Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Confidence vs Optimism or... I think I can vs I hope I can?

I am very much a "glass half full" kind of guy. We can get into semantics about how it depends on whether you start with an empty glass and add water (filling it up so it is half full) or if you start with a full glass and pour out half (emptying it so it is half empty) but I still look at life's silver linings more often than not. I believe that being optimistic makes me a happier headhunter. I expect every candidate I introduce to get hired (even though I know that the statistics tell a different story). Apparently, it also makes me a healthier headhunter too. According to Harvard Medical School: 

Research tells us that an optimistic outlook early in life can predict better health and a lower rate of death during follow-up periods of 15 to 40 years. Harvard Health Publishing 

 Being so darn bright and cheerful all the time got me to thinking about how to encourage my kids (and yours) to be optimistic as well. Then I thought, "Is there a difference between optimism and confidence and is it better for our kids to be confident or optimistic?"  Is confidence when they think they "can" do something and optimism when they think they "might" be able to do it? 

George, Charles and Noah (Merriam-Webster) define confidence as a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or of reliance on one's circumstances.  They define optimism as an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome.

The definition of confidence sounds almost mathematical in its precision. There is a distance that your son has successfully jumped before so he knows that he can jump the same distance again. 

While I think optimism is a good thing, the above definition carries with it an unfortunate hint of wishful thinking. Like the high school student who doesn't study for his exams but still thinks he might somehow get an A. The belief that good things will happen through no effort on our kid's part is not what we are striving for. I want to see my son anticipate the best possible outcome from his own actions.

"Things will work out" sounds more like optimism than confidence. Can your kids be confident and pessimistic at the same time? How about optimistic but not confident? My wife would say that she is not pessimistic but rather realistic. 

Optimism allows our kids to view obstacles and problems as temporary. Pessimism brings about a "what's the point?" kind of attitude. We can take this a step further and imagine a confident young woman but with a pessimistic outlook. Even though she is sure of herself when it comes to her personal skills and knowledge, she hesitates to take on new challenges and opportunities.

I want my kids to have a sense that if there is the possibility of either a good outcome or a bad one, the good one will at least have an equal chance of coming true. Why start anything new or take any risks if the belief is always that it will not work out? The difference seems to be that with optimism there is a sense of external causality and with confidence, it is more focused on one's own internal capabilities. 

I am going to go on record here and say that if you can only have one (both is best) then optimism will take you further than confidence. With optimism, even if you are not sure of your own capabilities, you might still be hopeful enough to try that new thing, say yes to the opportunity offered and apply for that job you are not 100% qualified for.

We have covered confidence several times in this newsletter but how do you raise optimistic kids? For those of you who have been regular readers of the Headhunter Dad you may not be surprised that "modeling" the right behavior is at the top of the list. If Mom and Dad are acting pessimistic and complaining all the time, guess what, the kids are going to do the same. Be positive and focus on what is going right in your life. At least around the kids. The second activity is actually the same as discussed in the article about building confidence. Encourage them to take on new challenges. They will fail sometimes (many times) but when they succeed, make a big deal about it. As they get older the successes will be stronger memories than the failures and help them to develop both confidence and optimism. Who knows, maybe some of this positive thinking will rub off on you too.

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Gamification of Parenting. Should we let them win?

In a recent gin rummy match with my 12-year-old daughter, I totally dominated, winning 3 straight games in a row of our 5 game tourney. I am the master of gin rummy! We had bet on the game (chores not money) and she was grumpy after the 2nd loss and miserable after the 3rd and final loss. She went off to her room for the evening and I did not see her again until the next day.

OK, so then I felt bad. I didn't really rub it in when she lost and I was a good winner (I think). But when your kids are sad you want to do whatever it takes to cheer them up. This got me to thinking about whether the games we play with our kids will have an impact on their career prospects in the future. More precisely, not so much which games we play with them but rather how we approach that competition.

