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Unlearning Perfectionism with Rina Joshi

Hi Rina! Welcome. I’d love for you to introduce yourself.

I am Rina Joshi. I have two children, a nine year-old named and a seven year-old, who’s in second grade. We’ve lived in New York City for almost 20 years and I never thought that I’d be raising kids here, but here we find ourselves. I worked in the finance field for almost 20 years and recently made a shift to work in the child and development space, where I’m focusing on young girls through an after school program focused on social emotional learning called Nest Collective.

Wonderful, thanks. Rina, tell me, you said you have a seven year old and a 9 year old. Can you tell me about who you were when you were seven or nine in school. What was your reputation as a learner?

Interesting. I thought about myself as a person, but not necessarily as a learner at that age. I think I was very quiet, and teachers didn’t know me particularly well. I don’t think I was able to show teachers what I knew. I always grew up in a really traditional household where education was a huge focus. Learning was definitely reinforced pretty strongly at home. There was a lot of dialogue and communication there, but when it came to school I was very quiet and didn’t participate a whole lot. It was a much more passive learning style. 

How was that different from what was going on at home? When you say that learning was happening at home, what did that look like?

I guess there was just more dialogue going on at home. There was a lot of grilling. Homework was a thing that was checked at home. There was a constant dialogue around what I knew and what I didn’t know.

If we’re defining learning as going from not knowing how to do something, to knowing how to do it, how did you bridge that gap if your family or your folks talking to you about your learning realize that you didn’t know something? What did you then do to know it?

I don’t remember much of it. I just remember math drills or spelling. There was a lot of repetition and memorization. I think as opposed to the way my kids are learning now there was a lot less understanding the theory behind things. It was more about, “how do we get a good grade on that quiz?”

How was that different from your kids? You could pick one or talk about both. Do you have a sense of how they see themselves as a student and as a learner? Are those connected or separate?

They’re very different. My son has a lot of subjects that he’s naturally super interested in and really passionate about. History is probably at the top of that list, and he does a lot of learning on his own in those areas that he’s really interested in. I think he has that natural passion for education because he understands what he is interested in. He knows how to go about leaning more in those areas. He tries to take those subjects and translates it to his normal school topics. When he knows something he talks about it all the time, it’s really clear that he’s interested, engaged and learning. 

My daughter on the other hand, is probably more like me in the sense that she’s quieter at times. I think less confident expressing what she knows. Or embracing that fact that she does know. She will act sometimes like she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, when she actually does. Just very different learning styles. 

Do you see that show up in your daughter’s academic life? 

Yeah, she is super quiet. We usually have two parent-teacher conferences a year, one in November, one in March. I’m so used to it, the first one they just really don’t know her. I mean, they’ve tried as much as possible but she’s hard to read and she’s just a very quiet child. Keeps to herself, but by the second conference they’ve started to get to know her personality, she’s loosened up. I think there’s a better sense of who she is. I think from the learning perspective she’s always characterized as someone who’s a great learner. Learns independently, collaboratively, always follows directions and is good at guiding others in those types of situations. 

People have described her as the quiet leader. She doesn’t need to be the loud one but she sets an example through behavior and others are drawn to that at times. 

With you being quieter and having a lot of the drilling and motivation coming from inside the house. What does that look like now for you as an adult who is in the working world, and as an adult who just switched careers drastically? Have you kept from your style back then, or what have you had to change?

Having that kind of rigorous focus on education, obviously it serves you well in a sense that you learn what you need to learn. That made the progression into college and work life easier in that sense, but I think the other side to it is when there is such a focus on results, I think it made me very afraid to fail. 

That obviously has so many repercussions as you get older in terms of being able to take risks and put yourself out there. I think that’s something that I had to grapple with. Only as I became older was I able to understand that that’s where it came from. I think understanding it has helped, trying to put myself in more uncomfortable situations, I’ve learned that it creates a lot of opportunity for growth and learning. 

What have you done to overcome that? Having gotten those messages as a kid, what’s helped you get past some of that? 

I think just being cognizant of it. Knowing where it came from. Knowing that’s what my tendency is, and I feel myself when I’m giving that kind of defensive response. It is catching myself and trying to understand if it’s something I really don’t want to do, or something that I would love to do, but I’m just afraid of not doing it well. 

Totally. Do you feel that there are any residual effects of that on your kids, or do you feel that they have a different perception of failure or not getting something right away? 

