Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Everyone's #1. Really???

Boy, are we in trouble.  Just when I thought I'd heard of every Politically Correct/nurturing/self-esteem building tactic around--I read a Twitter message from business author Marcus Buckingham (@mwbuckingham) last night:

"My daughter was '1st' in her dance competition. Then she learned this meant 3rd, behind Top 1st, & Elite 1st. She could've handled the truth"

What?!!!  "Top 1st?"  "Elite 1st?"  Are you KIDDING me?! I have some real concerns for when young people hit my domain: The American Workplace.  If everyone comes in feeling special, and elite--and they've all been pumped-up with praise (often unwarranted)--what happens when things don't go their way?  When they meet with disappointment?  When they don't get acknowledged with winning "President's Club" or "Employee of the Year/Quarter/Month?"  What about when a boss isn't satisfied with the quality of effort/result in a project?  Will young people crash with despair?  Lose hope?  

It is precisely the journey of EXPERIENCING the joys and sorrows of life that ultimately teaches us how to COPE.  In the absence of having experienced challenging times/heartbreak/disappointment...we end up completely UNPREPARED for when these inevitable realities occur.  So, making everyone a "Winner"--where everyone gets a trophy (for participating!), and everyone is uniquely special and talented--is really doing a DISSERVICE to's just not realistic.

I am reminded of when my then-8-year old son was finishing up his 3rd round of golf--EVER!--and checked-in with me for verification of his talents: "Dad, I'm really good, aren't I?!"  I wouldn't take the bait. "Son, I feel you're right where you're supposed to be after 3 rounds of golf.  Keep at it."  But, this was not what he wanted to hear.  He wanted confirmation of his uniqueness: "But, Dad...seriously: I'm really good, right?"  Now, some of you may be pleading with me at this moment, hoping I nurtured his potential, and gave him hope and inspiration to work toward becoming a splendid Amateur Golfer.  Sorry. "Son, you're progressing as you should be for a golfer who has been on the course three times.  Keep having fun and practicing.  I'm sure enjoying being with you."

Marcus' Twitter comment called to mind an article I read last year by David Brooks of The New York Times entitled, "We Are Not That Special."  He shared research that showed that in the 1950s, 12 percent of high school seniors said they were a "very important person." By the '90s, 80 percent said they believed they were!  Wow!  What an uptick in self-esteem/perception!  Jean Twenge of San Diego State University was also referenced in the article calling attention to the fact that young people are "bathed in messages telling them how special they are" and that these messages are often "untethered to evidence of actual merit" (love that line!).

Also cited were Roni Rabin of The Times who noted research that found that college students would rather receive a compliment than eat their favorite food or have sex. 

OK.  It's official: we have gone too far with praise for our kids.  Here's hoping your own kid comes in 3rd--or worse!--and that they experience what that FEELS like.  Seems it's an essential component of developing into a fully-functioning adult.  And, we NEED fully-functioning adults who can handle tough (realistic) feedback and can be challenged to strive for even greater levels of achievement at work...

Will someone please tell me this was an incredible post, and maybe send me an E-Certificate of Achievement?  


  1. Actually, this was really good and SO true!

  2. As I retired psychotherapist who worked with children and families for over 25 years, I applaud your post. In my new passion as a food blogger, I follow your wife - happily, I will follow you as well.