Achievements and Character

by Rion B Kweller, Ph.D.

European-looking  boy of  ten years  in glasses holding a cup, award joy on a blue background

Have you overheard this kind of conversation when parents talk at the grocery store?

My son just made the varsity hockey team and is being scouted by the NHL
.

How nice. My daughter was inducted into the National Honor Society and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize!

Our kids are amazing. Well, maybe not quite as amazing as we sometimes think they are, but they are special and can be talented and exceptional. Their achievements deserve mention and praise.

Have you overheard these other conversations, too?

My son studied for months for the Bar exam and sadly did not pass.

My daughter was valedictorian and still did not get into the college of her choice.

My son did not get the solo in choir.

He sat on the bench for most of the basketball season.

He did not have his project chosen for exhibit in the art competition.

Some conversations are more difficult to share. They are not newsworthy, overflowing with success, or likely to earn a picture and an article in the newspaper. They represent young people who may not have reached their aspirations, but it would be unfair for anyone to think less of them.

Failure is tough, but a part of life. Falling short of a goal does not make us personal failures. It may just indicate we have not reached that particular benchmark. Coaches, bosses and we, as our own harshest critics often become too focused on achieving an end-result. Sometimes we lose sight of what motivates a person striving to achieve that goal. Sometimes we value a first place finish instead of focusing on character. If we as adults minimize the importance of recognizing character strengths, then imagine what our kids are learning from us. Children often measure our responses to help make sense of life’s situations.

If we deride second or last place, someone passed over for promotion, or make fun of unaccomplished musicians and ordinary sports players, then what are we really saying about those people, those kids, OUR kids?

Acknowledge determination, hard work, dedication, and perseverance, and convey that these attributes are valuable. Winning is wonderful, but it is not everything. Encouraging creativity, daring to follow a unique path, and following one’s passion is important, even if success is not easily apparent. Some people are exceptional in their accomplishments, while others are exceptional because of their character and values.

However, it should not be a competition between achievement and character. Both have value, and finding a balance in acknowledging both can be challenging. Celebrate accomplishments, but celebrate strength of spirit, vision, and effort, too. By showing that both are important, we can help our children develop that view as a core value.

Dr. Kweller is a licensed psychologist and an executive coach in Williamsville, NY. His websites are www.bhnet.org and www.iplanforsuccess.com. To reach Dr. Kweller call 716 634-1184 or e-mail him at rion@iplanforsuccess.com.