Are We Teaching Our Kids to Fail?

I was recently interviewed on the Marilu Henner show, and she raised the topic “Are we teaching our children to fail?”

I think we are, in a sense. For the last couple of generations we have been teaching (and have been taught) that “the goal” is to get a high school diploma, go to college, then get a job. Andrea and I have four children that have successfully navigated this goal. Two are working for universities. One is an intern that already has job offers when the internship is done, and the fourth is out of college with a good job in the private sector.

My problem with that whole scenario is that the goal is the “job.” In school the students are inundated with all the horrible consequences of not getting into college. There are ads on TV showing children talking about going to college and what a wonderful thing that is (and if you’ve ever been, you know that they have a totally wrong notion of what college is all about). All four of our kids had to make a decision about what they were going to study in college during their freshman year of high school so the guidance counsellor could map their course studies. The upshot of this is that my daughter was prohibited from participating in band, which is a shameful reflection on this particular educational obsession. If she wanted band, she would need to eliminate science and math from her curriculum and switch to a fine arts track. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The real problem is that getting a job is not really a life goal. It just means you have a temporary income. I say temporary because if you work for somebody else (including a corporation), your income is wholly dependent on whoever is signing your paycheck. Yes, you have a lot of control over your personal success within the context of the job, but nobody is teaching anybody to do even that much. Thus, once college is complete and the job is secured, we have entire generations now that are banking their entire future and security on a person or entity that has goals that do not include the future and security of their employees.

Case in point: companies I worked for have been sold six times in my career. I was sold along with the company. A couple of these companies were BIG companies. Size has nothing to do with the economics of acquisition. In every instance, great pains were taken to ensure the welfare of the acquired employees. In one case, there was a department that had three times the number of acquired employees whose job it was to ensure their seamless assimilation into the new corporation. However, in every instance it ended badly for the vast majority of those same employees. Ask anybody who’s been through the process.

You can survive an acquisition, and you can thrive in a job. Many people do, just as many people are very successful in other endeavors. The point is that most people are not very successful at either, and I believe that the reason for that is that they are simply in Default Operating Mode, the result being they end up at the mercy of other individuals who have a clear idea of what they want and where they are going.

So, if you have kids or are one yourself (there is no age limit), you need to start figuring out what you really want to do, set your long-term and short-term goals, and start casting some spells.

Posted in Physics of Success