Log In

Reset Password

It helps if others believe in you

Ronan Tynan: successful despite obstacles

The expectations of others can be a powerful force in driving success, according Ronan Tynan, a Paralympic multiple gold medallist, medical doctor, tenor and motivational speaker.

In a presentation at the Association for Talent Development conference in Atlanta, Mr Tynan delivered an inspirational message that told the story of how he overcame sizeable hurdles to find success in many parts of life.

He grew up on a farm in County Kilkenny in Ireland. He was born with a lower-limb disability and subsequently suffered complications in a car accident which resulted in his legs being amputated when his was 20. He made a rapid recovery and between 1981 and 1984 he won 18 gold medals and broke 14 world records.

Mr Tynan always wanted to be a doctor and was accepted to medical school at Trinity College, Dublin from where he graduated. He specialised in orthopaedic sports injuries.

He subsequently began voice training and entered the BBC’s singing competition Go for It. He won the competition and was selected to be a member of the Irish Tenors. He now lives in Boston.

Right from the start of his presentation, he emphasised the power of expectations of others in his success. This was music to my ears as I’m a very strong proponent of the Pygmalion Effect or the Self-fulfilling Prophecy.

I’ve written an article on the topic which has appeared in a number of international business magazines including the Canadian Banker. The theory states that if others have high, but realistic, expectations of us we in turn have a tendency to live up to those expectations. These expectations are communicated to us both verbally and non verbally.

The idea comes from Greek mythology. Pygmalion was a prince of Cyprus who wanted the ideal woman so he carved a statue out of ivory and called his creation Galatea. So perfect was his statue that he fell in love with it. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, saw his desperation and gave life to it. This story was the basis for George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion.

Ronan talked about the “belief of others in me”, particularly his immediate family. From his sister Fiona, who he said was “my shield and support”, to his mother and father, the belief was there.

He spoke with such passion about overcoming his handicaps that there were many tears in the captivated audience. He said “we all need someone”. His father would say: “Ronan, you’re great.”

He was convinced by his father that he was a winner and a winner he became in so many areas of his life.

“My father always reckoned I was a winner,” he said. He is convinced that mentoring does make a big difference in a person’s success. Parents, teachers and bosses have a profound effect on the self confidence, behaviour and success of their children, students and direct reports.

He said: “You see in yourself what others see in you, a strength waiting to be harnessed.”

A strong belief by others in you leads to increased self-confidence and these self-expectations are known as the Galatea Effect.

“That’s all we need to do today, build on strengths,” because “there’s no reverse gear in life — you have to go forward”, and “we can be recognised for the extraordinary, that’s what makes us great” is the type of advice Ronan provided to his audience. By building on success you can achieve more success, i.e. build on strengths.

Of those keynote speakers who give a press briefing most do so after their speech. However, Mr Tynan provided his before his presentation. I found a natural rapport with him as a fellow Irishman and we started our conversation discussing Gaelic football and hurling.

Ronan gave us a lot of family background which would help us understand his presentation even better. His father was only 5ft 4in tall and his mother was only slightly taller. His father referred to his mother as “top management or she who must be obeyed, which my Irish colleague here [me] will perfectly understand. Irish mothers are powerful directed people. The reason I stand in front of anybody today is because of her.”

As one of seven children I can certainly agree with Ronan as my mother ran a dry cleaning business while raising the seven of us. My Dad was a livestock dealer and it was unusual in those times to have a dual-career family.

Ronan went on to say that “people who believe in you and encourage you give you the motivation to be the best you can be”. For a boy with physical challenges parental love was extremely important and Mr Tynan received this in abundance.

Mr Tynan believes that the biggest risk in life is not taking risk because life is driven from within you.

My favourite quote from his presentation is: “A smile is the cheapest drug on the market and there are no side effects.”

He finished his presentation as he started it, with a song.

I, like the several thousand other people who heard his speech left in awe. For someone with such physical handicaps to become so successful in so many areas in life is an inspiration to all of us.

If you ever get a chance and want to be inspired, go listen to him.

Paul Loftus is a Montreal-based industrial/organisational psychologist, an intercultural consultant and a freelance journalist. He has been conducting both public and in-company management development seminars in Bermuda for over 20 years. He can be reached at (514) 282-9111; ploftus@colba.net; www.paulloftus.com