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So You Want Your Child/Student to be Famous?. Ted Goertzel. Why?. To realize your own frustrated ambitions? To help them realize theirs? Because it is a side-effect of helping them to achieve other goals? Famous people are not, on average, happier than other people

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  • To realize your own frustrated ambitions?
  • To help them realize theirs?
  • Because it is a side-effect of helping them to achieve other goals?
  • Famous people are not, on average, happier than other people
  • Nor do they necessarily contribute more to society
fame depends on interests
Fame Depends on Interests
  • Outstanding actors, athletes, musicians and writers become famous
  • Outstanding dentists, accountants and undertakers do not
  • with Doc Holliday as the exception that proves the rule

Our research is also often supportive of “pushy” parents.

So long as they push their children where they want to go.

“Facilitating parent” might be a better term

Often the best “pushing” is by example

Reading Cradles may give you ideas for a pathway to eminence that might suit your child.

world s pushiest mother
World’s Pushiest Mother?
  • Douglas MacArthur’s mother was his only teacher until he was thirteen
  • She moved to be near him when he went to West Point, walked with him on “flirtation walk”
  • She went with him to the Philippines in 1935 because he was reluctant to leave her

Mary Pinkney (“Pinky”) MacArthur

His father, General Arthur MacArthur

Douglas at West Point


Parent as facilitator or “coach”

Tiger Woods’ father solved practical problems – such as access to golf courses that - a boy simply could not have resolved on his own.

pablo casals
Pablo Casals
  • His mother took him from a small town to Barcelona for lessons
  • He had no dreams of becoming a great artist
  • They suffered poverty in Brussels and Paris to advance his career
  • His mother had to sell her hair to raise funds

His mother and his first teacher, Jose Garcia

yo yo ma
Yo Yo Ma
  • Taught by his father
  • Took up the cello because his older sister played the violin
  • First concert at age five, parents limited his appearances
  • Credited his father’s lessons in solfeggio and Gregorian chants in Church for inspiration
  • Studied with Leonard Rose at the Julliard School
  • He skipped non-music classes until put in an accelerated program.
oprah winfrey
Oprah Winfrey
  • Pushed hard by grandmother when very small
  • Bussed in to a suburban school
  • Rescued and pushed by her father
  • Encouraged to skip graduate school by a college teacher

Buffeted by positive and negative “pushing” throughout her childhood and adolescence.


Margaret Sanger’s father was a follower of evolutionist Charles Darwin and agnostic lawyer Robert Ingersoll

  • He was a socialist activist and a stonecutter and was away from home a lot.
  • Her mother was a devout Catholic who had 18 pregnancies and 11 live births before dying of tuberculosis and cervical cancer

Pushing by example

Neighbors called Margaret and her siblings the “Children of the Devil”


Pushing by example

“Buffalo Bill” Cody’s father, Isaac Cody, was an activist in the abolitionist movement, helping to move anti-slavery settlers into Kansas. His family attributed his death to the lasting effects of a stabbing by a pro-slavery settler. “Buffalo Bill” never took any interest in politics.


George W.


  • George W. Bush followed an exceptionally accomplished father
  • His parents displayed remarkable forbearance, allowing him to live his own life as a young bachelor.
  • Death of his little sister a major family trauma.

George W. Bush: “I can’t exaggerate to you what wonderful parents George and Barbara Bush were. They were liberating people. There was never that oppressiveness you see with other parents, never the idea that their way was the only way.

Pushing by example

hillary clinton
Hillary Clinton
  • Her mother had been neglected and abused
  • She succeeded in her determination not to pass the chain of abuse on to her children
  • Hillary had a happy experience in school, participating in many extra-curricular activities

Hugh, Hillary, Hugh, Jr., and Dorothy

Pushing by example

Richard Feynman’s father started teaching him science when he was in his high chair

He gave him colored blocks of different sizes and shapes to organize and analyze

Scientists often had happier childhoods than other eminent people

Parent as facilitator or “coach”



Pyramid of

Talent Development


It starts with the genes. You can’t change the genes, but you can observe and test to find a child’s strengths.

personality attributes cited in the literature





A Sense of Naivete


Passion for work in a domain




Risk-taking Propensity



Tolerance of ambiguity

Volition or Will

Personality Attributes Cited in the Literature
internal locus of control
Internal Locus of Control
  • Personality attributes are inborn
  • But they can also be nurtured or even taught
  • A child is more likely to achieve eminence if he or she has an “internal locus of control”
  • We can facilitate this when we find it
  • But it cannot be imposed

“Talent” is the tip of the Piirto pyramid – it is the ability to apply abilities, emotions and learning in a specific area

recognizing talent
Recognizing Talent
  • Exceptional performance
  • Predictive behaviors
    • extensive, passionate reading may predict talent as a writer
    • collecting baseball statistics may predict mathematical talents
  • Talent is expressed with tools provided by the culture, often by the school

The final ingredient is what the Greeks called a muse, what Jung calls an archetypal passion – Piirto calls it the Thorn in the Side

the thorn in the side
The Thorn in the Side
  • Talent is not enough
  • The thorn in the side is a passion that engrosses
  • The thorn pushes people through a period of incubation in which the talent matures
  • This may involve course work or training or lessons, depending on the nature of the talent

The “Suns” are Piirto’s metaphor for the environmental factors that nurture the creative individual

the sun of family and community in cradles of eminence
The “Sun” of Family and Community in Cradles of Eminence
  • Small town, rural or exurban upbringing
  • Love of learning in the home
  • Restless, energetic parents
  • Opinionated parents
  • Parents with frustrated aspirations
  • In some cases, parents who devote their lives to their children
  • Others were actively discouraged by at least one parent
the sun of school in cradles of eminence
The “Sun” of School in Cradles of Eminence
  • Dislike of routinized learning
  • Opportunities for self-directed learning
  • Sometimes home schooled or tutored
  • Laboratory and computer facilities
  • Extra-curricular activities and clubs

Dorothy Baker author, Missoula

Dirk Benedict actor, Helena

W. A. Tony Boyle labor union official, Bald Butte

Dana Carvey comedian, Missoula

Gary Cooper actor, Helena

Mike Mansfield, Senator, Great Falls

Chet Huntley journalist, TV newscaster, Cardwell

Will James writer, artist, Great Falls

Evel Knievel daredevil motorcyclist, Butte

Jerry Kramer football player, author, Jordan

Myrna Loy actress, Helena

David Lynch filmmaker, Missoula

George Montgomery actor, Brady

Jeannette Rankin first woman elected to Congress, Missoula

Martha Raye actress, Butte

Michael Smuin choreographer

Lester C. Thurow economist, educator, Livingston

Norman Maclean, writer

Thomas McGuane, writer, from Mcleod, alcoholic father

Some fruit of the Montana “Sun”