Michael Phelps — Golden Child?

Michael Phelps made history over the weekend.  The 23-yr-old from Baltimore now has 8 gold medals from the Beijing Olympics.  So is this guy a golden child, raised in an ideal life with every advantage coming his way?  It doesn’t appear to be so.  As a little boy Michael was diagnosed with ADHD.  He started swimming at age 7 to have an outlet for his excess energy.  When he was 9 his parents divorced.  At 19 he was arrested for driving under the influence.  He has “attended” college between 2004 and 2008 but doesn’t plan to graduate anytime soon.  His friends call him “Gomer” because of his resemblance to the good-natured country boy played by Jim Nabors.  He eats around 12,000 calories a day (about five times more than the average adult male) to keep up with his amazing level of activity.  He’s already been making approximately $5 million per year in endorsements, and the 8 gold medals have earned him a $1 million bonus from his sponsor, Speedo.  

So what are you doing with your “challenges?”  Are you using them as an excuse to justify mediocrity?  Or are you, like Michael, focusing your uniqueness in a positive direction.  Do you have a diagnosed malady?  Were your parents divorced or did you get into trouble in your teenage years?  Maybe having “challenges” is a strong motivator for doing something extraordinary.  And maybe having things too easy makes coasting too attractive.  Remember the caterpillar’s transition to a butterfly. It’s the struggle that causes those beautiful wings to appear.  Maybe your “disadvantages” are your opportunity to find a more authentic path to success.

It’s typically the challenges that help us find our true calling.  Henry David Thoreau said: “I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in.”

Frequently I see that those who have been given advantages early in life find themselves with a strong sense of being off track in their forties or fifties. I have a friend who, while a gifted singer and performer, has never developed these or any other talents as he is too busy protecting the money he inherited from his father.  A current client was given the best education money could buy, including medical school, and now, at age fifty-two, realizes he has never pursued his real calling. The search for authentic work is a very personalized and internal one and can easily be derailed by too many advantages. The best medical, dental, or law school will never provide a fulfilling career path if that path is not a match with the unique gifts of the person involved. Just as you shouldn’t let a lack of money deter you from pursuing a great opportunity now, don’t let money or circumstances you already have keep you from moving toward your passion.

Incidentally, I have to also add that in addition to his goal-setting and amazing focus, Michael Phelps is described by the Baltimore Sun as “a man incredibly invested in the success of the people he cares about.”  They go on to say he’s “unbelievably kind-hearted” with young children after practices and events.  I suspect that even at age 23 he remembers the painful challenges of his own childhood.

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18 Responses to “Michael Phelps — Golden Child?”

  1. Jay Peroni Says:

    I have found that most who succeed financially failed miserably several times. God helps us to use each failure as a learning lesson. When we find the inner passion and burning desire we have a much better chance of reaching our goals. When your back is against the wall and it is easy to quit, that is when most progress is made. I always advise trying to use challenging times as motivation to learn, grow, and eventually overcome obstacles.

    I have a client who grew up poor and from a fatherless home. He saw his mom work 4 jobs just to put food on the table for him and his 5 siblings. He was scarred for life to never let his kids grow up this way. To this day, he makes sure his children and grandchildren struggle enough to know hard work and learn, but not so much that they give up in defeat. It is a balance between spoiling your kids and letting them fail. I have many clients that can afford to send their kids to college all expenses paid yet they make their children take out student loans and work to pay expenses so that they have skin in the game. The balance teaches the value of hard work. Great post Dan!

    Jay Peroni, CFP
    Author of The Faith-Based Millionaire

  2. Julia Stewart Says:

    Thanks for the insight into Michael Phelps background. As I watched him during the interviews, I wondered if he had something like that.

    As a mother of a 24 year old son who was also diagnosed with ADHD at age two, I have been able to recognize it in others. Although ADHD is a “challenge”, I strongly believe that these individuals, and all of us with our own unique challenges, have so much to offer others.

    We can use our hurts and struggles as an encouragement to others if we take the time to work through them and then help others through their journey.

    We all tend to play that record over and over in our heads about why we aren’t as good as other people because of our struggle. We make excuses and say “that’s just the way I am”. That’s why I love your material so much. It teaches us how to rise above our circumstances and think “outside the box” and use our special circumstances and personalities to find the work we love.

    I hope Michael will be an inspiration for others to use their uniqueness to move towards their passion.

    Thanks Dan!

    Julia Stewart

  3. Steve Meres Says:

    Unfortunately what I see missing in this story, as well as most success stories I read, is the “God Factor”. What is the use of success, or can it even be called success, if the glory is not given to God for that success, or, for that matter, the failures as well?

    While, there is no mention of Phelps’ faith in the article, I am disheartened that there is no mention of how wonderfully gracious God has been in this man’s life. Success that is self driven and self directed can appear to work from a worldly viewpoint, but in the end will be burned away and count for nothing. However, if that drive and direction are God-centered and God-focused, the resulting success will be everlasting.

    Personal peace and affluence are not the goals we are called to pursue in this life, but if we delight ourselves in the Lord, he will give us the desires of our hearts. Ps 37:4. If this happens to include financial success then so be it.

