Amazement and Mediocrity

Today’s guest letter comes from Doug Foster of Chandler, Arizona. Doug is the father of three daughters- Whitney, Johnie and Abbey.

DougWhitney, Johnie, and Abbey,

Prepare to be amazed.

Perhaps no words are a more frequent precursor to disappointment than these. My rough statistical analysis may be somewhat skewed by the fact that the phrase typically precedes the sampling of confections “cooked” in an Easy Bake Oven, pre-teen renditions of Firework belted into a Mr. Microphone, and spastic leaps from the high dive at the city pool. Nonetheless, those of us preparing for amazement, or even just hanging around in hopes of catching a fleeting glimpse, are usually left a wee bit deflated. I’m reminded of a scene from The Incredibles, a flick I was pleased that you wanted to watch repeatedly, where an emasculated Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) returns from his day at the office thoroughly dejected. A little boy, who has caught glimpses of Bob’s super-abilities, is staring at him from the sidewalk. Bob’s frustration is about to get the best of him as he says to the boy,

Bob Parr: What are you waiting for?
Little Boy: I don’t know, something amazing, I guess.
Bob Parr:(downcast) Me too, kid.

It isn’t hard to find someone waiting to be amazed. My hope is that you don’t become another of our society’s amazement junkies, continually in search of another fix. It’s a fool’s errand. Our hyper-emotional culture coupled with overuse the word amazing and it’s variants has blinded us to the fact that things of that nature rarely require preparation.

I can count on both hands the number of times in my life that I have truly been amazed. It always caught me off guard. On November 11, 2001, a friend and I had tickets to see the Seattle Seahawks play the Oakland Raiders at Husky Stadium. From my perch in the nosebleed section, I assumed a pretty good Raiders team would beat the mediocre Seahawks. I expected to see Raiders fans dressed like the love child of Gene Simmons and Voltron. What happened, amazed me. In his 5th career start, Shaun Alexander, a young Running Back for the Seahawks, ran for 266 yards and 3 touchdowns. At the time, it was the fourth greatest rushing performance in NFL history. Nobody saw it coming; not me, not Seahawks fans, and certainly not the Raiders. In the midst of the coronation of this new celebrity, something more than the final stats caught my eye. After Alexander’s eye-popping performance, his Coach, the often succinct Mike Holmgren was asked about what made his newly minted star so incredible, he replied, “He thinks he’s pretty good, and he is.”


Being able to reasonably gauge your own abilities should be expected, but when did comments like that become quoteworthy? Answer, during my feckless generation’s teen years. At some point, many of my peers decided they would no longer be embarrassed by spelling bee shortcomings and final exam failures. Gone were the days of redoubling efforts and hitting the books; those behaviors were kicked to the curb in favor of chest thumping bravado or lofty disdain. This interbreeding of arrogance and apathy birthed a lineage that was overconfident and under-competent. Reality television soon followed. It seemed that, almost overnight, the shameless publicity stunt became the measure of a man. With the instant fame of “hits” and “likes”, how could GPAs or other less fickle measures of accomplishment compete? That’s where you joined the scene. Your generation took ownership of a foreclosed house. It will keep you out of the weather, but from top to bottom, the previous owners may have really jacked the place up.

As a parent, guarding against this prevailing worldview is a challenge. I want you to be confident in your abilities and sure of your decisions while at the same time being mindful of the pitfalls of pride. To that end, while I love all of you dearly, I tend to guard my compliments jealously. My goal is to encourage you in your endeavors, but to reserve praise for when it is truly earned. I refuse to celebrate mediocrity; I want my compliments to mean something special. Please don’t misunderstand, I actively look for opportunities to go crazy over what you do, just don’t expect rave reviews over a B-minus on your book report or a participant trophy in soccer. I intend to build you up, not puff you up. Balloons are easily popped, leaving nothing but scraps. However, something as simple as your Lego castles, when built properly, leave you with large sections intact when they get knocked over. Life is going to knock you over. When it does, I’m confident substantial portions of your psyche and character will remain, mostly, unscathed. You’ll have to pick up the pieces to be sure, but hopefully you won’t have to start all over in your quest to be amazing.



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