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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Can Anyone Be A Major League Pitcher?

Comments (9)

Alan Shimel has a fantastic post up titled Do they have to grow up?  As I read it, I thought of some of the great lessons my dad taught me when I was a little kid and how hard they must have been for him to carry out.

Amy and I have a regular discussion about whether or not it is helpful to tell a child "you can do or be anything you want."  Amy’s reply is that she could never be an NBA center and neither could I.  While the metaphor is a good one (e.g. "don’t let anyone limit your aspirations or dreams"), accomplishing things – especially amazing ones – requires a huge amount of hard work, perseverance, drive, skill, genetics, timing, and luck.  Alan nails it:

"At some level I guess it is part of growing up and realizing that you are not the next Nolan Ryan or Josh Beckett.  It is similar to a truth I come to grips with every day.  That is as I get older with each day, there are going to be some dreams and hopes that are going to go unfulfilled in my own life.  There are going to be mountains I am not going to climb. As I have gotten older I have come to grips with this reality and even accepted it. "

I must be brutal to be a father and have to teach this lesson to your child.  My first reaction to Alan’s approach was probably similar to some of the parents in attendance – namely – "make the madness stop."  But there’s a big part of it that is brilliant.  It’s one thing to be told something, it’s an entirely different thing to experience it.

I’ve just read Alan’s post for the third time and it gets better with each read.

"But I felt I had to do this. I think they had to learn this lesson, I just wish it were not the hard way.  After the game I gathered the team and told them baseball is a team sport.  Each member of the team contributes in their own special way.  They each possess a unique set of talents and skills that allows them to help the team, but not everyone is cut out to be a pitcher or a catcher. I think they all realize it now. Some of the kids accepted this and told me they did not want to pitch anymore.  Other kids said they would practice and try to get better. "

I’ve had my share of lessons I’ve learned the hard way – say Interliant, my biggest failure and the source of some of my greatest lessons, or my first 8.01 (MIT freshman physics) test which I got 20 (out of 100) on.  Failure is when you really learn things.  I just keep practicing and trying to get better.

  • Eric Marcoullier

    Thanks for calling out Alen's great post. We parents seemed determined to shield our children from painful experiences, but I think learning one's natural limits is critical to growing up well-adjusted. It's only possible to pursue so many endeavors and it's important for children to learn about opportunity costs at a young age.

    I'm not advocating that kids only pursue things that they naturally excel at. Rather, in identifying their natural talents in a given pursuit, they can better decide whether they want to make the sacrifices required to follow their dreams of pitching for the Red Sox or jamming with Branford Marsalis.

    http://www.marcoullier.com/blog/2008/02/25/you-ca

  • Sue Kunz

    Great post!
    I think this underscores the fact that we need to drive folks (kids, employees, supervisors and friends) to focus on their strengths while mitigating weaknesses). No one is good at everything, and this is OK. But, it's OK to pursue the (near) impossible too, if failure is accepted as a likely outcome. Pursing the impossible has incredible benefits. It drives change.

  • Chithra Durgam

    So it begs the question, how do we know when to move on and give up on a dream or keep at it try to succeed? If we don't reach mastery at something, is that an indication to move on?

  • ClizBiz

    Bottom line: It is better to realize the end of a dream on your own rather than having someone else do it for you. I learned that the hard way. Thanks for calling out this post.

  • http://www.alacrablog.com Steve G

    I think it's great that everyone got a chance to pitch. But another approach could have been that in order to get a chance to pitch, the kid had to throw 3 strikes in a row in practice. I don't think the fact that a kid walks his first 2 batters in a little league game says he can't pitch. Or missing your first few foul shots means you can't play basketball. The approach taken served to demoralize the kids at young age and it wasn't necessary. Everyone wants to be Josh Beckett at something. The lesson needs to be you have to work your ass off.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

      In my experience it varies by person, dream, and context. I don't think the message is “don't try to master things” – rather it's recognize that you will have

  • http://ben.casnocha.com Ben Casnocha

    I think I've been part of this convo with you and Amy at one point….My parents never told me “you can do anything” and I'm glad for it. The best advice is more nuanced, as Alan and you say. Unfortunately, most psycho parents nowadays are inculcating their kids with self-esteem boosting statements like these, only to set their kids up for a rude awakening.

