In 2001 there was a Little League pitcher from the Dominican Republic named Danny Almonte. Danny was a stud. He was a monstrous kid who commanded his pitches well and terrified his 12-year-old competitors. His 70mph fastball was equivalent to a 103mph fast ball for an adult. That's fast. I remember watching Danny pitch (I was around the same age) for the Little League World Series and thanking the good Lord above I didn't have to face him.
Keep in mind, the Little League World Series is no joke - we aren't talking about your regular, run of the mill rec league baseball championship. These kids travel from all over the world to play in a stadium full of thousands of people in Pennsylvania. We are talking about a global competition with hundreds of young men playing their guts out in front of ESPN and the rest of the world in order to take home the prize of the Little League World Series Champion.
However, Danny's father, Felipe, broke the cardinal rule in Little League Baseball...
He lied about Danny's age.
I know what you're thinking: no big deal, right?
Wrong. Danny was 14 years old at the time of the Little League World Series in 2001. The maximum age for a player in that league is 12 years old. That made Danny 2 years too old for the league he was in. This seemingly simple lie led to his team being stripped of all their titles and records for the year, Danny's father being banned for life from the league, and the commissioner being suspended for not catching the lie. Not to mention, Danny's mother and father came under federal investigation in the Dominican Republic for forgery.
This was a big deal.
And for what? So Danny Almonte could strike out kids 2 years younger than him?
The tragedy here is that we see this happen all the time (I was the product of a similar situation as a kid but that's a different story for a different day). We see parents over coach and push their kids to go further, run faster, worker harder, and achieve more. We see parents get in fights, yell at umpires, and get escorted off of property all. the. time. And don't get me wrong - I believe the discipline and community and teamwork that can be learned in youth sports is tremendous. I owe a huge part of my childhood to youth baseball, football, basketball, and soccer. I loved it. My dad was my coach for many years and we had a blast.
But I'm not here to just talk about how that happens in youth sports every single day (because it does). It happens every day in LIFE too. We tell our sons and daughter and nieces and nephews and friends in sports and school and at home or work that we NEED them to do something for us because it makes us feel good to see them succeed. We seem to think if they excel greatly or accomplish more or exceed expectations that we are better parents or mentors or coaches or friends or whatever. And sometimes we try to scratch the itch we have for success or arrival or triumph or accomplishment with our family and our friends and our peers and our co-workers. But this, in turn, winds up affecting our attitudes and our judgment...and sometimes even our character.
But where does this leave us? More importantly, where does this leave the people we love and lead? As I've grown up a bit over the last few years, I've learned that what motivates us says a lot about who we are. And honestly - learning that has been somewhat of a punch in the gut for me.
Why? Because a problem exists when fun things - good things - become ultimate things.
And if I'm honest - many of my days are spent pursuing success and accomplishment and image and money and a pat on the back. I go after the next rung on the ladder or the important hand shake or the big new paycheck. And though these things individually are not inherently bad, I risk losing out on the opportunity to lead and love out of my best self when they become the foundation of my pursuits.
One of my favorite quotes on leadership is by Theodore Roosevelt from his autobiography in 1913:
"Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are."
What a freeing statement. Teddy is saying "Hey, take all the things you have - your ability, your knowledge, your senses, and wisdom - and apply them the best you can in whatever situation you find yourself in." There is no shame in giving whatever game or job or moment or situation or season of life you find yourself in your absolute best and not getting the hit or the promotion or the relationship or the dollar amount you expected.
Good things are not always ultimate things.
Think about the trauma Danny Almonte must have faced when the truth came out about his age. Think about the turmoil his family had to endure - the shame, the scrutiny, the judgment, and ridicule - all because his dad connected the success of his son to who he was as a man.
What shame can we free others from by allowing them to live and lead out of who they are? How hard can it be to encourage our friends and peers and co-workers and families to give the absolute best they can with their whole selves no matter the season or situation they find themselves in and later be ok if it doesn't work out?
Wouldn't the world be a much better home if we didn't place on ourselves the unnecessary stress of making sure everyone else was living a life we approved of?
For me - I'm learning to let the fun and good and exciting things become a motivation to connect me to things that actually matter. I'm learning to not put so much pressure on myself or those around me.
I'm learning to encourage others to live and lead and love out of a desire to see the world become better, not to see it become perfect.
What about you? What are ways you can improve on letting others become their best selves, without expecting them to be perfect along the way?