It is in our nature as humans to underestimate the work required for success. In the present day, it is a common stereotype that the millennial generation is the most entitled generation. Many people would also say that millennials are lazy and do not know the value of hard work. The men I have chosen to review are all important role models for people my age, and show us that hard work, perseverance and dedication comes before success. The mens’ books: “The Audacity of Hope”, by Barack Obama, “#2 Sides”, by Rio Ferdinand, “One Year On”, by Sir Alex Ferguson and “Sully” by Chesley B. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger all show the value of a strong work ethic, gained at a young age. In these chosen books I have explored the theme “The importance of parental influence on developing a work ethic”. The author of each book talks about how this theme gave them motivation and discipline to strive for excellence throughout their professional careers.


The theme “The importance of parental influence on developing a work ethic” is shown in Barack Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope”. Obama continually strived for excellence throughout his time in office as President of the United States. However, his success did not come easy. Success came through hard work, discipline and perseverance. Obama’s parents were an essential reason for his success as they played a key role in his motivation. This is shown in his book in Chapter 6 – Faith: “My fierce ambitions might have been fueled by my father – by my knowledge of his achievements and failures, by my unspoken desire to somehow earn his love, and by my resentments and anger toward him. But it was my mother’s fundamental faith – in the goodness of people and in the ultimate value of this brief life we’ve each been given – that channeled those ambitions.” Although Obama’s father left him at a young age he still had an influence on his life. The fact that he left, led to Obama seeking love and approval from his father, therefore motivating him to work hard to achieve his goals. However, Obama’s mother also had a vital influence on his life: she passed on important values from her own life experiences that helped to point him in the right direction. Barack Obama teaches us that we can encounter difficulty in our lives that can ultimately strengthen us. Obama highlights this with the example of the absence of his father. Instead of seeing it as a negative he used it as a form of motivation that helped him to persevere through hardships. Obama also shows us the importance of having a good role model; in this case his mother who played a pivotal role in having a positive influence on his life. She taught him important life lessons that showed him the value of seeing the good in other people and living life to the full. Obama could have channelled his anger towards his father in very negative ways, turning to crime for example. Instead he did the exact opposite, choosing a life of service to his country. This shows us that our parents have a strong influence on our lives, but we ultimately have a choice. We are in charge of our own life and no matter what others say or do, we need to decide which path we head down. Obama decided to use the anger he had towards his father and the kindness of his mother in a positive way to strengthen his work ethic and his life choices.


The theme “The importance of parental influence on developing a work ethic” is also shown in #2 Sides, by Rio Ferdinand. Ferdinand strived for excellence in football throughout his professional career. He played for the club Manchester United, who were arguably the best team in the world at the time. Like Obama, Ferdinand also had to work hard in order to achieve his ambitions. His parents placed a strong work ethic in him at a young age that undoubtedly served him well throughout his career as a footballer. This is shown in his book in Chapter 3 – Relentless: “Growing up, my Mum and Dad ingrained their work ethic into me. Dad worked so hard; he’d work Saturday nights and Sundays and Mum worked all hours looking after other people’s kids. But I’m not sure where my idea of always wanting to be the best came from. It wasn’t just in football: in everything I did I wanted to be the best, and the best I could be.” Despite being unsure about where his attitude to strive to be the best came from, Rio Ferdinand’s parents still had an important influence on him. Rio Ferdinand was able to see how hard his parents worked in their day-to-day life, therefore giving him good role models for him to aspire to. By his parents teaching him a work ethic, he was able to learn the importance of hard work and discipline and that success does not come straight away. On top of that, Rio Ferdinand had a strong mindset to strive towards excellence. He always wanted to be the best not just in football, but in everything he did. This strong mindset helped him excel in his football, and throughout his life. When Rio Ferdinand and Barack Obama are compared to each other, both men had the ‘engine room’ of a strong work ethic from their parents. However, Obama refers to his mother as being highly influential in channeling that energy, whereas Ferdinand’s drive towards success seems to have come from within himself. When we look at both men, they not only had a strong work ethic but also a direction or channel (as stated by Obama in his book). The two men channeled their energy in different ways, but both towards success.


The theme “The importance of parental influence on developing a work ethic” is also presented to the reader in Sir Alex Ferguson’s book “One Year On”. Sir Alex Ferguson was a highly successful football manager throughout his time managing the club Manchester United. He constantly strived for excellence throughout his career and is regarded as one of the most successful football managers of all time. Rio Ferdinand and Alex Ferguson knew each other well, Alex Ferguson was Rio Ferdinand’s manager or “boss” throughout his time playing for Manchester United.  Ferguson was also similar to Rio Ferdinand as both of their parents taught them the value of hard work at a young age. This is shown in his book in Chapter 10 – Outside Interests: “When you’re young, the 14-hour days are necessary, because you have to establish yourself, and the only way to do that is by working your balls off. By those means, you establish a work ethic for yourself. If you have family, it’s passed on to them. My mother and father conveyed the fruits of their labour to me and I have done so with my own children and beyond.” Ferguson talks about the importance of working hard when you are young to help set you up for later on in life. This is an important message for young people in this generation as many of them want fame and success, without being fully prepared to work for it. Talent shows and social media can often give us a false idea of the work required for success. On the outside, people can see a highly successful person. However, what they will not see is the hours, the sacrifices and the sleepless nights that person has gone through to get to where they have come. Alex Ferguson worked incredibly hard to become the successful football manager he was. His parents had an important influence on him as they passed on important lessons and values, including a strong work-ethic. This shows us that parental influence can have an essential impact on someone’s life, in this case Sir Alex Ferguson, that can help set them up for life.  


