The Seemingly Negative Consequences of Succeeding

Without exception, I am sure that each of us has tried to motivate our children to perform by saying, “You don’t need to be perfect: I just want you to try your best.” Is that true? We want them to try hard, and work diligently, and yet we also don’t want to put on them the pressure and fear of failure that perfection seems to drum up. If you’ve never said that to your children, leave me a comment below and tell me what you *do* say to your kids to get them to work harder without increasing their stress.

Because here is the thing: when we succeed at something that requires a great deal of work, we often are rewarded with a new task that requires a greater deal of work, and for some of us that feels like a punishment, not a reward.

Let me explain with some examples: the piano student practices diligently for 40 minutes a day, several days a week. She learns difficult pieces and learns to play them without error. She takes her exam and passes her grade. What is her reward? Some of you might say the great sense of accomplishment and an increased skill set. Some of us (and some of our kids) would say that all she gets is harder songs, longer practice sessions, and stricter examiners at higher levels. That is just more work. Even if she loves playing piano, she just received a big dose of harder work for all the good hard work she’s already done.

Or what about the boy who is learning his multiplication tables? He is given a timed drill sheet. He needs to answer 25 question in 2 minutes. This is hard. He studies. He practices. He gets them all correct in the time allotted. What is his reward? Some of you might say the satisfaction of beating the clock, and the chance to beat your personal record! Some of us (and some of our kids) would say that all he gets is another drill sheet, with harder questions, with more questions, with an expectation to get them all correct in a shorter period of time. You know, to “beat his personal best”.  And maybe he loves Math. Maybe it is his best subject, but he is given a big dose of hard work as a reward for all the good hard work he’s already done.


Why on earth would a child ever strive towards success when the consequences of doing so just add up to an even more difficult task to tackle? What will motivate your child to “give more” when he feels like he is getting nothing enjoyable in return?

Maybe you cannot relate to what I’m saying at all. Maybe you are driven enough that you love the challenge of a new peak to scale. Maybe you love proving to yourself that new heights are no match for you. Maybe you love pushing yourself to the limit academically or athletically. To which I say, “Congratulations! If you can be motivated by the challenge to reach higher, more power to you!”

Some of us are not like that.

Some of your kids are not like that.

That doesn’t mean we can’t be motivated. That doesn’t mean we don’t want success, or don’t enjoy proving ourselves. But the “reward” of “Good job on all that strain and struggle, honey. Now you get to work even HARDER!” feels like a real booby prize.

So how do I motivate myself to do that hard thing that is bound to lead to another harder thing? How do you motivate your kids to work hard so that they can get a chance to work harder (and have that not feel like a punishment)?

Love for others. Motivate them with the love for others.

When I think of all the things I need to do in my day as a mom, a wife, a homeschooler, a writer, and a worship leader at my church, I realize that pursuing excellence in all of those areas will add up to more responsibility, not less. More hard work, not less. More busyness, not less. So why would I bother? Why would I invest my time and energy into something that is going to increasingly, continually ask more of me?

Because each new level of excellence and responsibility enables me to serve you and love you better. Yes, it is harder work. Yes, it takes more out of me. But seeing that I can actually do something of lasting value? Seeing that I can meet your need or answer your problem? That is motivating.

The piano student: the harder she works, the more levels she attains, the greater the blessing she will be to others: whether through performing, which will bring joy to her listeners; teaching, which will equip her students; leading worship, which will edify the body of Christ. That is a good enough reason to go on.

The math student: the harder he works, the more knowledge and skill he acquires, the greater help he can be to others; whether through teaching, which will benefit his students as they pursue their academic goals; innovating, which will produce a service or resource that will help the general public; or acquiring an upper level job, which will provide a good income for his family.

Do you see what I mean? Casting a vision for how learning harder skills could serve others is often the motivation that this type of personality needs to press on and work harder.

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15: 11-13)

Chances are that neither you nor your children will be called to lay down their actual life for their friends. However, as they work hard, and put out some blood, sweat, and tears towards the new level of excellence, they can lay down part of their life towards the service of their friends, family, and community. And all of that is intended as part of Christ’s joy being in us, and that that joy may be full.

Hard work = Full joy? Sounds impossible, but I think it is an equation worth trying to prove.

Now, if you’ll excuse me: I have some work to do.

Barbara and her husband educate their seven children at home and have found that no two are the same! Barbara is currently writing a book about her battle with depression. In between lunches and lessons, Barbara blogs at

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