Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Definition of My Daughter's Success

As I read articles about talented college graduates unable to find work because the US job growth rate is not keeping pace with the college graduation rate, I speculate about the best way to define success for my 17 year old daughter.

Is it a high paying job as doctor, lawyer, or stockbroker?

Is it fame resulting from some remarkable talent?

Is it her pursuit of one of my dreams  - being a naturalist, an environmental engineer, or outdoor educator?

Is it successfully competing with some local, regional, or national peers to be the best at something?

Should I compare her to the athletes, musicians, performers, artists, and academicians in her school and ask her to be as good or better than they are?

All such measures of success are perilous.

How many doctors, lawyers, or hedge fund traders have you met that are satisfied with their lives and look forward to the challenges of their career every day?

How well does fame really serve anyone?  Just ask Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, or Michael Jackson's family.

Imprinting unfilled parental dreams on children is likely not sustainable.  Children need to find and pursue their own passions.

Competitive spirit is a great thing to have, except when it leads to a winning at all costs mentality, sacrificing ethics along the way.   Just ask the steroid using baseball players.

Comparing your children to others is an insult to the individuality of your children.   When I think back on my own childhood, my peers who could have been held up as ideal comparisons did not end up with happy or fulfilling lives.   Some peaked in High School.    A journey of continuous optimism and life improvement, striving to be the best you can be on your own terms, seems like a better course than making comparisons to other people along the way.

The bottom line - asking my daughter to fulfill my expectations, follow in my footsteps. or live up to standards I set does not respect her ability to  choose and pursue her own dreams.

Thus, my definition of success for my daughter is simple.  It's not related  to grades, talent, dollars, or fame.  

If she can develop a sense of self-worth, pursing a path designed by her that fuels her self-esteem, then she will be successful.

The world of the 21st century is a complex place.   Traditional measures of success - a job, a house, a family - are not necessarily the obvious goals that should be pursued by the next generation.  

As she enters the college of her choice (it's up to her), and pursues the educational path of her choice, following her passions and crafting her own life path, I only ask one thing.

If 5 years from now she can say "I feel good about me", then she (and I as a parent) have been successful.


Anar said...

I really like this post and your definition of success. great read.

Unknown said...

Spot on!

Mattpenning said...

An excellent essay that every parent & child should read. I suggest you give this as a speech at her High School graduation, or point to this post to all her classmates & parents. Sage advice.

Anonymous said...


Outstanding. Thank you.

Parvez said...

Very articulate post on an unselfish approach to parenting. This could be eye opener to many.

Steve said...

Excellent...I wouldn't have used the word "self-esteem" though. Anxiety and doubt are part of the human experience, if you don't let them dominate your life they can be very useful. Maybe I'm splitting hairs. I think I prefer "resilience" - related to self-esteem but I think distinctly different, something I can get behind as a virtue.

Barnard said...

"If she can develop a sense of self-worth, pursing a path designed by her that fuels her self-esteem, then she will be successful."

You have a very lucky daughter ^_^

Anonymous said...

I completely share your way of thinking. It is one of the best post I have ever read. But as a parent, I also have to give some advice to my son (who has the same age as your daughter), just not to choose a too bad way. Maybe I should not...

Mark said...

As the parent of a college junior and a high school senior, I say amen! These thoughts are pertinent for both easy job markets and tight ones. Thank you John. Finding and following your passion is the challenge and the opportunity.

GreenLeaves said...

I shared your insightful blog with my kids. My 22 year old son responded with:

Indeed. The one thing I would add is social responsibility. My revised definition of success: "Doing something that is fulfilling and makes the world a better place."

Ron Miller said...

Amen, brother. Truer words never spoken. As the parent of an 18 year old daughter, to me getting her to believe in herself and her own abilities and self worth is Job 1.

It's something we have strived for her since her birth, but one that can easily get lost along the perilous trail of adolescence.

That you understand this and can articulate it so well bodes well for that girl of yours.

Thanks for the great post.

Unknown said...

Somehow this well-meaning post hit me the way my father's long-ago kindly advice did: Just be the best Petco greeter you can. Your words, no matter how benevolently expressed, won't much affect your daughter's happiness heater.

Like your kid, I faced the challenge of living in the shadow of a parent of extraordinary accomplishment. She can't help but measure her own worth in comparison to you, no matter how reassuring you are. I have no doubt she'll find contentment, but her guides to that will be peers and poets.

As a mother I can also see the difference between the abstraction and remove of your ideas next to the gritty day-to-day realities of parenting. The fact is, for all our guru-like protests, you won't be sanguine when/if she takes a year off to follow a dubious boyfriend or become a crew member on Whale Wars. I would hazard a guess you don't know a whole lot about her daily struggles anyway because you are gone all of the time or working.

Since I think you are a wonderful writer who guides my brain on many things it makes me happy right now to give you a head's up--rough seas ahead, for which no platitudes will serve, and that's if you are lucky. Otherwise you will have a boring kid, which is the worst.

Finally, happiness is like work dynamics. You can't manufacture or impose much externally, even armed with the best research in the world. The happiest man I ever met is a park ranger in Harper's Ferry, Virginia. With a master's degree in history he makes past and present meet. (He says the anarchists rarely fill out their paperwork properly.)

He told me his parents wish he'd been a lawyer.

professions, even

Anonymous said...

My wife and I are in the process of adopting our first child - boy or girl, it does not really matter to us. What does matter is that we do our best to emulate the ideas and patterns that you have laid out in this posting.

Thank you, I will need all of the help I can find, and I consider your words as a flake of gold in the long river through life and the journey of being a friend and parent.

Anonymous said...

excellent post. thanks.

Shakabrah said...

Just curious, but does your daughter paddle a surfski too? I would consider paddling one or better yet, an Olympic K-1 my definition of success.