I think that my husband and I were very hard to not let any of that into their personalities. With that being said, I think particularly my son is naturally the same way that we ended up being, and it’s unclear to me if it’s a nature effect or if it’s just part of his personality. He’s been like that since pre-school. If it’s a nurture thing, he’s still picking it up from what he’s seeing us do. Having that conversation, “You might be afraid to try this, but if you don’t try new things, you’ll never learn,” goes a long way. Constantly reminding him of those things. We’ve gotten him much more comfortable with taking more risks and taking on new things, but it always requires a reminder or just reinforcement. 

How cool to be getting that message so young. When you do give him a reminder like that, was there a point where he wasn’t taking that in but now he is able to? What’s his immediate response when you tell him, “its okay, it’s not going to happen right the first time.”

I can give you a concrete example, and it’s in the same area. When he was probably five, we signed him up for basketball, and he had never really played a sport. He was uncomfortable playing sports with a bunch of these other boys from his class who were really great athletes, and would cry before every lesson. It wasn’t only a mental thing, his whole body was involved. He just had such a strong response through his body that it was clear that he was super uncomfortable. Back then we would tell him, “It’s totally normal that you’re scared of this, but you’re going to get through it.” I’d sit with him on the corner, he’d be crying and then eventually he would calm down and go join the activity. 

Not telling him that there’s no reason to feel scared was key back then, and I think helping him after the fact, once he did go in and play. After the whole session, he was feeling great about basketball. 

Reminding him of situations where he did make it through and ended up with an outcome that he’s happy with is something that we keep going back to. That being said, this year he’s playing basketball with an organization and they wanted him to take it to the next step and join a particular team. His first response was “I can’t do that, I’m not as good as those kids. I don’t want to do it.” We just let him sit with it for a little bit, but then there’s that whole conversation of, “Hey, these people know what they’re talking about and they are asking you to be a part of it. Maybe you should try it.” 

I think for my kids, it’s just generally giving them the option to dip their toes in and try something. So, he tried it, he was super nervous going into it, it turns out he didn’t actually love the experience, but he came out of it saying, “ I could do that if I wanted to.” So I felt good about it. 

Cool. What a great way of thinking about it. I think there’s so much of a focus on commitment and following through for us and for kids that giving the space to just try something and see how it goes

Yeah, it’s a lot less daunting, even for myself, if I have to make the decision if I’m not sure if it’s something I’m going to like and I have to make a big commitment to it, I’m probably not going to do it. If I have the option to sit in something and see what it’s like. Why not? Right? 

Totally. In what ways do you feel like your kids are going to be awesome colleagues/bosses in their sort of learning style? How do you think it might translate to them as adults in the learning world and what things are you trying to work on so that they do get to be awesome colleagues/bosses?

Gosh, that’s a great question. Generally, I go back to some of the feedback we’ve gotten from my children’s teachers and they’re always described as great team players able to work with different people from the class. Yes, they have their one or two really close friends, but they go back and forth between all of them. I think in most ways they’re probably good people to be around or be on your team or co-worker. With my daughter, our focus right now is teaching her how to express herself. Though as a co-worker I think it would be frustrating to have someone around who isn’t able to tell you what they think. I think for her, at her age that’s the focus. Then, for my son, he’s generally a pretty kind person, but we’re really trying to teach empathy right now. Forget logic, forget what’s right and wrong. Even though the kid may be doing the wrong thing, how is that person feeling? Is there anything you could do to make that better for them without really giving in. 

What a nice skill for him to have as he moves forward. 

Let’s hope so. 

Has there been anything that you’ve tried in terms of trying to help shape your kid’s perception of themselves as learners that hasn’t worked that you’ve learned from?

I think there are things that we know are issues but haven’t really realized. For example, my son always compares himself to others. “I know how to do math but this person knows how to do it faster.” We haven’t really been able to figure out a way to stop them from doing that. Nothing else really comes to mind right now. 

That’s a big one, that’s tricky to stop. 

Yeah.

This is all awesome. Any final thoughts for folks who are working to raise kids who are then great people in the world in terms of their learning? Going from not being able to do something to then being able to do it. 

I think of one realization that I’ve come across recently. This might have to do with the fact that all of a sudden I’m focused on children’s development, and that I tend to talk with them a lot. They’ll come home and say “This happened today.” and I’ll jump into problem solving mode. Just giving them advice and half the time they don’t want it. 

They just want to be heard and so I’m trying to scale back a little bit and just listen and be there. Then maybe save the problem solving for a separate discussion.

That’s wonderful, yes right. Pretend you came from work and your husband says “Well, here are all the ways..”

No, I don’t wanna hear it.

That’s a good realization. Thanks Rina for taking the time to chat. 

Of course, thank you for talking. 

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