The Inner Bottom Line ®
A Column on Personal Choices & Ethical Dilemmas by Olive Gallagher
With the advent of football season and the fervor that attends it, I thought this letter was timely. This week, here is the young adult’s dilemma dealing with a parent. Next time, I’ll focus on the challenges of parenting an adult child.
I’m eighteen and a senior in high school. I’ve been a starting varsity football and basketball player since ninth grade and am being offered scholarships to several big universities to play ball. I love sports, but now I’m thinking that I want to study medicine and not devote as much time to sports as I have. My problem is that my dad has always wanted me to be a big time college player and to him, winning is everything. He believes if you don’t win then you’re a loser. That’s all he talks about and no matter what the subject is, it will always come down to who won and who lost. I don’t think that way and I’m afraid if I tell him what I’m thinking that I’ll be a huge disappointment to him. My mom is pretty cool about things and often tells me to do what I like best, but not dad. What do I do? Do I take the scholarships and play ball just to go to school? Or change my mind when I get there and see if they take away all the money? Or do I tell him now and figure out a different way to do this. I don’t know if I can go to a good school if I don’t play ball, but I know I will be miserable if I have to play ball all season long and neglect my grades. Do you think winning is too big of a deal in our country? My best friend’s mom reads your column and suggested I write you. I don’t understand why winning is so important. Is there’s another way to look at this? Am I the only kid who has you asked about this? Sometimes I think I’m the only one who doesn’t buy into this whole number one thing, but I don’t. I hope you answer.
Thanks for writing. I found your letter so thoughtful and mature. It takes courage and clarity to determine what you want and don’t want, and it sounds as if you’ve realized some important things about what’s right for you and your future. Now the next difficult step will be standing up for yourself, letting others know how you feel along with what you need from them in support and encouragement as well as respect and acceptance.
And no, you’re not alone. While that may be small consolation while you’re feeling so conflicted and uncertain, I’ve heard from other teens raising similar questions regarding their career choices and the conflict they feel between what they really want and what their parents want or insist upon for them.
The search for balance between doing what we want and seeking approval or permission from our parents and other authority figures in our life is one of the supreme battles many people struggle with for years. It doesn’t come overnight automatically when we’re declared “legal age” by our culture. Sadly, some people never get out from under the heavy expectations ingrained into them from birth or the pain from needing to seek approval from family.
You’re wrestling with a number of challenging issues including asserting your right and need to choose what you want, informing your parents, particularly your dad, about what you need and want, dealing with his possible reaction, choosing a path the will allow you to behave honorably and ethically while still being smart about the future, and finally, sorting out the myths about winning, healthy and not, that our culture inculcates into us. http://is.gd/APQ62p
They’re everywhere. From “it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game” to “wining isn’t everything.” And there are tons of conflicting messages that contradict those platitudes like “winner takes all” and “he’s a real winner” to “what a loser.” I could write a book about this one. http://is.gd/8HOivNWe live in a highly competitive society in which how much you earn and possess often determines how much power you wield and attention you receive, thus earning you the sobriquet of winner or loser.
The important issue on The Inner Bottom Line, however, is what you’re willing to do to win. How do you define winning for yourself and for others? For instance, if winning to you means everybody else has to lose, then that indicates that you’ll go to the wall and beyond and take no prisoners to get what you want. Is that the kind of person you want to be? Do those choices represent values and a standard of personal integrity about which you can be proud? How a person defines competing and winning offers an invaluable window into their character and soul.
While I’m hopeful your dad will still love you unconditionally whether you play and win at sports or not, it would be tragic if his feelings changed because you decided to stop. If that happens, then you’ll have a number of other tough issues to face. Either way, one thing is certain. If things don’t go smoothly, it will be important to remember that his reaction to your choices will be about his stuff, not about your worth or value as a son and a man.
You’re maturing in a world in which values and ethics are being misrepresented, abused, shredded and compromised. Therefore, it’s critical you establish a sense of integrity based on what you think and know in your gut is right for you, not for anyone else. Once you achieve that and can stand on your own Inner Bottom Line with conviction, it will be difficult for anyone including your dad to dissuade you that your position is incorrect, for that kind of clarity is very powerful.
While being a college jock may matter to Dad, choosing a path that allows you to study and pursue interests about which you are passionate and committed is your number one responsibility right now, not pleasing or making him happy. This is your life and no one owns you.
As for taking the scholarship when you know deep down inside that you’re not going to honor the privilege and stick it out, can you live with yourself if you do that? If so, then you need to back up and start all over again formulating what kind of man you want be and what you want your life to stand for. Taking any gift knowing you don’t intend to honor it would be disingenuous and unfair to someone else who might receive that gift if you chose to step away.
These are huge issues and choices. If they weren’t, I doubt you’d have asked for input. Your adult future and profession is on the line. So before you choose how you want to play this quarter, perhaps it would help to take some more time to think through each and every aspect of the play, because it’s third down and one to go. How will each move impact the outcome? Analyzing this dilemma much like you would the playing field will no doubt bring you some fresh insights into the best and most productive and appropriate ways for you to score. I’m confident that you are capable of making choices good for you and won’t sacrifice your values to please or win approval from others.
You can submit your questions or book private phone sessions with Olive at theinnerbottomline.com, call into her blogtalkradio.com show, “The Inner Bottom Line,” at 661-449-1425 with your questions, or explore her new blog at whatskeepingyouawakeatnight.com.
All letters and calls can be anonymous and confidential.
Kindle and audio versions along with the hard cover of Olive’s book, The Nude Ethicist: A Simple Path to The Good Life, are now available on amazon.com.