Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Dad, you would have to give up your job for Lent."

We can all use a little positive feedback now and then. I have certainly been preaching it's benefits when it comes to raising our kids but it is particularly gratifying when a little bit comes back my way.

My son came home from school today and started talking about Lent.  Apparently it began today, Februrary 22nd, and a few of his Christian friends were discussing the challenges of coming up with something to sacrifice during the next 40 days.  The usual necessities like chocolate, video games or TV were soon discarded as unreasonably harsh.  Giving up homework or math turned out to be the more popular deprivations among the 5th graders.  I am not sure how their parents will react to those suggestions though.

I asked my son what he would give up if we were to follow this particular religious tradition.  Would he give up ice cream or maybe agree not to play Angry Birds?  He brushed off the question and after a few seconds looked up at me and suddenly said, "Dad, you would have to give up your job for Lent."

The first response that popped into my head was, "Give up my job? That would't be too hard to do." Then a moment later, before I made the mistake of speaking my mind, I realized, "My son thinks I like my job so much that it would be a sacrifice worthy of Lent to give it up!".  While I do love my jobs (recruiter, teacher, board member, writer) and am grateful that I can do something I enjoy to make a living, giving them up would not necessarily qualify as denial in the strictly canonical sense.  However, I was thrilled that I have been able to make such an impression on my son.

How many kids out there are growing up listening to Mom and/or Dad complain on a regular basis about their crappy jobs and tyrannical bosses.  As our children grow into young adults, what will be their view of work and careers?  Will it be something to look forward to with enthusiasm as the next step in a fullfilling and exciting life?  Or will they fear the coming 40 to 50 years as ones of drudgery and imprisonment.  And, when they fear it, how enthusiastically will they prepare for it?

We parents all know that work is never good or bad all the time.  There will always be days when nothing seemed to work out well and it feels like it will be more of the same tomorrow.  Sharing only the good with our kids is a disservice to them as it will not equip them for their futures.  Likewise, exposing them only to the complaints is going to dampen their motivation.  Employers want young people with enthusiasm, energy and optimism.  Setting an example by visibly enjoying our lives (including work) can help to encourage that attitude in our kids.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Play to win, not for you but for your kids.

Stanford University received 34,200 applications in 2011; they admitted 2,394 students.  The same year, 35,000 high school students applied to Harvard University; 2,450 were accepted.  In the corporate world, Goldman Sachs received 150,000 applications (new grad and mid-career) and hired only 6,000.  Whether we like it or not, the world is a competitive place.  There are limited resources such as job openings at Goldman Sachs and the candidates who are better at doing the job, impressing the interviewer, networking or just lucky will get the job.  The other 144,000 will have to look for something else.

football,victory,sportsI had a chance to play dodge ball with my son, his friends and their parents at a school event recently.  It was great fun and all sorts of muscles I had forgotten about were hurting the next morning.  During the game though, one of the other fathers kept trying to even out the sides to the detriment of our side which happened to be stronger and winning.  I am not an ultra-competitive person myself but I would like my son to be more driven to win.  If he is going to play, he should play to win.  I don't want him holding back on the playing field because he thinks he needs to be "considerate" or "give other people a chance" to be first sometimes. 

There are several games now out on the market under the category "cooperative games" such as Count Your Chickens.  There are no losers and everyone works together to complete the game.  Learning to work together is a great skill and one that employers value.  However, cooperation in the real world may be more like my experience with Monoply as a kid when my siblings and I would team up to beat my Dad (we never did actually beat him).

I know it might look funny seeing a 40 year old playing all out against a bunch of 10 year olds with the dodge ball but our kids will see if we hold back and they will learn from that. If they watch Mom or Dad playing hard and playing to win (fairly of course), then our kids will feel that they too have permission to do the same.  No, we are not really talking about dodge ball here.  We are talking about our sons getting into college, we are talking about our daughters beating out the competition for a job or a promotion.  We should encourage our kids to win.  Interestingly, the word "encourage" means to inspire with courage, spirit or confidence.  That is what we should be hoping for, that our actions and support are inspiring our children to reach for something more. 

In the previous article, Focus on the strengths and "critical" weaknesses, forget the rest. I spoke about the need for our kids to be outstanding when applying for a job.  The drive to win can supply some of the motivation and energy needed to get beyond mediocre.  It can even help them to stand out in an interview and it could be the deciding factor on getting the job.  I have had managers tell me that they chose a candidate because she seemed to want the job more than the others.

I know, winning isn't everything but it is definitely better than losing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Focus on the strengths and "critical" weaknesses, forget the rest.

