A Note to Madeline, my 11 Year Old Champion

Posted on | August 15, 2013 | 22 Comments

My heart broke for her. Remember the first time you were cut from a team? That painful moment when others were chosen but you weren’t? Our 11 year old daughter, Madeline, recently had her first Darwinian encounter at dance practice. Some kids were selected for a certain routine; Madeline was not.

My first reaction: “How dare they?? That’s ridiculous! Wait ‘til I give that dance teacher a piece of my mind…” In other words, angry at the outside forces who’d jilted my daughter from an event she so rightly deserved. (According to her completely biased dad, anyway.)

Madeline’s first reaction: “I hate dance. I’m no good at this. I want to quit.”

So there we were, father and daughter, wallowing in self pity and angry at the world.
After a while, though, we reconsidered the experience.

I did my best to explain to Madeline that her mom and I are more pleased when she’s doing her best and sticking with something that does not come easy than “winning” that comes easily and requires little effort.
Oh, you’re a gifted reader and got straight A’s this year in reading class? Ho hum.
You struggle mightily with math, give it your all, and end up with a C+? Hooray!

Madeline, your mom and I are most proud of the strength you and your sisters exude from your hearts, of the battles you win based on effort, of your courage to get back up when life knocks you down.
You are blessed with so many gifts! Please, continue to embrace those. Appreciate them and maximize their value. But don’t let disappointment discourage you from doing what you love.

Looking back on my own life, I see time and time again where initial flashes of brilliance fizzled into mediocrity. Kids who were exceptional athletes in high school faded away while smaller, weaker kids who were forced to try harder rocketed to the top. Well spoken extroverts who shone brightly in job interviews but were quickly outpaced by their shy, conscientious peers.

When it comes to family and business, I’m far more appreciative of how determined one is amidst formidable competition vs. how much one succeeds amidst toothless tigers.

Lucky for me, Madeline takes after my wife: minimal drama and good perspective. By the next morning she was her cheery self, bouncing around the dance studio as happily as ever.

Hopefully an 11 year old’s life lesson spurs questions for us all…
As adults, how quickly do we charge back from disappointment? Even more importantly, how often do we dare step in the ring with others who appear stronger?
When’s the last time you didn’t make the cut in something you really wanted, took a deep breath, and tried again?

Setbacks shrink our comfort zone. Failure scares us into “never doing that again!” Like Madeline, though, I hope the next time you miss the mark you bounce back and attack it again. Those in your life who matter the most will be more impressed with your second, third, even fourth attempt than they were with your first.



22 Responses to “A Note to Madeline, my 11 Year Old Champion”

  1. pat mchale
    August 16th, 2013 @ 7:36 am

    Sounds like Madeline is headed in the right
    direction. Why am I not surprised?????

  2. Bill Thomasson
    August 16th, 2013 @ 8:28 am

    Great story Ben – reminds me of a song: “I hope you dance…”

    “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
    Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
    Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
    And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.”

    Tell Madeleine that Mr. Bill says I hope she dances!

  3. Bill Thomasson
    August 16th, 2013 @ 9:12 am

    Better yet Ben, give her this link:


    She may recognize someone in this promo.

  4. Henry GranadosRamos
    August 16th, 2013 @ 9:28 am

    Thank you for the story Ben. It reminds me of constant conversations I have had with my two older boys. I attached a website for you to look at. If you want to focus on doing your best and not focus just on winning you might like it. I learned one thing through running, which was that I do it for the love of the sport and not because I want to win.

  5. Henry GranadosRamos
    August 16th, 2013 @ 9:29 am

    Sorry Ben, left out the website.

  6. deepu
    August 16th, 2013 @ 9:31 am


  7. Ken Fabric
    August 16th, 2013 @ 9:46 am

    You have such a gift for getting your message across. It is a pleasure reading your blog. Keep biking….

  8. Ben Lawrence
    August 16th, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

    Thank you for the kind words, Ken. It’s easy to relay a good story. (And we have MANY of those from our recent AK adventure, right?)

