“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I’ll give you a stock clerk.”—J.C. Penney
If you’ve read anything I’ve written about parenthood over the past couple years you know that I’m against heaping hollow praise on kids. I’ve railed against participation trophies and parents who are anti-competition.
Our generation tends to overdo it when “Junior” scrapes the low end of mediocrity, and that’s a recipe for disaster as kids try and make it in the real world. Now I finally have a little backup.
I can honestly say after finding all this information that the most important quality you can teach your kid is hard work.
Yes, you need to teach them how to talk, how to throw a football, and not get scammed by a car dealer. But it’s becoming more and more clear that hard work trumps talent every time.
Instilling hard work in kids has been something I’ve felt strongly about for a long time, but now for some of the info I’ve come across: I finally got a copy of NurtureShock, one of the more controversial parenting books on the market. The book blows the lid off of just about anything you can think of, but it was the first chapter that caught my attention. It’s titled: “The Inverse Power of Praise: Sure he’s special, but if you tell him that, you’ll ruin him. It’s a neurological fact.”
NurtureShock states that kids will perform much better if you praise their hard work instead of just telling them how smart or great they are, which most parents do (including me sometimes). Make this mistake and they will constantly under perform.
The book presumes that when kids are always told that they’re smart, they don’t feel the need to work hard. The authors put kids though a battery of tests after complimenting one group on their hard work and complimenting a second group on just being smart. They found out the first group wanted to learn and work hard to get the grade they wanted after receiving the praise. The second group threw in the towel because they knew they were smart anyway. They figured, “what’s the point of working hard if I’m already brilliant?” Yikes.
We’re all probably familiar with Outliers, Malcom Gladwell’s book about success. He gives a lot of reasons why people are successful (including holding your kids back, but that’s a topic for a different day). The strongest point he makes is that to be an expert on anything, you need to do it for 10,000 hours. Talent be damned.
He tells a great story about the Beatles and their success. It wasn’t that they were such amazing musicians as it was the fact that they played in a Berlin strip club for eight hours a day for months when they were nobodies. All that practicing made them better musicians, performers, and really taught them how to play together. Again, they worked their asses off and the rest is history.
Penelope Trunk writes the “Brazen Careerist” blog, which is a combination of career advice, shocking personal revelations and thoughts on life. She’s a hell of a writer and wrote about what it takes to be an expert. She came up with the same thing: it ain’t talent. One interesting point she made is that to really become that expert you need coaching along with hard work. That’s where parents come in. We are our kid’s first coaches in just about everything they try—and we should take that job seriously.
So now that we know our kids need to learn to work hard, how the hell do we instill this in them? Good question. I constantly wrestle with how to teach my kids how to work hard—consistently. I just know it needs to be done so we don’t find them smoking pot, watching Scooby-Doo, and living on our couches in 20 years.
While I don’t have the answers, I’m sure you won’t be shocked to know that I have an idea. Let your kids see you working your ass off. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself at a job you hate and get home late every night. It means that whatever your passion is: guitar, writing, or spinning bottles like Tom Cruise in “Cocktail,” you should work hard to master it, and love it.
Let them see you working hard at something you love and it can’t help but rub off.