26. Reward effort, not results. Early in his navy career, former President Jimmy Carter applied for service in the U. S. Navy’s nuclear submarine program. Here is his account of his interview with Admiral Hyman Rickover, head of the program at the time:It was the first time I met Admiral Rickover, and we sat in a large room by ourselves for more than two hours, and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss. Very carefully, I chose those about which I knew most at the time – current events, seamanship, music, literature, naval tactics, electronics, gunnery – and he began to ask me a series of questions of increasing difficulty. In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen. He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled. I was saturated with cold sweat. Finally, he asked a question and I thought I could redeem myself. He said, “How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?” Since I had completed my sophomore year at Georgia Tech before entering Annapolis as a plebe, I had done very well, and I swelled my chest with pride and answered, “Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!” I sat back to wait for the congratulations – which never came. Instead the question: “Did you do your best?” I started to say, “Yes, sir,” but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth. I was just human. I finally gulped and said, “No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.” He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget – or to answer. He said, “Why not?” I sat there for awhile, shaken, and then slowly left the room.
That question became the thought-starter for President Carter’s autobiography, Why Not the Best?, and is a question I have asked myself many times. I have also posed its positive form to our kids on several occasions, “Did you do your best?” Not every child is a straight A student, but every child can give their best effort. Not every child is a stellar athlete or musician, but they all can give their best. Reward them for their effort.
One of the reasons we rewarded effort over results at our house was because the results are often outside our control. This is a lesson I have learned in life many times over. When I worked for a large oil company, I had a particular good year and received a top level performance review. It also happened to be a year when the oil industry in general was in a downturn and my excellent performance translated into a minimal pay raise, not the results I had hoped for based on my efforts. But the macro-economics of the situation were outside my control.
Our children face the same challenge. Our son, Joseph, was a pitcher on his high school baseball team. He was very accurate and did a good job of keeping the ball down in the strike zone. But every once in awhile, a good hitter would drive one of his pitches over the fence. I told Joe many times, “Your job is to keep the ball low or on the corners which you do extremely well. The pitch location is all you can control. You have no control over how good the hitter is or how hard they hit the ball.”
Reward your children for what they can control, for what they give their best effort to. This fits the reward we will each receive from our heavenly Father. “Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (I Cor 3:8).