How Will Parents End Rebellion, Distrust, and Mediocrity in Their Children?
When I was a kid, my adoptive father was an evangelical physician and he expected I would also become a medical doctor. I was a concert pianist at the time I was 8. At around the same time, I was in a biology class that required dissecting a bug. I passed out. A couple of years later, the teacher required that we dissect a frog. I passed out. In pre-med at USC, I walked into a room where there was a cadaver. This time, I threw up, passed out, and hit my head against the table as I went down. The professor pointed out the obvious. He said, “I don’t think you are designed to become a doctor.”
The Industrial Revolution established a 300-year-old mindset of fitting into a series of chaste systems. The less bright took blue-collar jobs. The middle became white-collar workers. The more elite became professionals. But, there was one overriding standard in the revolution that trumped mission, vision, purpose, fulfillment, and joy. No matter what, work was selected to produce predictability and survival. My father tried to push and shove me into medicine until it became clear that in the role there would be no survival for the patient as well as myself.
For 13 years, I worked as a staffing executive here in Los Angeles. I did it so that I could live in Malibu until I got a recording contract. In 1990, it happened. 3 weeks later, my producer died of a heart attack at 37. His passing was the turning point. I realized I knew nothing about being happy at the moment. I was always working towards that down the road. I realized that even though I aspired to a very narrow career outcome (concerts and records), I wanted to give my life to something more meaningful.
Since our first program, well over 40,000 people have, in many cases, wildly different lives than the ones they were having when they walked in the doors of our programs. We use the Socratic process, that ancient method of getting people to their own truth by asking the right questions. Until we engage in deep self-inquiry, many of us are living, to varying degrees, someone else’s life.
The detour usually happens when we are children, perhaps 10-14 years old. This is when humans start envisioning themselves as adults. We dream, we observe, and we try on ideas. But it is an adult who steps forward and suppresses the exploration. There are just a few things that I know for sure. One of them is we come into this world with a purpose that is as detailed as our physical DNA. Until we find it, to varying degrees, we suffer. It’s a bit like showing up in an ill-fitting suit. But, this has also been the norm.
Many of the people I’ve worked with made a wrong turn because someone took over the development of their lives. They thought they knew better. They were afraid for their child’s future. They wanted us to be safe. But, for most, work became a source of predictability and survival. Only a very few rebelled so badly or were raised so wisely to step into what they were born to do and to do that with practical success.
We are well into the biggest restructuring of work since the printing revolution. Half of our country’s workers characterize themselves as “underemployed.” People are challenged with what they will do if task work disappears. And now, this is also the most important time in history to do the work that we love.
Where the cycles of jobs, projects, and methods change more quickly every day, the life skills many of us avoided are now critical, whether we love the work or not. These life skills include connectivity, consultative sales, presentation skills, finding the right kind of help, and building customized support systems. For many, the development of these skills requires courage. But, after helping people define and live up to the work they most love, I can tell you it is not only doable, developing these skills are transformative.
The only reliable fuel that produces sustained success in an accelerating world is loving our work. When we are connected to our purpose, we become far more willing to change ourselves. It isn’t about the change around us that floors so many. It is changing ourselves to be successful. Far too many of us have had parents who pushed us to do work we would never connect to. But, many also demonized the same skills that all of us need to thrive in this new world.
The human spirit is so very potent that when we tell a child that their vision is irrelevant, many of them try to put it away. But, that spirit will push them to rebel, often at great cost to their happiness as well as the possibilities of joy within the family.
I was sitting in a lounge at the airport, working on a new book. A gentleman was sitting next to me, also working. All of a sudden he turned to me and said, “You are so caught up in what you are doing, may I ask what you are working on?”
I went on to tell him that I’m working with a colleague, Dr. Mary Campbell. We believe that families and children need a new mindset on how to prepare for the future of work. I laughed, “The average college graduate will change careers, not jobs, 4-6 times. That requires a new outlook.”
His face went sheet white.
I asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve been at war with my daughter for the past two years.”
“What on earth for?”
“She wants to become a marine biologist. She also wants to go to a college with a big marine biology program. There are so many careers where she could make far more money and not have to travel so much.”
“How is she going to make so much money if she doesn’t love the work?”
I got to be there as his life changed. He said, “I’m doing the wrong thing aren’t I?”
“You are absolutely doing the wrong thing?”
“What do you suggest?”
“Well, actually, I just saw a change of heart. I’ll tell you if you promise not to harden it back up as you fly home to Denver.”
“When you get home, throw your arms around her and apologize. You are sorry that you gave her the message, ‘Don’t be you.’ It is the worst idea we can give any child. Tell her you believe she will make a wonderful marine biologist and that if she chooses to forgive you, you will focus your energy on helping her become successful. You will freely help her develop the life skills that made you so successful in your career. But, above all, you want her to be happy with her work and her life.”
His plane was boarding and tears were flowing.
For most of us, work is the biggest relationship that we have. No one has the right to tell us who to love or to just get a job. Work is the single greatest opportunity to define what is meaningful to us. And, as the work speeds up, only love will push all of us to stay with it.
Today, when someone asks how to live through the disruption of work as we have known it, I have responded, “Do what you love.”
When I tell people that active and fierce learning, daily learning is key to staying relevant, they ask me what to study and I respond, “Study what you love.”
Technology is finally taking away tasks, repetitive and mind-numbing work. It is giving us the freedom to do the work that we love. Continuing to look for tasks is the mission of the underemployed.
Many of the happiest people that I know are young people who rebelled against the restrictive beliefs of their parents. But, this doesn’t have to continue. Trust me. As we let go of the obsolete and moldy work model of the past, we will find new things that frighten us.
After all, isn’t that human nature? Many years ago, Andy Warhol gave us the secret to happiness. He said,
“Do what you love, you can always sell it.”
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