What motivated Dr. Phil to go into the field of psychology? 


Let me explain.

When Phil McGraw (Dr. Phil) was twelve years old and living in Oklahoma City, he played on a local football team. That team had the best facilities, equipment, and uniforms. The Salvation Army had a team in the same age group, and the coach called McGraw’s coach to schedule a Monday afternoon scrimmage. 

On scrimmage day, the Salvation Army’s team arrived at the scrimmage in three pickup trucks—not the typical mode of transportation for football players, even when they were kids. Those “Army” players jumped out of the pickup beds looking like farmer kids whose families had lost the farm. They were dressed in blue jeans instead of football pants and loafers instead of cleats. The boy playing across the line from Phil wore a button-up shirt with his number taped onto it with masking tape.

It was a pitiful sight, and McGraw and his teammates reacted in typical middle-school fashion. They snickered and compared disdainful notes: why didn’t the kid use a magic marker for his number instead of tape? (Adult Dr. Phil realized it was because the kid had no other shirt. He would remove the masking tape and wear it to school the next day.) McGraw and his scornful teammates anticipated an easy, runaway victory.

The teams lined up for the first play (it was a scrimmage, so there were no kickoffs), and Phil received what he would say in speeches, one of his life’s most important lessons. “They snapped the ball,” Dr. Phil recalled, “and that kid hit me so hard, it still hurts when it rains….They beat us like they were clapping for a barn dance….They were running up and down the field, and we couldn’t catch them….they probably beat us fifty to nothing.”

Recalling his pain afterward, McGraw said, “I remember getting into the car, everything hurt, I had dirt in my mouth…and I asked my dad, ‘What happened?’”

“They were hungry,” his dad responded. “They wanted it more than you did.”

That was a life-changing moment. Phil thought to himself: if those kids can do so much with so little, what can I do with all I have? He was envious and desired to have whatever it was inside of those kids that made them so determined to perform at their highest level. That was the beginning of Phil McGraw dedicating his life to studying this question: “[W]hy people do what they do and don’t do what they don’t do.”

I love that story. With a sense of humor, Dr. Phil depicts himself as the “villain” of the story as the underdog wins and wins big. (You can listen to this story on a podcast with Katie Couric here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/next-question-with-katie-couric/id1134154895?i=1000413745642 beginning at 7:52 and ending at 11:29.) More importantly, he demonstrates the importance of motivation. Again, look how kids with loafers for cleats and jeans for pants could destroy a team with the finest of equipment.

You may be threatened by others who have received more than you:

  • Money
  • Education
  • Opportunity
  • Network connections

But if you maintain the highest motivation, you may possess the very thing that others envy. That motivation can be the driving force that propels you to offer the highest level of exceptional work, surpassing even those who seem to have more advantages.

Here’s to the underdogs with motivation!

You can order Mark’s new book Holy Chaos How To Walk with God in a Frenzied World here: