Ed Stack was a great kid. He worked for the family business, Dick’s Sporting Goods, quietly and loyally. He saved up enough money that eventually he had enough to go and buy his father out and continue the legacy. He tells the story of the first big box store he opened. The company had previously operated stores that were a couple thousand square feet. This new store was 20,000 square feet. And it was transformative for the business—sales skyrocketed.
Even the suppliers were shocked. Shocked, but happy. So the reps from Nike were talking to Ed’s father, the original founder, and said something about how proud he must be of his kid. To be succeeding like that. To be taking the store to the next level. You’d think he would have been proud—and maybe he was—but in that moment, in that exchange, he couldn’t be. As Ed explained in a NYT interview recently, “My father, who could never really quite give you a compliment, looked at them and said, ‘You’re right, they did a lot of business. They did 25 percent more business than they thought they would the first month. So they’re not really as smart as they think they are.’”
Ah man, who hasn’t heard something like that from their dad? And what bullshit it is! Instead of being proud, instead of taking the opportunity to show their love, they have to let their own insecurities and their own discomfort win the field. Maybe it’s generational, maybe it’s well-intentioned (“I’m just keeping him hungry and humble”) or maybe it’s just selfish ego. Who knows? What we do know is that we have to rise above that ourselves.
Our job is not to minimize our kids’ accomplishments. It’s not to make them feel small, even though we might feel small ourselves. Our job is to encourage them. Our job is to root for them. To be proud and to let them know that this pride isn’t something they have to earn by being perfect or smart. In fact, at the core of Carol Dweck’s insights about the ‘growth mindset’ is that the way you raise smart resilient kids is by praising how hard they tried, and the risks they took and the things they were willing to do. Don’t minimize their success. Don’t joke about how they messed up. Let them know you see them, that you see what they did, that you are proud of what they’ve been able to do.
This is isn’t compatible with making them better. If anything, it encourages improvement—but from a place of fullness and love, and escapes the trap that so many fathers accidentally put their children into—the one where they feel like that if they finally get there, their father will drop their defenses and celebrate with them. Your father might not have been able to do that for you, but you can do it for your kids. You have to.