When you look at champions—in sports or politics or business—it’s hard not to detect a theme running through a lot of their motivations. Many of these superstars, be they men or women, are fighting for something. They want the approval of their father. They want to prove their worth to their families. They want to feel loved. They want to show that the doubt they experienced young or the trauma they endured was wrong and that they have survived.
It’s hard not to see that this is real and productive fuel. It should also be hard, as a father, to see it, period.
Because there are so many other forms of fuel out there. That don’t involve pain. That don’t involve what was, in many cases, a kind of abuse. Michael Jordan was undoubtedly made a better basketball player by the belief that if he could win enough games, he could earn his father’s approval. But don’t you think billions of dollars and screaming fans was pretty good motivation, too? Tiger Woods was set up to succeed in golf by his father’s own regimen of hyper-attention as well as neglect. Did that help him? Sure. But given how incredibly talented and smart and hardworking Tiger is that he could have gotten at least close to it without being essentially tortured by prisoner of war tactics? Did Lyndon Johnson’s mother’s freeze-outs drive him to perform and desire approval and high office? Absolutely. But being president is pretty attractive and gratifying in and of itself.
You can subject your kids to hard and difficult things and it may help make them successful. These things may have helped you yourself be successful. Yelling. Blunt truths. Endless workouts. Emotional manipulation. These things work… but so too does encouragement, so too do incentives, so too does hard work and genuine support.
Choose the right form of motivation. Not the harshest.
P.S. This was originally sent on June 22, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Dad’s email and get our popular 11 page eBook, “20 Things Great Dads Do Everyday.”