The Learning Spotlight
“The Little Brother Syndrome – How Does Playing Up Make Us Better as Grownups Too?”
By John Grubbs
As the father of two boys almost 8 years apart, I have observed some amazing things about struggle and challenge. While not unique to my own children, something strange and positive occurs when a child tries to play and match ability with an older sibling. This article is about the application of this observation to our own growth as adults.
Does innate competition drive a smaller child to excel in the presence of a larger, stronger and often more skilled older brother or sister? Why does the smaller child accelerate capability? And, is it possible to apply this same growth to the development of our ability as professionals?
Just like bones and muscles need stress to grow and remain strong, our ability to improve also requires stress and significant effort. As we grow, do we lose the competitive edge that “little brothers” have naturally? Consider the exhaustive effort a smaller child will exert in order to "keep up" and not be labeled as a baby. The smallest amount of details are observed and
replicated over and over for success. This practice creates a form of “muscle memory” that develops very early in life.
Consequently, can our own association with those better than we are accelerate growth and personal development? Whatever your definition of success, the challenge of “playing up” can indeed make us better at what we do. A common tendency as we age is to take the easy path and justify it as having reached our own potential. We eventually become the big fish in the little pond as we
assimilate to our environment. This creates comfort, confidence and eventual apathy about personal growth.
Our shared mediocrity becomes our crutch and we all seem to become gloriously average among our peers. We avoid the pressure of the shadow cast by the greatness in society and we settle into a role of being hidden by the masses. Our invisibility becomes comfortable without the judgment and comparison of the excellent.
This is something the “little brother” cannot and often will not accept. Being anonymous among the billions of human beings is not an option to the small child. He will be anything and everything his imagination will allow. He will play professional baseball, football and basketball (all at the same time) while working as a police officer and fire fighter. No one can tell him
that he cannot "do it all" when he grows up. He knows in his mind, without the doubt of pending reality, that he "can be" the superhero and the same amazing big brother he is chasing. He hasn’t been infected with mediocrity and the limited potential that life will eventually saddle upon his shoulders.
When we adopt the mindset of the small, our capacity for success can be almost infinite. Pain, struggle and unbridled effort in the wake of someone we look up to in life can make us so much better and stronger than our common present can imagine. Shedding the weight of all the people that tell us “we can’t” and forgetting the mediocrity of the most can free our hearts and minds for
Finally, has the smaller size of the American family become an incubator for mediocrity in modern society? In other words, can less competition and more entitlement at an early age limit the need to compete for success later in life? Has the smaller family unit created a generation of Americans that have been spoiled to think that extraordinary effort is not a necessary struggle in life? The lack of
siblings limits competition for attention as well as time in the “limelight” of parents. Today’s young adults have been raised in period of high prosperity. This abundance may contribute to a lack of hard work for that other than the interest of the moment. We will explore this further in my upcoming book, "Idiots Love Mediocrity - Lessons from the Edge of Greatness".
Find your "big brother" and chase the same excellence. No matter how far behind your current ability may be, know in your mind that you "can" become the same successful person. Delete the comfort of those that make you complacent. Live like a “little brother” and watch your life success grow!
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