By David Benzel
Sometime back in the early ’80s my wife and I had the opportunity to coach Olivia Newton-John on her water skiing skills. She was genuine, delightful, and never once tried to impress us with her superstar status. In spite of her well-grounded perspective, here are the observations of her formerly troubled daughter Chloe on the topic of fame, as reported by USA Today: “Fame totally messes you up. I don’t blame my mother for my problems, but I would never want to be famous or raise a child of my own around the cult of celebrity. It ruins lives.” “…a lot of celebrities and celebrities’ kids – are struggling with demons and addictions, just like me,…”. “It’s disturbing that everyone wants to be famous these days. Our culture is sick.”
Is it your aspiration that your child be famous? Do you have an athlete whose goal is fame – the kind we see on TV in professional sports? Perhaps it’s not too soon to teach a healthy perspective on the topic to avoid the overwhelming odds of misery down the road.
Of course fame itself is not evil or bad. But the two primary ego-driven emotions that cause people to seek fame are the real problem: Pride and Fear. When fame is the result of successfully meeting the needs of others – security, companionship, belonging, intellectual, emotional, even entertainment – fame arrives as a by-product of a purpose-driven life. However much of the fame we see in our high performance culture is motivated by insatiable levels of personal pride and fear.
An athlete’s worst behaviors show up when one of two emotions are allowed to dominate: Hijacked by PRIDE, in which case the primary goal is self-promotion – think Usain Bolt’s Olympic ranting, “I am a legend!” Hijacked by FEAR, in which case the primary goal is self-protection – think boxer Mike Tyson biting off the ear of his opponent in the ring. Or a combination of both of these, as in Lance Armstrong – competing above the rules, but afraid of being discovered.
In between these two extremes resides a virtue so rare that it stands out and attracts the most credible of admirers – Genuine HUMILITY. It looks more like US Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin, baseball player Mariano Rivera, or former NFL coach Tony Dungy.
Each of these exalted celebrities pursue excellence, not fame, and they attract our attention through effort, character, and a genuine humility about what their accomplishments mean, and what they don’t mean. They have neither an inflated image of themselves nor do they fear their critics. The favor we can do our children is to point out the examples we see, and call attention to those who find no need to call attention to themselves, or to defend themselves against the opinions of others.
To be truly humble allows an athlete the freedom to play the game they love without crumbling under the pressure of unrealistic expectations – either their own or the ones that come from parents and fans.