Did you happen to catch Tiger Woods amazing chip in the Memorial tournament yesterday? It was truly an amazing shot, and worthy of his reputation as the best golfer in the world. It also got me thinking about the flip side of his talent, his very public struggles - as most celebrities trigger us to think about the duality of positive and negative.
I wondered if being Tiger Woods was worth it. I asked my husband what he thought and his answer was quite simple, “I don’t have that kind of drive to push myself that hard, in order to be happy.” He’s right, that in order to feel good about himself, Tiger has to push himself to extremes to be happy or sated. And that began quite early. I believe Tiger Woods began golf before the tender age of 5, pushed by his father, and what a treasure trove of psychological material that must be! I cannot fathom pushing my son, who’s 6 at the time of this posting, to be that good at anything. And this kid lives and breathes baseball and basketball. The cost to him would be too great, and that’s what triggered my query about whether being Tiger Woods is worth it.
Yes, he is quite comfortable financially, never needing to worry about making his monthly obligations. Yes, he has fame, notoriety and influence. And yes, he is reputed to be the best golfer the game has ever seen; I think some even argue the best athlete, but I have trouble identifying golfers as athletes, and that may be for a different post. But are all the consequences of these labels worth it? His consequences have come at a high price; the harder they come, the harder they fall, the old adage goes.
I believe that people who seek out this level of mastery, which inevitably includes fame, power and money, also possess a higher than normal level of testosterone. There are some women who rank in this category (perhaps Meg Whitman, Hillary Clinton, etc.), but usually we see men achieving great heights both from the talents they possess and the pedestals we put them on. Tiger Woods is a great example of this. Currently he has tied Jack Nicklaus for tournament wins and is lead by only one other golfer, Sam Snead. By all appearances he had the perfect life: rich, talented, beautiful wife, beautiful & healthy children and an office most people would kill for. Here is where we are lead astray - the concept of perfection. It does not exist, not to put too fine a point on it. Even in nature, who demonstrates the yin-yang principle so beautifully with the extremes of mother nature, perfection does not exist. We cannot have the good without the bad or we would have to redefine the good altogether.
Men like Tiger Woods possess a larger than normal level of testosterone which allows them to achieve lofty goals and yield power. It also has a downside: difficulty controlling impulses, namely that of achieving more power and sexuality. After all folks, we are still animals with the innate need to procreate, regardless of what the conservative right says! Hardwiring for that level of achievement also comes with achievements that our culture frowns upon, but is necessary in the biological make-up of people capable of handling power. We can look to the behavior of many President’s of our country for further proof.
Back to my earlier point about the costs not being worth pushing my 6 year-old into this level of mastery. To gain anything we need to ask ourselves what will the costs be and are they worth it. It is clear to me that my son having a drastically different childhood experience that separates him from his peers for the rest of his life is a pretty big consequence, and one that never really gets better. Childhood is the natural time to learn how to navigate the rigors of relationship with it’s myriad rules and expectations. Emotional intelligence is mastered through things like secure attachment, consistent family support, and healthy relationships. What will he gain form practicing basketball until the blisters on his feet are permanent? Perhaps a shot at a profession level team with a crazy salary, but also the inability to relate to people around him. both because of the money he would make, and his preoccupation with achievement that creates a vacuum for social skills. A lot of the research coming from happiness studies (like the Great Good Society in Berkeley, CA.) is consistently demonstrating that happiness is achieved best through recognizing what’s working in your life (optimism), healthy social skills and relationships. While Malcolm Gladwell has posited that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in any one thing, I am perfectly content to allow myself and my kids the luxury of leisure and joy in the hear and now as it will serve us better in the long run. And like my husband said, I don’t need the notoriety and power to feel happy. I wonder what Tiger would say to this question?