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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Set your child's mind to it

I had the good fortune of having two parents who told me often that I could do or be anything I want as long as I "set my mind to it".  Isn't that great?  My Mom in particular told me on a daily basis that I could achieve anything.  I grew up with a tremendous amount of confidence and after graduating from college "set my mind" to finding a job and came up short.  It was devastating.

There were two major problems.  The first was that it was not made clear to me that I needed to "set my mind" to something well in advance.  When it comes to finding a job out of college, the decisions our kids make in high school or even earlier can affect the opportunities available later on.  For a career in sports or music our children would have to start getting ready as early as 8 years old in order to make the big time.  Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers: The Story of Success talks about studies that have shown that professional athletes put in 10,000 hours in order to become proficient enough in a sport at an age when they will still be competitive (early 20s).  That means they needed to start aggressively at the age of 8 or 9.   In my case I thought I could set my mind to it after graduation...

The second problem was that when my parents were saying "set your mind to it" I was not hearing what they were really trying to tell me.  Perhaps for kids and young adults (and everyone else for that matter) it is better to be direct and precise with our advice.  What my parents should have said and what I am now trying to say to my son and daughter is that they can be or do anything they want in this life if, they work really really hard at it.  That was the key point I missed.  I know now that is what my parents meant.  It is not just about having the right mindset it is about effort and actually putting the time and energy to work towards the goal.

Gary Vaynerchuk also talks about this in his book Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion.  Stating that we (and our kids) can achieve anything if we are willing to work really really hard.

How does this make a difference to a 21 year old kid looking for a job?  The young man who thinks about nothing else but getting into Morgan Stanley and then waits for the positive reply to his cold resume is at a disadvantage to the young woman who works really really hard to get into Morgan Stanley by researching the company, learning about the possible career paths, following up with her own friends, parent's friends, professors and others about what is involved with each career path and which would be best for her.  The young woman will be more prepared and most likely present herself better in an interview.  With enough energy, enthusiasm and hard work, she may also find a way around the new grad recruiter who is screening resumes and get herself an interview directly with the manager of the group she wants to join.

There is a great article on WebMD on "The Right Way to Praise Your Kids".  The article distinguishes between praising the effort rather than praising the outcome.

If my son makes a shot in soccer and scores a goal for his team it is easy to praise him on what a great shot it was and how it won the game for his team.  However, by telling him that you were particularly impressed with his hard work practicing and drilling before the game.  Reminding him of how much time he put into learning to curve the soccer ball, and how his playing every day was what lead up to that shot then I have now removed luck from the equation.  He made the shot because he "worked really really hard" to make it.

It is never too early to start preparing our children for the future. I can teach my son and daughter the truth of this simple equation, [work really, really hard = get what you want].  My wife and I can take each opportunity to point out when it has already proven true in their young lives (like the soccer example above).  With the proof and the confidence that knowing the equation works, maybe they really will be able to achieve anything.

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