The science of confidence, as we have discussed several times in this newsletter, points to overcoming adversity and succeeding as the origin of self-esteem and self-confidence for our kids. If they try something and fail and never try it again, they will only remember failing. Apparently, it does not matter what the activity is as long as it requires some effort on the part of our kids. If it is easy or there is too much luck involved then it will have less of an impact on their psyche. Doing the hard things to get better and seeing that there is a reward for not giving up is what gives our children what they need to take on that next challenge, and the next and the next.

Following this train of thought as it applies to games, it does matter what the game is. Chess for example which is 100% skill (there are no dice and no luck of the draw) should work well. Beat the pants off your kids a couple times and as they learn more about the game and get better they eventually win and build confidence. A game like Candy Land which is based entirely on which card you draw is all about luck. Most kids will realize that they are not really contributing to the win. Age may matter here though. a 3-year-old playing a luck-based game may still feel good about themselves when they beat Mom or Dad while the 15-year-old knows that it is luck. 

Age brings me back to the main point I want to resolve. Should I let my kids win and if so, should it be sometimes, occasionally, often? If you let a 3-year-old win they will not know that you did it. They may even develop some of that valuable confidence we are trying to instill. A 15-year-old on the other hand will at least suspect we let them win and I bet that it would have the oppositive impact from what we are trying to achieve. What if you continue to win to the point where your kids no longer want to play with you, do you force them to continue playing? If you let them quit are you missing a chance to teach them that if they keep trying they will eventually overcome? 

As with most of my articles, I dove into the internet to see what others had to say about this and could not find a consensus. It seems like everyone has let their kids win at some point and everyone thinks it is OK to let kids win... except when you should not let them win. Maybe the Headhunter Wife is correct (as she usually is) and it is not a big deal either way and I am just overthinking it. What do you think?

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

Friday, January 22, 2021

It's never to late, probably...

It is never too late to start something new.  Granted, when talking about a career that needs to be taken in a more general sense.  At the age of 50, the Yankees are not going to sign me to start as shortstop for them no matter how many hours I spend at the batting cage nor how enthusiastic I am about being a part of the team.  However, I may be able to find a way into a sports-related job even though I have not done it before.

This phrase, "it is never too late" can be seductive though and I use seductive in the same way that Greek sirens were seductive. Ulysses met an island of sirens in the Odyssey where they tried to lure him and his men to shipwreck with their enchanting singing and beautiful voices. He escaped but the analogy holds true. If our kids follow the path of "least decision" they may find their careers shipwrecked.

Nevertheless, as our kids can expect longer and longer lives thanks to better diets, exercise, and medicine, there is time for multiple careers and late bloomers. Figuring out what they want to do is not something our kids necessarily need to be rushed into.

One of the biggest challenges our children face though is their own preconceptions. When our kids are 18, they think they are adults and there is no time for anything. How many college graduates do you think there are, who upon graduation, decide to go back to college for a completely new degree? Granted there is a cost but I warrant that most consider the additional 3 to 4 years more than they do the expense. When your daughter is 23, looking ahead to being 26, graduating (again) seems like it will be too late and too old. This is reinforced by all her friends who are graduating and getting into jobs now. Our kids are growing up in an environment where starting something new may be perceived as going backwards rather than what it actually represents, shifting to a new path.

Not all careers are created equal. My brother was able to start a successful career as a high school math teacher at the age of 35. However, there are also careers where youth is considered more strictly than others. The big management consulting firms like to hire young consultants and are rarely willing to bring in a 35 year old junior consultant without impossible to find expertise or some other consulting experience.  Banking can be like that as well. The issue is actually less about the potential of our kids to deliver value to the company but rather existing stereotypes and outdated attitudes about age that still persist in many companies.

