Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Volume XVI, Number 1 Spring 2019
The most difficult and poignant questions I am asked after presenting to groups of wealthy
families are about their young adults failing to thrive as mature, high-functioning citizens
and family members. Here are some of the questions. “How do we get our young adults to
lead productive lives?” Or “How do I get my kids to go after success – any success – like
I did?” Or “I understand how you got on your feet after stumbling through your twenties.
My kids have had opportunities to get on their feet too, but they don’t take them. What
makes the difference?” Or from an advisor, “My client’s sons are intimidated by their dad:
how can we help them?”
There is a lot more than parental pain revealed in these questions, it is family pain. There
are three main concerns here to address. First, what messages did your young adult get
while growing up? Second, how can you get your kids to take charge of their lives and be
captains of their own ships rather than what looks like drifting? And third, how can you
now encourage, support and expect competence from your rising generation?
Addressing these concerns and questions is clearly far more manageable when offspring
are very young and parents have the chance to make conscious decisions about how they
will encourage and instill grit. If you have heard me speak you have heard me promote the
importance of setting examples intentionally. This cannot be overstated. We have to be
careful that running a successful business doesn’t come at the expense of the examples,
lessons, and time that children need from their parents.
Kids learn what they see. When entrepreneurial parents are climbing the ladder of an
expanding and flourishing business, they are often devoting the majority of their attention
to the business and skimping on family time. It is easier for parents with plenty of
resources to spend money on and/or give money to their kids, hoping to make up for their
absence, than to say “no” and “later.” It is also easier to manage business challenges
without including an aspect of educating young family members in the process. Kids can
miss many chances to see parents cope with setbacks, disappointments, doubts, successes
and decision-making, and then are left to make assumptions about all of it. Not only do
they not get to see parents’ grit in action, the abundance of ease and luxury demotivates
them to develop their own.
Lately I have become more fascinated than ever with how we learn and grow. I have just
finished two books, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
and Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III
and Mark A. McDaniel. Both of these books challenge our assumptions about how and why we
learn. Both of them include advice for parenting and for learning.
Because families meet me as an expert, I know that many parents of these young adults hope for a
magic bullet from me, something I can tell them to do that’s pretty easy and specific and that will
fix everything. Sadly, no such magic exists. The good news is that in most cases, yes, your young
adult can make their way to a meaningful, fulfilling, productive life; but the tough news is that it
is hard work and it takes a lot of time, commitment, focus and dedication. There is no short cut.
The best advice is tricky. While no one thinks helicopter parents are wise, it is also folly to think
that kids are likely to find their way to success entirely on their own. Kids need support in their
endeavors, just how much and what kind varies from one child to the next. Since this varies for
each individual child, there isn’t a formula to apply equally throughout the family.
We all need a measure of grit to be successful and in Grit, Duckworth simplifies the process of
growing grit to four psychological assets. The first three generally develop in order. First, interest.
“Passion begins with intrinsically enjoying what you do.” (Grit p. 91). Second, the capacity to
practice. She has a lot to teach us about ways to deepen practice and make it more effective. Make
It Stick is packed with specific, researched strategies to practice better. And third, purpose. “What
ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters….It is therefore imperative that you
identify your work as both personally interesting and, at the same time, integrally connected to the
well-being of others.” (Grit p. 91).
The fourth psychological asset, energizing every step in the process and, in fact, defining every
stage: hope. “Hope is a rising-to-the-occasion kind of perseverance….It is inestimably important
to learn to keep going when things are difficult, even when we have doubts.” (Grit pp. 91-92).
Duckworth also highlights the powerful quality of follow through. Virtually every one of her
paragon of grit examples throughout the book excels in follow through.
The authors in both Grit and Make it Stick point out the importance of getting help. This can
certainly be a family member who believes in you. It can also be a mentor, a coach, a therapist, a
pastor, a friend or an acquaintance. Everyone who grows gritty acknowledges the vital importance
of getting a helping hand along the way.
The wise parent will make the following very clear to their children: you have to do the work. If
you think this sounds like too much trouble (“I’d rather go out and party and just drift through
life.”), the sad result is – and look at this statement – you will miss 95% of what life has to offer.
The rewards of making a life you like are immeasurably more than worth the hard work. If I could
give all of the parents and offspring I meet one asset, it would be hope. Don't ever give up