Stop telling my kid, “You did Great!”

My family and I were waiting for our food at a restaurant for a post-tournament break. My kid had placed 2nd in two events at the tournament. As we waited, my wife and I talked with our young competitor about the tournament and her own performance. Our tone was somewhat subdued and the nature of the discussion was to reflect on preparation and outcome.

In the middle of this, a restaurant guest from a neighboring table passed by. Overhearing our conversation she interjected, “I’m sure you did great.” The guest also mentioned that she was in the sport as well and said something about how just trying is important as well.

Sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it?

Never mind that the commenting guest knew nothing of the situation. Never mind how our competitor placed. Never mind the level of her competition. All of which, and more, could inspire lengthy rantings on their own.

This one is about entitlement.

A few more quick facts.

  • Our competitor practiced in earnest for maybe 7 days prior to the event for maybe 15 minutes per day. (Not much)
  • Our competitor tied for 2nd in one event in which there were four participants and received a substantial trophy.
  • Our competitor placed 2nd in the other event in which there were two competitors and again received a substantial trophy.

As the passing guest made those comments, we were in the middle of helping our kid correlate effort with relative success. And I don’t feel the preparation justified the reward. She made some improvements and we recognized those, but there is still plenty of room for improvement and she admitted it.  However…

From Angela Duckworth to Jim Collins to Malcolm Gladwell to the movie version of Herman Boone and more, there are piles of examples of how excusing young people from adversity does more harm than good.  As Herman Boone put it, “You’re crippling ’em.”  That by allowing someone to avoid challenges with subsequent successes and failures, contributes to a lack of ability to prevail in tough situations.

I’m worked up about this because if a reward is repeatedly given for non-achievement, non-achievement becomes the benchmark. It becomes the expectation. It breeds entitlement. It breeds the mindset that I should still receive a benefit even if I don’t earn it or it is not justified.

Unfortunately, this is NOT the way the real world turns. The days of an automatic pay raise every 12 months are gone.

These days, value needs to be delivered in order for a reward to be received. A lot of people already get this and that is a good thing. At the same time, a lot of people don’t.

Those folks that don’t get it end up expecting to receive something that has to come from somewhere. That puts a burden on some other resource. On top of it, there is less value being returned back into the community as compared to what is being pulled from it.

All this from one kid’s tournament? No, not at all. The problem is that the message is prevalent. Buy a lottery ticket and win a million. Take one real estate investing course and retire in six months. Look sexy, marry a sugar daddy and don’t have to work.  So much is promoted as “easy.”

I’m sorry, but in reality there is actual work involved. And if we establish early, the idea that no work need be done to receive, what do we think will happen when this person is confronted with the real world? It won’t be pretty, I can tell you that.

So what is my point with all this?

My point is that it is imperative that we help our kids understand the importance of work ethic. We need to help them understand that there will be times that require hard work, times that require doing things you’d prefer not to do, times that require you leave your comfort zone, and that sometimes it still might not be enough.

Most importantly, when it is not enough, that you need to have the resolve to get back up, dust yourself off, figure out what went wrong, and go at it again.

Just to be clear, I understand recreation just for having fun important. I don’t expect my kid to get 1st place every time. I don’t expect my kid to devote every waking hour to being the champion of whatever.  And maybe that is what this passerby interpreted as the situation.

What I do deeply wish, and tirelessly work towards, is for my kids to understand that when a passion is found and when success is desired that they need to have a tireless work ethic, have an ability to self-evaluate for their own self-improvement, they value true achievement, and are able to pass that attitude on by modeling it.


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