When my eldest son was only 5 years old, it was clear he was a gifted athlete. He averaged two “home runs” per T-ball game, and as he grew into “pitched” leagues, he showed even greater prowess.
By the end of elementary school, there wasn’t a ball made that he couldn’t kick, pass, throw, hit, or run with as well or better than almost anyone his age.
People sitting with us in the stands began to talk about his likelihood for a football scholarship and college “offers,” and we became caught up in it too; many of you probably recall my animated articles from that time.
Indeed, my son did earn a college scholarship and performed well. But at the end of freshman year, he came to me and confessed he had grown tired of football. He terminated his scholarship, changed colleges, and went in an entirely different direction.
Both of us took it in stride and, indeed, many lessons were learned.
A Snooze On The Skill Meter
One lesson in particular came to me late. While marketing my son’s skills to coaches and other evaluators for college consideration, I noticed no one was as excited as I was. I would be showing pieces of film, keyed up over my son’s unique skills and abilities, and the coaches would nod and smile and quietly jot notes, but nobody seemed overly impressed.
I finally figured out why—they had seen it all before. Their excitement had been replaced by a malaise of lowered expectations.
Year after year, these coaches and evaluators put various prospects through the tests and sometimes a true gem was found, a gifted athlete far and above the rest.
But how seldom do we hear about any of those high-school prodigies excelling through college, going on to the pros, making a solid name for themselves, and living as an example of one who appreciates his gifts and talents, and humbly lives a life honoring those gifts.
There usually is a stumbling block, a chink in the armor that humanizes the hero. We seem to anticipate the downfall.
Is he a drug addict? Does he have a criminal record? Are his parents felons? Is he involved with a bad crowd? Is he a gambler, a poor student, a head case that drives his teammates crazy? What will this talented young man reveal that shows he is no better than anyone else?
Sadly, it’s almost guaranteed that some flaw will surface eventually.
Making A Hero Human
And why is this? Obviously, everyone is human, and no one lives error-free, but there is another element at play here.
Why is there such a desire to bring down the potential hero? Apparently, many people seem to hate or resent another’s success.
A young woman who recently returned from completing her doctorate arrived at a neighborhood summer picnic looking tanned, confident, and successful. When she spoke, it was clear she had done well for herself.
Yet when she left, I heard the other women rationalizing her success by listing what she left behind by choosing a good career.
“Yeah, she’ll be making big money now, but she’ll never have a family,” one said.
“Think about it,” said another, “we’re already in our late twenties. By the time she meets a man, gets married, and even thinks about a family, she’ll have to give up her career to raise her kids. It will all have been a waste.”
I just shook my head. This young woman rose above the pack, worked hard, and accomplished great things. No one knows what lies ahead for her, but why assume it will go wrong?
Why not assume she’ll marry, take some time off to have children, raise them with the assistance she can well afford, and have just as wonderful a life as anyone else?
It obviously unnerves some people to recognize that others sought and accomplished things they could also have, but chose not to. This leads me back to those coaches and evaluators who have come to lower their expectations of potential-laden kids.
So what is the lesson? It’s simple. Chasing, engaging, and accomplishing personal success is only half the battle. The real challenge is sustaining it and staying happy after one has achieved it.
Pour On The Passion
I am an “old soul” in many ways. The other day, while listening to the oldies station on the radio, I heard the classic blues singer Keely Smith’s recording of “I Wish You Love.” Her rendition was—at the very least—stirring. Her passion just poured through the airwaves.
At the end of the song, I said to my wife, “Wow, they don’t record songs like that any more.”
She smiled and almost whispered, “Well, no one falls in love like that any more.”
I sat there, thinking about her words, and realized she was absolutely right. We humans have become so careful, so guarded, so shallow in many ways. It’s a bigger challenge than ever to sustain passion and accomplish a life worthy of applause.
But think about it, my friends—what better way is there than to spend a lifetime sustaining excellence and living as an example of someone who finds it wherever he or she goes.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.