December 3rd, 2008
I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine who works (as I do) with lots of twenty-somethings. When we got around to the gratuitous praise to which Gen Y/the "Praise Generation" has become accustomed (phony praise that inflates their sense of achievement and rewards them for process rather than outcomes), he had this observation to share:
On all of this, I'll point out that, having worked with a literally never-ending stream of recent college graduates--half of everyone is 22 in my world--I notice that the people who consistently are the best to work with are ex-elite athletes. If you spent a substantial chunk of your life in sports, how could you:
- Think fairness is relevant? Losers talk about fairness.
- Fail to put stock in hard work, hoping to hide in the pack instead?
- Think hard work guarantees success?
- Fail to appreciate the importance of natural talent?
- Fail to focus on outcomes?
- Over-focus on process to the detriment of outcomes?
- Get confused by multiple goals and so fail to achieve any of them?
I say this as someone who frankly is more committed to the arts than to sports, but it has become clear to me that those who live a life in the arts and/or academics are prone to *ALL* of the fatal mistakes outlined above, and these are failures of outlook that wouldn't last past your first varsity season in high school, let alone college.
The difference is simple--top athletes are trained to focus on outcomes, period. Everything else is whining. Business is about outcomes, period. Non-athletes are shocked by that.
As an addendum, I was amazed when I got to [college] how many kids arrived there believing they had genuine artistic talent. They were going to be performers, or artists, for a living. They thought themselves that good.
No similar problem with sports. But in the arts, it's subjective. If you are the best in your high school, well, as far as you can tell, you're Kristin Chenoweth. There's no mechanism -- or incentive -- to level-set. In individual sports, there's no chance of this at all. In team sports, there's a little self-delusion, but not too much. [Anna asks: But what about teams where everyone gets a trophy? Helicopter parents invented that rank stupidity. Makes sense though that *elite* athletes don't suffer from this syndrome.]
Can I speculate that this problem is more an issue in law school, where kids majored in subjective disciplines like Poli Sci, Religon, and other stuff, and that math and physics grad programs don't have these problems? Even med schools probably don't have the problem as much?
Fascinating. Thoughts? Please comment.