    Dan, thank you for your posts, and your 48 Days material. “Work you love” has taken on new meaning for me.

  4. sue Says:

    As the mother of a Hall of Fame athlete, I was cheering Michael on all the way!! I was never an athlete, but I saw how my DAUGHTER worked, her mindset etc., and there is something special about an athlete. As you teach, Dan, love of what they do plays a huge part of winning–but they also have to love their teammates, coaches, the sport and themselves to make it all come together! Yes, I believe they have to have a “natural talent”, but is it athletic or something else???? Reading about Michael’s “problems”, just makes me want to love him all the more!! This is a true role model for all the youngsters out there today (and most of us “oldsters” too!)
    I hope everyone pays close attention to this “Golden Child” and learns the important lessons his life is giving the world!! He is beyond AWESOME!

  5. Steve Gundy, Aspiring ADHD Coach Says:

    Where your weakness show, there you will find your strength. I’m convinced that where ADHD may show defecits, there is an outsized ability to be discovered. Michael Phelps’ excess energy focused as an area of strength is a perfect example. ADHD is a disorder only if one believes it to be a curse. Finding strength in what may otherwise be viewed as a weakness moves ADHD from disorder to trait. Putting that strength into action moves ADHD from trait to greatness!

    ADDer’s are the most creative and compassionate people. We have more to offer this world than we may think. It’s there to discover.

  6. edwincrozier Says:

    I am certain of this. My biggest handicap is everything always came easy for me in school. Thus, a few years ago, I realized I had never tried anything very difficult because I had an overwhelming fear of failure.

    I am slowly overcoming that. Maybe it wouldn’t be any different if academics hadn’t come so naturally. But I think it probably would have been.

    Thanks for this reminder.

  7. billmac Says:

    Dan says, “Frequently I see that those who have been given advantages early in life find themselves with a strong sense of being off track in their forties or fifties.”

    I may be one of those… So, now what? I’m not ready to give up, but don’t know how to overcome this “early-life-blessing-later-life-curse” thing. Do I need to go back and pick up some success stuff I somehow unknowingly left behind? Am I still doomed to mediocracy just because I got blessed on the front end of life? How do I learn to convert this blessed life-currency at a positive exchange rate for my future?

    Dan, You hear a lot of success stories about those who have had something to overcome, but not many about those blessed from the beginning. Can you give some more insight for the mediocre, middleclass, in middle management, who know we have something else to offer, but were never blessed to experience the challenges of more successful leaders?

  8. Phelps Says:

    I had never heard the name Michael Phelps prior to the Olympics and neither am I a swimming fan. I am totally amazed by him and his accomplishments.
    When I head Costas describe his body I was really blown away. He was designed by God to be a swimmer, his mom found his gift and talent and he stayed focused and on the right track.
    Psalm 139:14 fits him so well–it should be his life verse. Truly God is glorified because He designed Mike’s body fearfully and wonderfully.

  9. Phelps Says:

    One person asked, “Where is the God Factor” in the success story of Mike Phelps.
    When I saw his mom touch his hand and say, “I thank God that my son has long hands,” I knew that the God Factor was present and recognized in their family.

  10. Nelofar Says:

    Dear Dan, I have someone very close to me who has a problem. Is it possible for me to contact you over the telephone or on a personal i.d. I think you can help him, and I would love to invite you on a lecture tour to India where so many young people and proffessionals would be able to benefit by your approach. Thanks Nelofar

  11. Leah Says:

    Watching Michael Phelps swim you would never know that he has ADHD, that his parents are divorced, or that he was caught driving under the influcence. He is an example to others who are going through the same things at home and school. I hope and pray that others will learn from Michael that anything is possible.

  12. LLS Says:

    I’m currently taking a Christian life coaching course and we have discussed the Olympics–training, discipline, God given direction etc.
    I am sooooo tired of feeling like my husband and I havent accomplished anything.
    Truth is, last time I wrote in things were not financially good, but then came a turnaround and a new drive for my husband. He got injured and cant do his usual job and now he misses it, and praise God is trying to do it again (what the injury allows).
    I’m praying we have that athelete’s dedication to now further pursue a business that makes us residual income. We know our product works, we havent ever had to honor our money back guarantee.
    But we need marketing, and ideas that dont cost much money.

    Anything is possible, with God’s help, wisdom and Godly discipline.
    I’m trying to seek Him first, and put that kind of discipline into practice.
    It may not be physical, but it’s got Olympic Proportions to it!
    And Faith.

  13. frank Says:


    As always, an excellent article. I look back at the ‘struggles’ as a teen and thank God for the challenges! The challenges in life as a teen and other challenges throughout my adult life molded me and I thank God for life’s lessons. As some will say, “I made the top 50% possible in High School”. [Yes, I used to be very thankful for a grading ‘curve’.] However, those academic struggles built a foundation and I later went on and earned a doctorate [with honors].

    Over the years, I learned that many of life’s challenges later become life’s blessings!

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  15. admin Says:

    how much weed did he have when this shot was taken? lol

    great blog dan. thanks.

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