Similarly to Obama, Ferguson’s parents and family also taught him a positive attitude that added to his work ethic, as shown earlier on in his book in Chapter 2 – Glasgow Roots: “The motto of the Ferguson clan in Scotland is: ‘Dulcius ex asperis’ or, ‘Sweeter after difficulty’. That optimism served me well through 39 years in football management”. This attitude of being optimistic shows us how important it is to have hope when we are working hard in the face of difficulty, perhaps it is hope that colours hard work to turn it into perseverance.


We can also be shown the theme “The importance of parental influence on developing a work ethic” in Chesley B. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger’s book “Sully”. Chesley, also known as ‘Sully’ pulled off arguably one of the most dangerous, heroic and skilled airline landings in the history of aviation. On January 15, 2009, he safely landed the passenger plane he was flying in the New York, Hudson River. After both engines were damaged by a bird strike he had to make a decision in a split-second: land in the river or risk crashing the plane into a building, in an attempt to land back at an airfield. He landed in the river without a single passenger being killed. He became globally recognised as a hero, and by some he was frowned upon for putting the passengers and crew at risk. Throughout his book he talks about his difficulties and struggles following on from the landing, as well as his childhood and life experiences that led on to him excelling in aviation. Sully also talks about the influence his parents had on his life, his father in particular and how it set him up for life. He often refers to the work ethic his father taught him and his siblings. This can be shown in his book in Chapter 4 – “Measure Twice, Cut Once”: “I grew up in a home where each of us had our own hammer. When I think about the work ethic and the values that carried me through life, and through seven million miles as a pilot, I think at times about the hammer my dad gave me as a boy.” Sully was brought up helping around the house and his father spent a lot of his time teaching Sully important values and a strong work ethic. It is interesting when we contrast Sully and Obama’s relationship with their fathers as they grew up: Sully had a lot of love and support from his father in his flying, for example in Chapter 4 of his book he tell us: “ Paying for my flying lessons was an indulgence, but he thought my time learning to fly with Mr Cook gave me a sense of purpose and a path into the future. He was happy to find the money for that”. On the other hand, Obama’s father left him at a young age and Obama had strong resentment towards him. Even though Obama and Sully had different relationships with their fathers, they both became highly skilled, and excelled in their chosen fields. Little did they know that they would one day meet at an inaugural ball on January 2009 as a result of the successes they both reached in their careers (shown in Chapter 12 of Sully’s book). When I explore this further it makes me think that they both must have made a choice at some point. One chose to use the negative relationship with his father to drive him to work hard despite being guided and influenced by his mother. The other incorporated the positive work ethic instilled by his father at a young age, into his life. This shows us that although everyone’s relationship with their parents is different, the influence they have on how we approach life is massive. However, we ultimately all have to choose how we use those influences in our lives.

The books “The Audacity of Hope”, by Barack Obama, “#2 Sides”, by Rio Ferdinand, “One Year On”, by Sir Alex Ferguson and “Sully” by Chesley B. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger show us that success does not come overnight. It comes through hard work, discipline and persevering through setbacks. As a reader, this matches my personal observations I have seen in my own life, from being around close friends and family. I have seen people who aspire for success but at the end of the day are not fully committed to achieving their goals. On the other hand, there is a long list of highly successful people in my family and I can see that their hard work has paid off across their many different fields. All the people I have studied have excelled in their chosen fields and have put in the hard work. This shows that if we want to be at the top of our game, no matter what game we are in, we need to put in the work. However, is hard work on its own enough in the pursuit of success? It is in our human nature to be easily discouraged when things go wrong. The men whom I have studied have encountered significant stress: the stress of public life (Obama), a harrowing court case (Sully) and the fickle nature of the sporting opinion of football fans (Rio Ferdinand and Sir Alex Ferguson). Even if hard work is channelled in a positive direction, setbacks are inevitable. So how did each man deal with the bumps and struggles along the path to striving for excellence?


In Alex Ferguson’s book, he tells us about the importance of hope and this kept him going when he went through difficulties. Obama also seems to focus on hope as well. He has a belief in a uniting set of values, which he sums up in the title of his book (‘The Audacity of Hope’) and also in the Epilogue “Their (the American people’s) relentless optimism in the face of hardships”. This belief kept him going to serve the people of his country despite the stressful demands of what it is arguably the biggest job in the world. What I find rather interesting is that Ferdinand’s friend Jamie (shown in the book in Chapter 28 – Life After Football) picks out that Ferdinand has the same belief in people around him as that of Obama. “The way he (Rio) sees it, if you stay strong and you believe in the people around you collectively you can achieve anything you want.” Sully adds the values of integrity and lifelong education as recipes to his success in his acknowledgements at the end of his book. He says “My mother and father taught me about hard work, integrity and lifelong education. I am grateful to them for instilling in me a set of values which have been constant guideposts throughout my life” . So perhaps to keep us from our nature of being discouraged, we need a good dose of optimism and faith in our fellow man. Integrity undoubtedly serves us well and a love of learning will help us along the path to success.

The four people I have studied have been lucky enough to have learnt important life lessons and values from their parents that have led to a strong work ethic. Other factors that led to these four men thriving were: optimism, faith in the good of others, integrity and a love of learning. The reader of their books may not have had the luxury of the lessons that each person/author has learnt from their parents, or from their own life experiences, but they may learn a few lessons of their own from Barack Obama, Rio Ferdinand, Sir Alex Ferguson or Chesley B. Sullenberger.

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Alex, I am very pleased that you have focused your discussion so strongly on your central theme. You have also chosen outstanding texts to illustrate your theme.
    A few thoughts:
    – You could develop your connections further. Be specific (events, people, places, decisions, settings) when discussing the similarities/differences between texts.
    – Also, don’t be limited by talking about your theme in one way. There may be additional lessons that these examples can teach the reader/viewer about human nature. Be bold and expand on your findings 🙂


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