  • Martha

    Great post, Brad!!! I remember telling your nephew…. “Choose something you're interested in, give it your best… but always know when to walk away, and do it with your head held high”. I'd like to think that on some level he actually listened to me!

  • http://www.capturetheconversation.com James Clark

    As a parent of a young child that had eye surgery as an infant that took away her peripheral vision, the idea of you can do anything was apparent. Having played sports my whole life, I knew that certain sports were going to be a challenge for my girl – BUT not all sports. I've been active in participating in rock climbing and skiing with her. What I've found out is that it's not about the sports, but the time she spends with me and the challenges of getting better at it.

    99.9 percent of us will never be an all-star pitcher, but that doesn't mean we should avoid the challenge of taking the mound, reaching back and bringing Beckett-like heat.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/eric_marcou4248 eric_marcou4248

    Thanks for calling out Alen's great post. We parents seemed determined to shield our children from painful experiences, but I think learning one's natural limits is critical to growing up well-adjusted. It's only possible to pursue so many endeavors and it's important for children to learn about opportunity costs at a young age.

    I'm not advocating that kids only pursue things that they naturally excel at. Rather, in identifying their natural talents in a given pursuit, they can better decide whether they want to make the sacrifices required to follow their dreams of pitching for the Red Sox or jamming with Branford Marsalis.

    http://www.marcoullier.com/blog/2008/02/25/you-ca

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sue_kunz6089 sue_kunz6089

    Great post!
    I think this underscores the fact that we need to drive folks (kids, employees, supervisors and friends) to focus on their strengths while mitigating weaknesses). No one is good at everything, and this is OK. But, it's OK to pursue the (near) impossible too, if failure is accepted as a likely outcome. Pursing the impossible has incredible benefits. It drives change.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chithra_dur6122 chithra_dur6122

    So it begs the question, how do we know when to move on and give up on a dream or keep at it try to succeed? If we don't reach mastery at something, is that an indication to move on?

  • Steve G

    I think it's great that everyone got a chance to pitch. But another approach could have been that in order to get a chance to pitch, the kid had to throw 3 strikes in a row in practice. I don't think the fact that a kid walks his first 2 batters in a little league game says he can't pitch. Or missing your first few foul shots means you can't play basketball. The approach taken served to demoralize the kids at young age and it wasn't necessary. Everyone wants to be Josh Beckett at something. The lesson needs to be you have to work your ass off.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

      In my experience it varies by person, dream, and context. I don't think the message is "don't try to master things" – rather it's recognize that you will have

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/clizbiz6137 clizbiz6137

    Bottom line: It is better to realize the end of a dream on your own rather than having someone else do it for you. I learned that the hard way. Thanks for calling out this post.

  • Ben Casnocha

    I think I've been part of this convo with you and Amy at one point….My parents never told me "you can do anything" and I'm glad for it. The best advice is more nuanced, as Alan and you say. Unfortunately, most psycho parents nowadays are inculcating their kids with self-esteem boosting statements like these, only to set their kids up for a rude awakening.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/martha3408 martha3408

    Great post, Brad!!! I remember telling your nephew…. "Choose something you're interested in, give it your best… but always know when to walk away, and do it with your head held high". I'd like to think that on some level he actually listened to me!

  • James Clark

    As a parent of a young child that had eye surgery as an infant that took away her peripheral vision, the idea of you can do anything was apparent. Having played sports my whole life, I knew that certain sports were going to be a challenge for my girl – BUT not all sports. I've been active in participating in rock climbing and skiing with her. What I've found out is that it's not about the sports, but the time she spends with me and the challenges of getting better at it.

    99.9 percent of us will never be an all-star pitcher, but that doesn't mean we should avoid the challenge of taking the mound, reaching back and bringing Beckett-like heat.

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