Motivation in a Father's Words
Dad, I Don't Want to Do This!
I found my 11-year-old son weeping hard in his bedroom, his body racked with convulsive sobbing. This was no ordinary crying spell. This was a tumultuous emotional meltdown.
My own childhood had been painful...very painful. I was intimately acquainted with the healing power of crying. I was thus committed to being a father who would not discipline his children only to then tell them to suppress their crying. Crying was the outward manifestation of a real gut-level emotion. Crying could also be a powerful motivator. In the course of growing up, there were times when I had to defend myself. While it may not have been unnerving, it certainly was distracting to my adversary to see tears falling from my eyes as various parts of his face received my left jab and right cross. And, yes, the other end of the transaction was also true--I'd cry upon getting hit. Oh, how I'd cry! But not as much when my foe--a friend for life now--and I would shake hands and walk off feeling good about, well, being guys and having shiners for the real show and tell time at school the next day.
So, yes, I viewed crying as an integral part of life. I came in crying, and I hope I exit crying. Life is that dear to me!
Just as this little boy, sobbing his heart out, was very dear to me on this particular morning and in all the 9,706 mornings I've had the privilege thus far of being his father.
"Dad, I don't want to do this!"
One of the tips I'd learned about being a better parent was one that had been pounded into my thick coconut skull by my wife, over and over and over again. She must have repeated it just enough times because on this particular morning, it certainly had taken hold.
Don't try to fix things. Just LISTEN!
I can only do some wishful thinking at this point, but I choose to believe that I must have come across as a pretty wise dad at the time for being strong and silent. I held my son in an embrace that was at once firm yet liberating. He was, after all, 11--that tweener stage where a young boy leaves his mutant teenage ninja turtle plush toy, Donatello, for the more important things in life like parting his hair a different way, or flexing his muscles and doing his best Robert de Niro taxi cab driver impression ("You lookin' at ME?"), or boldly telling Mom to hang back ten feet or more when the cutest girl from school happens to be shopping at the very same store, for crying out loud!
That word again...crying...
When my son's sobbing lessened, and his heart had slowed down from a revved-up Lamborghini to a VW punch bug, I finally asked, "What's going on, son?"
"Dad, I'm not going to that spelling bee!"
Ah, so there it was.
Are You Crippled by the Fear of Success?
More than Just a Case of Nerves
My son had worked hard preparing for this annual spelling bee sponsored by the local newspaper. For the last six months or so, he had prevailed in the weekly spelling bees in his sixth grade class.
After school, he'd ride his bike around the neighborhood and deliver newspapers along his designated route. He would then return home, have supper, and do his homework. Following that, he'd have me drill him with words from a list provided by the newspaper.
On weekends, he played soccer in an organized league. His buddies would come over, and they'd have rousing video game contests. Nevertheless, my son would always spend a few hours studying the word list. He would then ask me to help him.
This would be his second year as a contestant. The year before, he had been a semi-finalist in the 5th and 6th grade division. He knew all the difficult words, losing to a sixth-grade girl on a word he'd normally spell consistently. The word? I don't recall exactly, but it had an ent ending, as in lenient or persistent or consistent. My son spelled the word with an ant ending. As he did so, he winced, sucked in a breath, and then visibly exhaled. Once the entire word has been spelled out, there's no taking it back.
As we assured him later, 2nd place among dozens of kids from SE Washington and NE Oregon school districts was no small feat.
It was no wonder, then, why he was so dedicated and passionate about preparing for this year's contest.
That is, up until just an hour prior to the event kicking off.
This was more than just a case of nerves. This was about his fear of success.
Here's Another Way to Look at the Fear of Success
The Fear of Success, and What I Told My Son
The fear of success, in my opinion, is a misnomer. It's not success that is feared but, rather, the byproducts--or changes--that occur as a result of success.
Graduating from high school, for example, brings one to a pivotal fork in the road where significant choices need to be made. College? If so, which college? Work? If so, what kind of work? Where will I live? Where will the rent money come from? Do I go into the service? If so, which one? What about my friends? Will I move on from present relationships to form new ones?
With every question that needs to be answered, there is an accompanying set of angst...insecurities...real fears.
So what did I tell my son in that very pivotal moment?
I stuck with the simple basics.
Ryan, Mom and I will honor whatever decision you make today. I just want to remind you of a few things.
First of all, we love you very much. That never changes. It is something you can always count on.
Secondly, I want to congratulate you and tell you how very, very proud we are of you for having worked so hard to prepare for today's spelling bee. The education you gained in the process can never be taken from you. You worked hard for it, and you earned it. Good for you!
With these things in mind, son, I want you to give thought to this third and final thing I'm about to share with you.
No one but you has earned the right to be exactly where you're at right this very moment. Years from now, when you are a grown man and have a son of your own, I want you to have this moment as a reference point when you need to have the kind of talk with your son that I'm having with you today. I want you to be able to tell him how--at the young age of 11--you made a decision to face your fears in order to obtain success.
The decision you make today will have an enormous impact on the decisions you make at every new fork in the road.
I want you to never have to look back upon your life and regret this or any other moment when you had a chance to do something great...and walked away from it.
I love you, Ryan, and I believe in you. I have all the confidence in the world that you will make the right decision.
Facing his fears, Ryan made the decision to attend the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin Spelling Bee.
It was a good thing he did. He successfully out-spelled two dozen other kids--God bless them all--in the 5th and 6th grade category. He had a small write-up in the paper and was awarded two plaques--one for him and one for his school, and a $100 US Savings Bond.
More importantly, by God's grace, he turned out to be a pretty decent--and successful--young man.