Second Fiddle

A famous conductor once commented that playing second violin is the most difficult instrument to play. Everyone wants to be first violin—no one wants to be “second fiddle.”

That’s probably true for all of us. But let’s face it. Being a teenager is tough enough. The exterior often exudes confidence, while the interior is a circuit box of uncertainty and insecurity. It’s a fact of life, but still not a pleasant reality, that your teenager, no matter how hard he or she tries, will hear “almost,” “not quite,” “try again” or “sorry, not good enough.”

Thick skin

Mom, Dad, you’ve been there. You’ve experienced occasional disappointment after investing a lot of years in striving for success. Because you’ve developed a thick skin from the wear and tear of life experiences, you bounce back and keep on keeping on. Your teenager, however, is just starting that long journey of discovery. Rejection is hard to take, especially for teenagers who have a hard time separating one aspect of themselves from their whole selves. Often when teenagers fail at something, their entire personal software temporarily logs out.

Screen door on a submarine

That’s when you need to step forward and share a time in your own life when you played the role of second banana or fifth wheel—or felt about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. Tell your teenager the story of when you auditioned for the musical or tried out for the team and didn’t make it—and ended up an understudy or bench warmer. Point out that you survived to audition another day. Life didn’t end. In fact, it’s possible that when a door shut in your face, another door opened that introduced you to a smorgasbord of new opportunities.

The best second fiddle of all

Share those temporary setbacks with your teenagers. And follow them up with stories of perseverance, survival and triumph. As parents, we can’t audition for our kids. We can’t save them from falling on their faces. We can’t and shouldn’t fight their every fight. However, we can teach them that (1) someone has to play second violin; (2) every instrument is an integral part of the orchestra; and (3) second chair violin can lead to first chair violin with hard work and determination. For you Thespians, you’ve heard the adage, “There are no small parts, just small actors.” (That’s still tough to swallow.)

Has there ever been a doctor who wasn’t first an intern? A teacher who wasn’t first a student? An executive who didn’t start out as an errand runner? In today’s world where a premium is placed on superlatives—most, best, highest, greatest, fastest—it is important that we parents teach our children the value of being the best second fiddle they can be on their way to first chair violin.

James Barrie, the Scottish novelist, once said, “We are all of us failures—at least, the best of us are.”

 

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