Let me start out by saying, in the words of MacArthur Genius and UPenn Professor Angela Ducksworth:
People differ from one another on innumerable dimensions. Many traits follow a bell-shaped, or normal, distribution. Height, for instance. There are outliers, yes, but, even the very tallest man in the world is – at 8 foot 5 inches - only 1/3 taller than the average man.
I'm not posting this to disparage your child's chances of success (though a little expectation management never hurt anyone). I'm posting it to help you help them maximize their chances for achievement and success.
In my last post, When "Achievement" is Toxic: My Thoughts on the (most recent) Gunn Suicide, and How to Prevent the Next One, I borrowed some very important insights from Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.
In short, Pink writes that the world has changed. While we used to value "knowledge workers," like doctors, accountants, engineers and lawyers... we now have "The Three A's:" Automation, Availability and Asia.
Automation means that computers and machines can now do many jobs -- including being a doctor or lawyer -- better, cheaper and faster than humans. In spite of all the buzz about computer science right now, there are even computer programs now that can write computer programs. So just memorizing things well or just knowing the law or just being able to write good code is no longer enough to make you successful in life. A computer can (or will soon be able to) do those things better than you.
Availability refers to the fact that we now have better access to almost anything than ever before. There was a time when, if you needed to buy a new hair brush, you'd go to the mom and pop shop in your town and buy the hair brush they had for sale there. Now, there's Walmart, Walgreens, Target, Amazon, Safeway, and so many more -- often either right across the street from each other, or even in the palm of your hand. Each has dozens of different hair brushes to choose from. How do you design a product that stands out?
Asia refers to the ease with which companies can now outsource work to developing countries. And we're not talking just manufacturing jobs. We're talking engineering and medical jobs. According to Ginger.io, 80% of what doctors do can now be done better by computers. And as radiology images can now instantly be sent to doctors in India and operations will soon be able to be done remotely via machines... you've got to have skills and insights that this cheaper, equally-educated workforce doesn't.
So what do these "Three A's" have to do with the log-normal achievement?
They mean that straight A's are no longer enough to make yourself stand out in the job market. In order to stand out, you're going to have to be above-average at a number of different skills and qualifications, including things like:
Not to mention skills like resilience, risk-taking, time management, determination, niche expertise and efficiency. To name a few.
It makes sense, right? Your child isn't going to be the next internet millionaire if he can't convince VC's to invest in his company. She's not going to get into a top graduate school or medical school if her peers don't like her (when narrowing down their list of candidates, admissions officers ask current students which of the potential admits would be a "good fit" -- and most companies do this, too). He's not going to be able to create content and marketing campaigns that stand out in a world of billboards and banner ads if he can't think outside the box. (Check out some of these incredibly inspiring and effective PSAs that were certainly not the result of a 4.0:)
Landmine campaign -- printed on ketchup packets. Chilling.
Another chilling example of telling the story by thinking outside the box.
Help For Child Abuse Victims. The version on the right is only visible from 4.5 feet or lower. It reads, "If someone is hurting you, call this number."
A great lawyer who's just a great lawyer can make $600/hour, about half of which is take home income. Lawyers with great management and leaderships skills can get equity in their firm, bringing home $1.5-3M per year. Lawyers who have the right skills and leverage themselves as political consultants, writers or investors -- with a net worth of anywhere from $7M... to $2 billion.
Heck, your child's not even going to be able to solve the toughest problems at NASA if all they've ever been good at is problem sets. Trust me. They've studied this. Forumla One and CalTech's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) found that "tinkerers," graduates who did things like fix cars and build tree forts, far outperform "hoop jumpers" when solving real-world problems. And so they've made it a practice to ask job applicants about their childhood activities and play behavior.
This means that being perfect at any one thing (grades, SATs, etc.) isn't going to make your kid a success. Instead, your child has to be above-average at a number of different traits and skills in order to make their dreams come true.
And, incidentally, knowing (roughly) what those dreams are... starts with your child's interests and passions. Not every interest is eventually going to turn a profit. But you never know what could turn into a great startup idea -- or even just generate some supplemental income. I know a guy who loves basketball. He studies neuroscience, but he loves basketball. He learned to program one semester... and BuzzerBeater, an online basketball simulation game, was born.
This guy is still a full-time scientist -- but with very little effort, he makes extra money each month because of a game he made several years ago.
And think about it -- a little extra money each month now will be a small fortune in the future. Saving $100 per month at a 5% interest rate for 30 years adds up to $80,158.81. Saving $100 per month at an 8% interest rate for 40 years adds up to $313,040.27. So I'm thinkin'... if your kid wants to start selling jewelry on Etsy, that's probably actually a really good investment.
(Even if they make exactly $0 -- even if they lose money! -- it's still a good idea. Because 1) Having goals in adolescence is correlated with better mental health, and 2) You can't teach experience.)
Another guy I know quit his cushy job at Microsoft to pursue a career... in standup comedy. Some months are slow, and he supplements his income by driving for Lyft. Other months, he's flown around the country to do his routine alongside some of the nation's wittiest minds. I've never seen him happier. Having fostered several different kinds of intelligence (risk-taking, resilience, humor, performance, etc.), he had the freedom to pursue this lifestyle -- and if he ever decides comedy is no longer for him, I'm sure he's going to rock his next round of job interviews.
Or maybe, just maybe, he'll be the next Jay Leno. That wouldn't be too bad, either.
Anyway, the point of this post is:
1. Your child will "probably" not be super successful; but
2. You can help them maximize their chances for success by giving them time, space and opportunities to develop skills other than good grades (especially considering that everyone who applies to top schools and top jobs will all have good grades, too); and
3. Even if your child doesn't end up among the most successful people in the world, the skills they develop during their journey could help them be more valuable at their company, have the niche expertise and business savvy to start their own small company, or even just supplement their income during the first few years of their career, when saving is harder (yet more profitable, longterm) than it ever will be again. It's a new world -- and there are more ways to make money than ever.
To learn more about this, don't miss:
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid For Success, by former Stanford dean Julie Lythcott-Haims
Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown, MD, founder of the National Institute for Play
The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, by psychiatrist Madeline Levine
Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies or "Fat Envelopes,"
by psychiatrist Madeline Levine
Or even just:
Good Schools Don't Turn Kids Into Zombies. Bad Parents Do.
High-Achieving Teens Feel Empty. Therapy Doesn't Help, But This Might
Half of America's Top Grads Do The Same Six Jobs After Graduation. The Reason Why is Depressing.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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