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Success is not handed on a silver platter

My students, like their peers, are naturally captivated by the prodigious success of tech founders like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. They love the idea of achieving success of that order. However, one disappointing trait I have observed repeatedly is these kids do not want to put in the necessary effort. Kyle[1], my tenth grade student wanted to sell T-shirts online. He was inspired by an online store that was started by a high school student. Kyle wants to create his own prints. After guiding him through the process, it became clear that he only wanted to “manage” those that did all the work. This mind-set can be detrimental. Many children, particularly those from affluent families want internships and jobs handed to them. Even when handed to them, they accept only those that are the least exerting to them. Raj[2], a freshman, wants to pursue business. He rejected the suggestion to start out cutting lawns, doing chores or running errands for people in the community. I suggested he work as a dog walker since he loves playing with his neighbor’s dog for hours. After trying this one time along with the dog’s owner, he dropped the idea because he didn’t want to clean up after the dog.

But people who have founded businesses worked all kinds of odd jobs when they were young. Kenneth Langone, cofounder of Home Depot in his book, “I love Capitalism” says he worked odd jobs during high school, caddying and digging ditches.

What should parents do?

Kids become productive and creative when they earn their privileges rather than when they receive them without effort. Give them incentives to work. Often parents endured hardships when growing up and feel their kids shouldn’t have to experience difficulties the way they had to. However, that takes away the fire in these kids to achieve. Last week, a college sophomore I hired for yard work told me in conversation that his parents hold very high positions in the auto industry in addition to founding multiple businesses. He was eager to do my yard work because “his parents don’t give him money for expenses beyond his college tuition.” This kid had worked in the parents’ business while in high school and was required to earn his “fun” money for college. In his work, he demonstrated commitment and willingness to do whatever tasks he was asked to perform and humility.

This trait of willingness to work hard and taking initiative is what some call “grit.” Often parents come to me for advise because they are frustrated with their kid’s lack of interest in anything. Parents can foster “grit,” as defined by Angela Duckworth in her book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” by making their children earn certain privileges like time on video games, purchasing games, etc. This expectation needs to start at an early age. Often parents realize that their child lacks drive by the time the kids are in high school. By then the children are highly influenced by others around them and refuse to accept responsibility. Start at an early age and watch your child grow into a responsible adult. This trait is essential to become uber successful like those currently in the tech industry.

[1] Name has been changed to protect privacy

[2] Name has been changed to protect privacy