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  • Steve Nguyen, PhD

Light A Fire Within Instead of Under Someone

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the saying, "light a fire under someone" in this manner: to make someone act quickly or forcefully, especially someone who has not been doing enough before.

When my daughter Addison first started karate (in October 2021) she was somewhat interested but wasn't that eager to put in the hard work it took, both inside and outside the dojo, to truly be successful.

It wasn't until karate got taken away from her for one year (from January 2022 to January 2023) that she realized just how much she actually wanted and liked it.

When she came back to her karate dojo, several of the kids who were at her same white belt level had already moved up into a higher belt level.

This lit a fire under (and more importantly, WITHIN) her and motivated Addison to put in the time, energy, and effort to devote to reaching and catching up with her friends. She came back with a vengeance and has quickly progressed. Her sensei even remarked that he has not seen someone progress this quickly in the many, many years he's been teaching karate.

In their book, The Leadership Challenge (7th ed.), Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner wrote:

"Challenge is the crucible for leadership and the opportunity for greatness. . . Challenge inspires us, shapes us, and requires us to open doors and chart new paths" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 304-305).

"Challenge defines the context in which people perform at their best" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. xix).

For my daughter Addison, the challenge she encountered was being absent from the karate class for one year and then returning and seeing that her friends had moved on and moved up. This inspired her in a way that we (her parents) and her karate sensei had never seen before!

What's incredible about this is that my wife and I supported but never pushed our daughter. As she progressed and earned higher belt levels, we continually told her that we loved her and we're proud of her and that she should always try her best, give it her all, be kind and nice to others, and have a good attitude (inside and outside the dojo). 

We cautioned her that there will need to be better time management and that she's now responsible for attending and practicing karate FIVE (sometimes SIX) days a week, in addition to her other responsibilities including, her regular school work, her Japanese studies, and gymnastics! 

She was HUNGRY and she WANTED IT, without needing anyone to push her!

“Lighting a fire UNDER someone will never be as effective as Lighting a fire WITHIN someone.” —Bob Teague

Life Lesson: Addison has asked us whether we would still be proud of her if she lost and didn't earn any medals in her karate tournaments. We quickly replied that we're proud of her even if she was in last place as long as she gave it her all, and that sometimes and on some days, she will not be at her best and that this is OK. We told us that how she behaves (her attitude) was what's even more important. We reminded her that even when she's clearly better than her opponent and perhaps should have "won", the karate tournament judges may not think so and award the victory to the opponent. And, as disappointing as this may be, that we (her parents) still LOVE her very much and would still be so PROUD of her for trying her best. 

We remind her that it's not and should never be about chasing the victory or higher belt levels or earning the medals (although those things are nice to have), but about learning and living out key life skills & values (e.g., respect, honor, integrity, excellence, humility, teamwork), being better today than you were yesterday, displaying good sportsmanship, making friends, and putting in the effort and working on improving something she enjoys doing. When you do those things first and make those things your goal, the medals and higher belt levels and other accolades will come. But, if you set your sights only on attaining the awards and recognitions, without the hard work, patience, and work ethic, then gaining them will be meaningless.

I am so incredibly PROUD of my daughter! At the Junior International Cup 2024 (March 29) & USA Open Karate Championships 2024 (March 30-31) in Ft. Worth, Texas, I was most proud of Addison for LOSING. Yes, you read that correctly. She won bronze medals in the Junior International Cup 2024 on Friday, but for the USA Open Karate Championships 2024 on Saturday & Sundays, she was eliminated in the very first round (in both kata & kumite). So, you might be wondering why I'd be proud of this. In her kumite competition (where she fights an opponent), her opponent was bigger, more skilled, more seasoned, and scored more points against her. During the contest, Addison got hit in the FACE but KEPT going and coming back for more (she was like the Asian Rocky)! I'm so proud of her for doing what we (her parents) have been trying to teach her, which is to not give in or give up, even against a bigger, better opponent. If you want something, you'll have to learn from your mistakes & failures, work & train hard so you'll be ready the next time you get a chance to compete.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Organizational & Leadership Development Leader


Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2023). The Leadership Challenge (7th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.



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