You're a parent. You have a lovely child, perfect in every way: smart, attractive, talented, the works. Everything is wonderful at home and at school. The future is so bright, you gotta wear shades.
Or is it?
Corporate oppression. Disintermediation. Soulless work. Economic collapse. Automation. Global destabilization. Layoffs.
Ok, breathe. You've got this. You're an awesome parent. Surely you can prepare and protect your child from the future...right?
(Somewhere, a philosopher is laughing)
I've been thinking about this a lot lately because, like you, I'm a kick-ass parent with a kick-ass kid, and I don't want the future to kick her ass. While we can't force our kids to walk a certain path (if you disagree, go watch Dead Poets Society), I live with hope that we can influence them and point them in a better direction.
So what is a "better" direction? It depends. Mostly on the person, but also on the circumstances and the economic environment.
As parents, we can help guide our kids to understand themselves, and in planning for what might come to be in the future. We will explore what this looks like in three parts: Part 1: understanding success and motivation; Part 2: envisioning the future; and Part 3: building a foundation of broadly applicable knowledge.
Is your child prepared for the future? Part 1
Success: you want them to have it, but should it be the focus?
The world talks about "success" as if it is some utopian state, a nirvana that once reached persists in perpetuity. This is insane, of course. Success and failure are intertwined; you cannot have one without the other, and both will happen repeatedly across a lifetime. In fact, those who have accomplished great things often experience far more failure than most would prefer to acknowledge.
What we're really talking about is motivation. The drive to keep pushing forward in the face of adversity. If someone is motivated, they will encounter failure, but dust themselves off and keep moving. They may achieve a success, but will immediately ask, "Okay, what's next?" Motivation is the fuel for the fire that is grit.
Not to worry, you say, we just have to identify her passion and she will have all the motivation she needs.
"Follow your passion" may very well be the worst career advice you could give your kid.
Before you get apoplectic and think I'm trying to crush dreams, consider this: research shows that you don't find your passion, you grow your passion. Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before.
This should make sense. If you're excellent at doing something, you're going to enjoy it more. The more you enjoy it, the more you do it, the better you get, the more you enjoy it, and so it goes. Pretty soon, it starts to look like passion. Marc Cuban puts this succinctly as "Follow your effort." As another Marc points out (this time Andreessen), this requires a degree of delayed gratification. You must work hard first, then later you get to experience the passion. It's not roses right at the start.
There is no such thing as a dream job as defined by popular society: an early-career job where everything is wonderful upon arrival. Instead, people see and want the passion exhibited by an accomplished professional in a job, but don't realize the hard work and failures that it took to get there, and that the person probably wasn't passionate about it in the first place.
And this brings us back to motivation, because one must be motivated to put in the effort necessary to grow passion.
So what really motivates us?
"Compensation!" is probably most people's knee-jerk response. However it's well documented that money is actually a terrible motivator. Money is an extrinsic "push" not an intrinsic "pull." Money creates an if-then scenario, where a person says "I am doing X to receive Y," and motivation is therefore dependent upon an outsider. Sure, you can be dissatisfied with your compensation, but being "satisfied" is very different than being motivated.
In fact, I would argue that once you reach a level of satisfaction, you can't increase it. In the same way that once something is clean it can't be "more clean," to be satisfied is a apex state. Many things that people say they are looking for in a job or career may fall into a satisfaction category: salary, benefits, commute, flexibility, co-workers, boss, work conditions, etc. If any of those items are bad, they can make you dissatisfied with your job. However, there is a plateau with all of them that beyond a certain point, improvements make progressively smaller impact, and none are intrinsically motivating.
The body of research around motivation reveals that there are five key areas that produce intrinsic motivation--a desire to keep doing what you doing, regardless of the satisfaction you have with the conditions of the job:
- Mastery - are you great at what you do? Do you have the opportunity to learn, grow, and improve?
- Autonomy - can you chose when, how and upon what you work?
- Purpose - do you feel a sense of meaning, of connection to the work that you do?
- Creativity - do you produce tangible things that you can point to? Are you recognized for your work?
- Impact - does your contribution make a measurable, noticeable difference?
These motivators are the primary things that make you love (or hate) your job. These factors drive most people to continue to do what they do, regardless of their satisfaction with the job, or lack thereof. In the absence of strong intrinsic motivation, minor job dissatisfaction can be devastating. But even profound job dissatisfaction can be overcome when intrinsic motivation is high.
To be clear, strong intrinsic motivation doesn't require all of these factors, nor any one in particular. Each person is unique, and differing combinations of these factors will appeal to different people, and may change with time. For example, mastery may be the most important thing to a person, but once they are a master of their chosen discipline, they may find their motivation is more strongly linked to use of their mastery to make an impact. A different person may also be motivated largely by mastery, but that person may always have that as their primary driver, leading to demotivation when a discipline has been mastered, and a desire to pursue mastery in a new field.
Our job is not to figure out our child's primary motivators--our job is to help our child understand what it means to be motivated, satisfied, and passionate, so they may be better prepared to chart their own course.
With this knowledge, hopefully they will find motivation to persevere through failures, achieve many successes, and develop a passion for whatever it is they choose to pursue.
"You will be great at the things that you can't not do." - Adam Savage
In Part 2: The robots are coming and there's nothing you can do about it. Read it now!