  9. Ben Lawrence
    August 16th, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

    Glad to hear this blog inspires everywhere, Deepu, even India!

  10. Ben Lawrence
    August 16th, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

    Henry, My brother says the most mature, injury free, and often fastest runners/athletes are those who stopped keeping score long ago. Sounds like you’re a card carrying member of that club! Live Uncommon seems like a great organization.
    I’m sure your boys appreciate the messages you convey. Keep ‘em coming.

  11. Ben Lawrence
    August 16th, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

    Bill, Watching that video makes me grateful for your friendship and proud of your courage to share your story! Looking forward to the full documentary once it’s released.
    Your comments are so appropriate. I’ll be sure to share them with Madeline and watch her smile as she reads them.

  12. Ben Lawrence
    August 16th, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

    Agreed, Pat. She’s got a dynamo mom :)

  13. Antonio
    August 16th, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

    great timing. just today we received notification that my son missed the cut for the town’s U10 travel soccer squad and my wife and I are struggling with how to break the news to him. this serves as a great guide for us! thxs

  14. Benjamin Joseph
    August 17th, 2013 @ 3:16 am

    Love this post Ben many a thing we can all learn from Madeleine!

  15. Ben Lawrence
    August 17th, 2013 @ 10:44 am

    Ben, I’d love for Madeline and the rest of my family to meet my new British/Spanish hybrid friends. And if anyone can teach others how to dance… :)

  16. Ben Lawrence
    August 17th, 2013 @ 10:47 am

    Well, Antonio, sounds like your son and Michael Jordan are starting their athletic careers in the same way. Now that you guys won’t be burning fuel all fall on soccer road trips, you and your son can enjoy the BEST fall sport the New England area offers. Time to pedal!

  17. Ajay
    August 19th, 2013 @ 5:04 am

    Thanks Ben, inspirational.

    I remembered my college days when i flunked my first year and then in my second i flunked again while doing my engineering. Engineering Math and just a few marks being the reason for my not clearing my year. I had lost all hope since i had fought once , now i was asked to fight again !! Hopeless !
    Thats when my mom made me realize that quitting is not the excuse but fighting it out till you suceed is !! and she said …even if you fail 8 times we will still support you..but quit you must NOT !!! Post that i have not flunked in study , work , in life …From that day till today i follow her words ! I believe even as adults you need that someone sometimes to show you the PATH !!
    Thanks !

  18. Ben Lawrence
    August 24th, 2013 @ 4:58 am

    Ajay, Your mom’s message is terrific! What a perfect message to share with her son, and one that clearly has impacted your life. I’ll bet that message, “No matter how many times you fail we’ll support you, but you must not quit”, plays often through your mind and pushes you to be your best. Thanks for sharing your story.

  19. Jim Aden
    August 28th, 2013 @ 7:02 am

    Terrific message Ben! As the “little guy” who was always picked last or not at all I can relate to it. But then I remember the time when I was picked last in a pickup basketball game where the first team to get 15 baskets would win. Since you got the ball back when you scored I put in 15 straight baskets, several from half court, to win the game for my team. I think they had a little more respect for me after that. Little did they know how hard I had practiced, and had never given up.

  20. Ben Lawrence
    August 30th, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

    Thanks for the head up. Now I know to never challenge you to a game of h-o-r-s-e.
    You have a long history of exceeding expectations! A great story.

  21. Heather Betts
    November 13th, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    Ben, never underestimate the resilient child, or the tender wisdom of a young, caring, mindful and dedicated father. Spot on, Ben. Spot on! Madeline is a very lucky and special girl…kudos to the whole family.

  22. Ben Lawrence
    November 15th, 2013 @ 10:52 am

    Heather, I’m so pleased to welcome you as a reader and commenter to this blog! You have a knack for summarizing in a few sentences what takes me several paragraphs. Love your brevity :)

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    Ben Lawrence Ben's expertise is helping organizations reach their full potential through an empathetic, value-first, challenger-based focus on their customers.  Data analysts want to choke him but entrepreneurial, sales driven, profitable, customer-centric organizations (or those who aspire to become one) love him.

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