In May of last year athelticbusiness.com revealed that a huge number of youth soccer teams in Ontario, Canada, will be playing games without keeping track of scores in an attempt to reprioritize core values. The trend of being non-competitive extends not just to U.S. youth sports but outside of sports altogether. In an Ipswich, Massachussetts, middle school, the principal, David Fabrizio, ended the long-standing tradition of “Honors Night” in fear it could be “devastating” to the self-esteem of students who did not receive honors.
Everyone gets a trophy.
It’s a well-meaning attempt to make our children feel special, but it has Port City resident and licensed professional counselor, Trey Willis, waving his fist high in the air and shouting obscenities. In fact, he’s so fired up about the entire concept of the “Self-Esteem Movement” (where many born between 1982 and 2002 were raised believing they can do no wrong), he’s doing what he admittedly hasn’t done since graduating UNCW in 2007—he’s writing.
In his debut book, “The Snowflake Effect: How the Self-Esteem Movement Ruined a Generation,” Willis dedicates 274 pages to “nothing more than (his own) cultural outlook, opinions, observations, research and persuasive cynicism.” He puts emphasis on constant praise and how it contributed to an entire generation—his own generation—of self-obsessed, irresponsible and unmotivated kids and adults. However, what Willis may not recognize is: His book, presented in a series of essays rather than absolute chapters, does more than simply “climb a high horse” of complaints and ride off into the proverbial sunset; it challenges readers to find a balance between a two extremes; tough love and praise.
It is for that reason, “The Snowflake Effect” is, perhaps, a read more beneficial for budding parents who wonder how best to build or maintain their child’s confidence in a positive, yet constructive manner, than those without children who may be too busy taking selfies, anyway. Parents, like myself, who struggle to find an equilibrium between the characterized “tiger mom” and a phony praise crusader will take away a lot.
“The driving force behind why I wrote it was to bring awareness to the issues surrounding self-esteem and [to] start a conversation.” Willis says. “If we don’t have a good understanding of ourselves, we can’t really understand anything else because our experience is relative to our perceptions.”
And our experiences in life, Willis writes, should include complete and utter failure—a ballsy notion to put in print. But how else will the joy of accomplishment be appreciated? “The Snowflake Effect” may not offer any serious solutions to the epidemic, but it does shed light on understanding what the consequences are of overindulgence and from where the problem came.
“Everyone knows about the arrogance and entitlement that exists, but it was hard to put into words beyond short complaints,” Willis tells. “Giving everyone a trophy didn’t really work, but no one was talking about why.”
Willis makes his controversial argument (yet obvious conclusion) here: Everyone, no matter who it is, needs to experience failure more than once in their lives. Actually, Willis believes failure should be experienced a few times. It’s essential to inspiring and motivating one to do better. “The Snowflake Effect asserts” that by failing, two qualities often forgotten about today can properly develop: honor and humility. The book expresses how failure teaches us all how to “cope, regulate our emotions, learn about ourselves, and develop a healthy (and accurate) self-image.” If we choose to learn from it, or find something positive within the experience, failure doesn’t have to be exclusively negative.
“I started to research different theories of self-esteem, read journal articles and blogs complaining about (or defending) my generation,” he notes. “It was exciting to research this subject and then look for evidence and connections to my theory in pop culture and everyday life.”
Children need to know they won’t be great—or even good—at everything. Adults, too, can benefit from the knowledge. We all have weaknesses and if—as Willis convincingly states in his book, between segments titled “Fail is a Four Letter Word” and “The Homicidal Id”—we believe our children and teens are simply great at everything, or deserving of everything, egos will inflate. More so, they’ll send the message that perfection is ordinary. Willis returns to these thoughts almost daily, especially now as a new father.
“One of the most consistent things I thought about while writing was my daughter,” he claims. “I see how unprepared my generation was for the ‘real world’ and don’t want that to happen to her. Sure, I want her to be happy, confident and successful, but I don’t want her to be unprepared for adulthood either.”
Completely intrigued with the idea of looking at self-esteem, Willis’ next project will focus on pride throughout different cultures around the world. “A documentary about self-esteem would be a fun project,” he concludes. “But I completely lack the skills or resources to do something like that.”
“The Snowflake Effect” is currently available for sale online and in downtown Wilmington’s Old Books On Front Street.
The Snowflake Effect
By Trey Willis
Available at Old Books on Front Street