“It’s never too late to become who you want to be. I hope you live a life that you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start over.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

As a parent, I hope that I will be able to instill in my kids the drive and willingness to go after the career they discover and crave no matter when they figure it out. Sure, it may be harder to make it happen when they are 30 instead of when they are 22 but it is amazing what motivation and passion can do. Do you think a 22 year old starting and staying in a career they took for lack of any other idea will have a more satisfying life than the 30 year old who quits to start over doing something she loves? 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Sugar and spice and everything nice. That's what little girls are made of.

Raising a son and a daughter I can't help but see differences that I am tempted to believe are gender-related rather than environmental. Both of them were raised by the same parents in the same house so it has to be something else right? The younger one, the girl, is more studious, more obedient, more willing to give up something to make the other happy. The older one, the boy, is more focused on his own stuff, less thoughtful about others at times, and decidedly less studious... But I only have two kids. This ad-hoc experiment would be more decisive if we had two sets of fraternal twins with a boy and a girl as the older ones and another set of a boy and a girl for the younger. Maybe I would discover that the younger ones, both male and female, were more studious than the older ones. Or, maybe I would confirm my suspicion that girls are different.

My real concern is about my daughter's future. If there are differences (and I believe there are) then do we need to help our little girls to grow up in a different way from how we raise our boys. And, if so how? A quick search on Amazon came up with 6,000 results for "raising daughters". I am sure that the advice is all well researched and suitable for a dedicated parent. But I am a headhunter! I have very specific concerns. Will my daughter be competitive in the job market? Will she be promotion material in the corporate world? Will she love what she does for a living?

A few years ago I wrote an article about raising my daughter to be the next Carly Fiorina. It was a good article and helped me to see that, at least according to Carly, I could raise a girl to be aggressive, successful, happy, and proud of her accomplishments. But these days (my daughter was 7 when I wrote that article) it seems more likely that Carly was an outlier and that my daughter with her willingness to let someone else get ahead because they would be sad, is a problem. The other related article I wrote about being too nice addresses this issue very directly with the following quote: 
"...if you let everyone cut in front of you on line then you will never reach the front."
The nursery rhyme* that gave me the title for this article is worrisome. Is it saying that girls are all "nice" or is the rhyme encouraging a stereotype for women that results in them all becoming "nice"? And what does that say about the boys with their snakes and snails and puppy dog tails!

I digress, let's focus on two questions. What, if anything, do girls need to do/say/act differently to succeed in their careers and how as parents do we prepare them for it? The various studies and opinions floating around identify several possible... "weaknesses"? I hate to use this word for what is in almost any other situation a virtue but the reality is that in corporate life where men and their ways are still the norm, weakness is the most apt term. I had planned to list a few but reading through the literature there was an obvious theme to all the points. Women need to be independently and unapologetically decisive in order to succeed in a man's world**. In other words, they can't admit mistakes, they need to skip the consensus and push their own opinions and look out for their own advancement. That sounds more like snakes and snails than sugar and spice to me.

What can we do to help our daughters to grow up to be independently and unapologetically decisive? To start, self-esteem we covered in Dads, Daughters and Self-esteem. Re-read it if you need a refresher. Basically Dad's need to be more involved with their daughters and supportive of their interests and activities. How about decisive? Seems like that would be related to confidence as well. If your daughter is unsure of herself she is more like to second guess herself. Try encouraging and supporting your daughter's ideas, no matter how silly. When she makes a decision, accept it and act on it. If it does not work out then give her a chance to make another decision. Learning that the downside of a bad decision is not the end of the world is what will give her the confidence to speak her mind in the future. Add to this exercise a message on apologies. I like the phrase, "Don't apologize, fix it." Teach our girls to focus on the future rather than dwelling on what has already happened. Being nice and apologizing may help our daughters to get along with their co-workers but moving past their mistakes will help them get ahead.

*This catchy nursery rhyme is most commonly attributed to Robert Southey (1774–1843)
** Arguably and not addressed in this article is the genuine possibility that our daughters can be successful and happy in their careers without competing with the boys on the boy's playing field. Grist for another Headhunter Dad article?

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.