I read the linked article by Catherine Alford over the weekend. It's a light and positive read. It made me smile, since there is much that I love about what today's entrepreneur community represents.
Yet at the same time, it triggered in my mind this very question: do I want my kids to be entrepreneurs?
And what does that even mean?
The burden of being a role model
My kids are 8 and 6. Like all kids, they're bursting with curiosity about the world. They're at the age when what my husband and I do to earn money (to keep them in toys and sweets as they judge it!), is suddenly of real interest. My 8 year old has asked several times recently why I've chosen to set up my own business, while her Daddy is a partner in a large business.
And every time we have this conversation, I can see her weighing up what she hears with how she feels about what she might want to do. Because all of a sudden, she properly understands that she will need to do something.
I hadn't really thought about it until recently. But especially after reading Alford's blog, I realise I'm increasingly cautious about how I explain my own career path and decisions to my kids.
I know that as parents, we are unavoidable role models, good or bad, for our children. So much of who we are as adults and the choices that we make for ourselves and our families inevitably influence the experiences, attitudes and even ambitions that our children develop.
So is there a danger in setting goals or identifying labels - even aspirational ones - for our kids?
I think there is, although it's incredibly difficult to avoid doing it.
What troubled me most over the weekend is whether being an 'entrepreneur' is simply the 21st century equivalent of being the 20th century 'professional'?
In other words, is it potentially, the latest career aspiration trend toward which, as responsible and well-meaning parents, we may be steering our children?
Our children face a less predictable working environment
I grew up at a time when most 'good' parents aspired for their child to join a profession, something that represented intelligence, diligence and discipline, that would pay well and would ultimately (in theory at least), lead to an early and happy retirement.
My parents were both hard-working. They never sugar-coated the fact that hard work was necessary for success and that practice and determination got you closer to perfect.
To their credit, they always told me I could be anything that I wanted to be and that I should 'aim for the stars', (because if you never aim high, how do you ever know what you're really capable of?).
I absolutely believe in the philosophy. Only in those days, 'aiming high' meant getting the best grades that you could, going to university and then joining a profession. Being 'anything you wanted to be' was code language in our house for being a great professional.
And as I waded through schools exams and my university years, I carried this social and parental 'conditioning' with me. I chose to study topics that conformed to the norms of the time and I chose a target profession that I knew would make my parents proud and tick the boxes on the 'must have' list.
(I should say that I have never regretted those choices.)
However, in spite of the fact that my parents would often tell me that it didn't matter what I chose to do and that what was most important was to be happy at what you do, those were not the times when veering off the beaten track was something to be encouraged or celebrated.
Being different in those days was a bit alarming and could well invoke prejudices that would be far less tolerated today. And girls definitely couldn't take the risks that boys could often more easily get away with. The world was less forgiving and less flexible.
Times have changed
And that's a good thing.
But in spite of this, I believe that now more than ever, we should be cautious about creating aspirational targets or labels.
Today's school leavers face a richly diverse and far more flexible working environment (although this comes with its own set of challenges).
By contrast, many workers within my generation have left or are leaving the professions, many as a result of disillusionment with what has become a factory-style existence, from which it seems increasingly impossible to switch off.
When I talk to my parents today about my decision to leave the corporate, professional environment, they wholeheartedly approve of the decision. It's not the future that they envisaged for my sister and I at the time we were growing up. Neither they, nor I, would choose it now for their grandchildren.
I also know that the uncertainty and risk inherent in what I now do makes them anxious - because it is far removed from what they would have counselled in the early 90's.
We need to focus less on labels and more on skill-sets
So while I do love the sentiment and inferred teaching behind Alford's attached article, personally, I'd stop short of using the label 'entrepreneur' (or any other equivalent) as a target career choice for our kids. All sorts of dangers and disappointments may equally lurk there, in time.
Plus none of us can accurately predict just how different our working lives will be in the next 10-20 years, though it's safe to anticipate that they'll be radically different again to what we experience today.
So, when it comes to my kids, I'm going to try really hard to avoid labels. Instead, I'm going to focus as far as possible on helping them to develop skill-sets and attributes that will hopefully enable them to remain versatile. For me, this means:
- taking the best of what my parents taught me and exploring that with my kids: to try hard, to always do their best at everything they do, so that they come out of school with as many options as possible. If they want to aim for something, that's great, but it needn't yet be something strictly defined/compartmentalised. And if they're not great at some things, it's not the end of the world. (The life/career 'lessons' that Alford proposes in the linked article are great in helping with this.)
- supporting my kids genuinely to be whatever they choose, without needing to fit a mould, as long as it will make them a comfortable living
- helping them to work out how to make their aspirations revenue-generating, whether that's through starting out on their own in an entrepreneurial context, or joining another business and being a great worker. Maybe like me, they'll do both in their life-times - I kind of hope that they do, just to experience the richness of variety and the benefits of diverse expertise. But the choice must be theirs.
And like every good parent, I will stand in the shadows and quietly try to do everything that I can to ensure nobody stands in their way - least of all me or subconsciously, my own ideas, labels or preferences for them.
No doubt I will make a lot of mistakes in this attempt, and I'm sure I can already guarantee that their future teenage selves will let me know exactly what they think of those mistakes! But as my parents tell me constantly, that's the joy (and challenge) of being a parent.
In reality, if they do choose to pursue a startup ambition, my kids will probably make better entrepreneurs than I ever will be. They're growing up in a far more collaborative and better networked world where offering answers and sharing solutions is a common fact of working life; they understand better than I ever did that failure is not failure, but a stepping stone to somewhere better; they're not afraid to ask, to challenge, to say no and they don't see any job as an end game, simply a starting place.
It's a powerful starting point.
I'm excited for them and excited to see what they eventually choose to do.
I'd love to hear what you think and how you're dealing with this conundrum. What are you telling your kids and what advice would you share?
One of the great things about being an entrepreneur is feeling a sense of intense pride in your work. However, an even greater feeling is being able to pass down that pride and some entrepreneurial skill to your children. There are many ways to raise your children to be entrepreneurs, and the truth is, they will learn a lot simply by watching you work. However, below are the four main ways to actively impart your entrepreneurial skill set onto your little ones.