The path to success – a straight or squiggly line?
Are we doing out kids disfavor when we try to stake out a path to success that involves moving in a linear progression onward and upward? Are we setting them up for disappointment? Are we failing them by pushing them to apply for the most competitive educations from high school through university? There’s a good chance we are! Many parents have a very narrow idea of what success looks like. We tend to value money higher than character. Our hearts are in the right places, but pushing our kids to stay on a steady track instead of experimenting around in different areas may be hurting them in the long run. Making our kids believe that success is a straight line is unrealistic and sets them up for failure. The new job world is complicated and filled with wacky and misleading titles, making it difficult for parents and our children to grasp what a job entails.
New titles (WTF?)
Here are just a few examples I’ve seen in ads: growth hacker, innovation sherpa, director of insights, digital overlord, retail Jedi, software ninjaneer, content hero, sales rockstar, brand warrior, chief heart officer (HR Manager), director of fundom (Marketing Manager) and colon lover (Copywriter) just to name a few. The last title might attract more applicants by changing the name. But I digress. Let’s return to the path to success. Dr. Madeline Levine, a psychologist with nearly 40 years of experience as a clinician, consultant, educator and author, has asked more than 100,000 people from all walks of life who consider themselves successful if they’ve followed a straight path or a squiggly path. Levine states that the proportion of straight-line people makes up about 10 percent while the remaining 90 percent consists of people “who’ve taken risks, failed, changed course, recovered, often failed again, but ultimately found their stride.” So, what does this tell us? Well, quite a bit, in fact.
While some of our generation may have traveled a linear path from school to success, most of us took numerous detours while getting from point A to point B, so why shouldn’t our kids? I’ve had many more failures than successes, and my path has been anything but straight. I graduated from high school, went to university, dropped out, joined the navy, went to commercial aviation school, sold insurance, tended bar, got a graduate degree, owned and lost a pub, went bankrupt, became a jet-ski guide, lectured at universities, sold tickets to booze cruises, became a bouncer, a diplomat and a treaty-compliance observer, just to name a few. If that’s not squiggly, nothing is! What our kids need most today to be successful is to learn how to collaborate, be curious, take risks, fail, pick themselves up and try again. These basic traits can help our kids find success, whatever they define that to be. There are many different ways to measure success, of course.
For some people, success is financial independence while raising a healthy and happy family fills the bill for others. Doing fulfilling work and making a difference is another way as is contributing to your community. Levine says, “One of the patterns that I see regularly among people who consider themselves successful is real passion about the work they do: the kind of passion that makes them work harder than others, welcome mistakes and even failures as learning opportunities, and feel that what they do has impact. While money may be inherited, real success always has to be earned.” It seems that taking the squiggly path is what leads to success for the majority of people. It certainly did for me.