcome the challenges. Rather, if you praise the kids' effort and stick-to-itiveness, they feel motivated to put in further effort, i.e., something they are in control of. A quick summary of the book can be read here.
I am always looking for ways I can teach stick-to-itiveness to my kids because I am a person constantly crippled by the spectre of perfection. As Voltaire said, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." And Christina Aguilera's performance was a great example of the amazing good that can come out of imperfection.
I think while she was singing that line, Ms. Aguilera knew she messed up. Of course she did; she has sung the National Anthem countless times before. And without pausing, starting over, apologizing, or in any way pulling the focus away from the song itself, she decided to let her mistake go and corrected the lyrics mid-sentence. She didn't even stop the note she was on. In front of tens of millions of live witnesses, she just. kept. singing. That is PhD-level stick-to-itiveness, and that is what separates her from lesser entertainers and performers of every stripe, and that is what we should be focusing on if we want to show our kids how to truly succeed in life.
Dory knew it all along!