Let's start with a few assumptions. 
  1. There are only 24 hours in a day.
  2. Parents are human beings and therefore not perfect.
  3. Kids are little human beings and are also not perfect.
We all want our kids to excel.  We put them into after school activities to encourage their artistic streaks or sports teams to help their bodies develop.  We hire tutors to get them through 6th grade math and then secretly read the texts at night so that we have some idea of how to solve the problems ourselves.  When our kids fail, we feel as though it is our failure and we then dedicate ourselves to spending more time reading with them, playing catch with them, signing them up for more programs, buying them more study tools (ipads??) in the hopes that next time they/we will succeed.

Parenting is a full time job but even so, there is not enough time to help our kids in every area of need.  Now say this with me, "Our kids will never be perfect."  That wasn't so hard was it?  Now how about this one, "It is OK if our kids are not perfect." This should not be a difficult concept to comprehend since nobody out there is perfect but for a parent it can be a struggle to admit it.

All children are born with certain strengths and weaknesses.  Genetics is funny that way.  Then, as our kids grow, they develop additional strengths and weaknesses.  Some of the weaknesses are critical ones and our kids will need to work hard to overcome.  Reading well is a difficult skill to do without in the world today.  If your daughter has trouble in that area then it is great that she has loving parents to help her improve.  Other weaknesses, are not such a big deal.  It is OK if your son is tone deaf.  He may not become a successful musician but that is OK too.

Please recall assumption number one, there are only 24 hours in the day.  There is not enough time to improve on our son's every weakness and build on each of his strengths.  Doing so would result in a young man who does not stand out.  He will be mediocre.  Instead, we should go for "outstanding" or "amazing".  The only way to do that is to focus on his strengths, improve on the "critical" weaknesses and leave the other weaknesses alone.

We all want our kids to grow up to be confident, self-sufficient adults.  Their future employers want that from them as well.  Confidence comes from a regular diet of success.  Building on existing strengths increases the probability of frequent achievements.

When our children head out for job interviews and careers they will need to show how they are better than the competition.  There will be many mediocre kids applying for jobs and differentiation will be the key to getting the offer.  Along with  the confidence that comes from being good at something, employers will also appreciate the focus and dedication that went into becoming the captain of the soccer team, a published author at 19 or the developer of five popular iPhone apps while in college. 

And, our kids will be happier too.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

To do lists build confidence (good for interviews!)

One of the key requirements for success in any interview is displaying confidence.  Interviewers are not looking for cockiness or arrogance but they do want to see a young person who is sure of themselves and believes that they can be successful.  With new graduates, most companies will not expect your son or daughter to actually know anything specific about the job.  The assumption is that our kids will need to be trained.  They will not be adding much value to the organization any time soon.  A confident young man or woman will seem more capable of taking on something new.  And to be perfectly frank, almost everything they are exposed to in the job will be new.

Building enduring confidence in our kids is not easy.  They know nothing about the world (compared to us parents), they are physically awkward initially, then just when they are getting more comfortable with their bodies puberty hits and it starts all over again.  Hormones wreak havoc with what we adults refer to as logical thinking and social pressures are everywhere.  Add school and grades on top of all this and you can see how our kids might feel knocked down or powerless fairly often.  This brings us to a powerful weapon in our educational arsenal, the to do list!

Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the tough days for our 11 year old son.  He gets home from school and on Monday he has swimming and Wednesdays and Thursdays he has soccer.  There is no time in between school and the activities for him to do homework so dinner, shower/bath and homework all have to happen between 6:00pm when he returns and 9:00pm (ish) when he is supposed to go to bed.  He is rushed, there is usually yelling involved and I am sure he often heads off to bed feeling cranky and depressed.

Exhibit A

Enter the to do list.  When he arrived home from school the other day I wrote out a simple schedule (see Exhibit A).  I sat next to him and handed him the pen and told him to write down what he needed to do and when he expected to do it.  He grumbled at first but finally wrote out the different assignments he had for that evening including a shower (particularly important on soccer days).  At first he just listed them all between 7 and 9 but I made him add in the times he expected to start each one.  By then it was time to head off to soccer and he gratefully escaped from his annoying father.

That evening (after I reminded him about his list) he finished everything with a little time to spare.  Getting his work done with a minimum amount of fuss is great of course and learning time management skills will be useful no matter what he ends up doing with his life.  But, I think there is more.  He now has a tool that gives him control.  He is a master of time and with that comes a certain amount of confidence in his ability to get things done.  If this relatively simple and universal tool becomes a habit, he will be less intimidated by big projects at school (and work), confident that he can tackle new problems by breaking them down into smaller ones on his list and in all likelihood be more productive.

It would be nice if the to do list guaranteed that our kids would all grow up as confident, secure adults but unfortunately it is not that easy.  Self confidence is influenced by everything around our kids; families, friends, physical appearance, grades, luck, etc.  The to do list works because it is a tool that helps our kids achieve something and feel good about themselves.  They write it, they are responsible for it and therefore it is solely their accomplishment.   Remember to praise their hard work and independence when they are finished as well.