Noble Outliers vs. 10,000 Hour Train Wrecks – The Sad Legacy of Tiger Woods and Michael Jackson

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Noble Outliers vs. 10,000 Hour Train Wrecks – The Sad Legacy of Tiger Woods and Michael Jackson

This year has seen the demise of two obvious outliers in the fields of entertainment and sports. Michael Jackson self-destructed this summer and Tiger Woods managed to shoot his phenomenal career in the foot the night after Thanksgiving. Outliers are those people who so distinctively rise above everyone else in their chosen field that there isn’t anyone in a close second to them. Jackson had many who imitated him, and myriad in his profession who stood out, but none that he felt he needed to overtake. He was a dancing and singing freak of nature. Unfortunately, his personal life ended up a freak show. Then there’s Tiger Woods, this made-for-center stage god of Golf. You take the greatest players who have ever played the game – I’m talking Jones, Hogan, Nelson, Palmer and Nicklaus. Woods was the embodiment of any of their talent times a factor. Some have said that he’s simply the greatest golfer ever to have lived. Could be. But the problem with being an outlier is you can end up the greatest “thing” in some arena without ever becoming a great person in life. In fact, that’s part of the problem with people who take Malcolm Gladwell’s touching and telling book, Outliers, and turn it into a formula for parenting. Gladwell focused his attention in studying the tapestry of people, places and things that surround some of the undisputed outliers of our day. He wanted to see if there were any common denominators to them becoming so successful. Obviously, he found some. One of the things he observed is the amount of time an adult outlier devoted to the development of his or her particular discipline during their childhood. 10,000 hours turned out to be the magic number. And the two men who are the focus of this essay both met and exceeded this criterion. Michael was a singing and dancing machine. He, along with his talented brothers, had put a deep luster on their stage act before little Michael even knew how to read. Tiger was taking money from some of the adults in his foursome by 3 years old. He had a buttery smooth swing by first grade, a complex short game while in elementary school and could putt the lights out of a green by the time he hit junior high. No doubt both men were handed some extraordinary capabilities by their Creator. But it was their focused devotion to their craft that helped them become the outliers they ultimately grew into. So, success-intoxicated parents hear this and immediately recalibrate their son or daughter’s childhood. Suddenly their child’s better life has to accommodate the focused and undistracted discipline needed to turn them into a one-and-only of their kind. “If you want to be a Michael Phelps, you can’t assume to have a normal childhood,” they tell their kid. “Stand-alone excellence requires uncompromised commitment.” To some extent, that’s obviously true, but at what cost? For some, the 10,000 hours isn’t trading their outlier future for a “normal” childhood; it’s trading it for childhood. Often it’s denying these children the very context needed to not only turn them into an outlier success story as an adult, but a whole and meaningful person as well. Kid’s who spend their childhood in pinpoint focus on one skill no doubt develop extraordinary abilities. How could they not? But they often grow up one-dimensional. They may be able to accurately knock a golf ball 400 yards, but they aren’t a lot of fun to wake up next to. They lack the emotional, intellectual and relational sophistication needed to fit into the bigger flow of life. Or, like the King of Pop, they may dance around on the stage in an adult’s body, but live within some warped view of childhood when they go home. Which brings up Joe Jackson and Earl Woods. While Michael and Tiger were pouring 10,000+ hours of their childhood into perfecting their skills, these men had the bigger responsibility of building the layers of nobility required to stand with integrity once their sons were kings of their respective hills. Sorry, but that didn’t happen. The stories of Joe Jackson’s tyrannical rule of his son’s formative years border on child slavery issues. Also his mumbling, fumbling comments regarding the death of his gravy train son solidified Joe Jackson’s reputation as the stage father from Hell. Earl Woods didn’t live to see his son’s unraveling. However, when you see the moral wreck Tiger has made of his life and then go back through the writings and sayings of Earl Woods, you can see where this whole mess had its start. Instead of calling his son on his temper and course language, there were excuses. The short comings of Tiger were trivialized against the magnificence of his game. ( What Tiger missed along the way were the lessons of youth that are the primary responsibility of parents to teach. Lessons in nobility. Tiger somehow got to the center stage of world of golf without understanding that humility should be intuitive. He skipped the lessons that talk about being a man of your word, making covenants and keeping them, respecting and honoring women, being a moral pace-setter for your kids, controlling your urges, and the fact that true men don’t hide behind their wife, kids and right to privacy when they’ve let down the millions of people they deceived. They step up, speak up, own up and make no excuses. But, based on the way Tiger has used women, and betrayed his wife and children, it doesn’t surprise me that he worked overtime on image control. Michael’s gone. His phenomenal talent and sad life came to a young and abrupt end. But the best part of him remains in digital eternity. Generations to come will enjoy his gifts he left behind and his heirs will continue to benefit from his years of hard work. Tiger’s future remains to be seen. If he can stay as far out ahead of the pack as he has up to this point, he’ll continue to maintain the national focus. But I don’t think he’ll enjoy it much. The lack of character in his personal and private life betrayed the millions of people who were kind enough to trust the corporate image he had assured them was real. Now he’s a cliché … an anecdote … a punch line. Question: if you could have a child that grew up to have the amazing musical mystery and mastery of Michael Jackson, but with it had to take the whole package of his life, would you sign your child up? If your son or daughter could rise to the level of Tiger’s game, but also had to have the same moral duplicity, would it be worth it? No parent in their right mind would sign either of these clipboards. I wouldn’t mind Tiger’s game for just one round of golf before I die, but if it means never being able to look my wife and kids in the eye from then on, I’ll stick with my bogey handicap. Two things before I quit. First: neither of these men had to be the disasters they ultimately became. They could have been the outliers they were without having to end up being voted off of the island of admiration. There are lots of true outliers whose greater good has nothing to do with their extraordinary skill. They make tremendous contributions to their field but live their life for things other than themselves and bigger than themselves. Lastly: there’s still hope for Tiger Woods. But it has nothing to do with his game, his image handlers or his corporate market share. It has everything to do with humility that grows from brokenness. Everybody walks with a limp. The best people among us are simply the ones who are always aware of their limp. We’re all capable of being selfish and moral nightmares. However, the people who stand highest in life aren’t the tallest or the most famous, but the ones whose love of self continually subordinates itself to the love of others. They are the ones who recognize that they walk around on feet of clay and make the sacrifices required internally to make sure those feet don’t let others down. It will take time. And the Lord knows we’re all a bit leery and weary of the convenient “come to Jesus” testimonies that often slip from the lips of the people who get caught. But if Tiger is willing to swallow his pride and take an extremely long, consistent and humble walk in the right direction, his fans might actually accept him back … as one of their own.

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