Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What Makes a Child Successful As an Adult?

This is the $64,000 question for parents and children. There's no single correct answer for all children. Indeed, there isn't a universally accepted definition of success--a thrice-divorced workaholic who becomes the CEO of a Standard and Poors 500 company but is a stranger to his or her children may be seen by some as obsessive, not successful.

Nevertheless, career success, for better or for worse, matters a lot. A recent article by CNBC about the first jobs of corporate CEOs (http://www.cnbc.com/id/43223409) offers intriguing insights into the roots of career success. Although the article covers only 10 individuals, hardly a statistically significant sample, it reports that many started with jobs that few upper middle class Americans would want for their children--dishwasher, paper boy, lawn mower, restaurant server, warehouse worker, oyster shucker--and a majority started working before the age of 18. Almost none had the resume burnishing, internship intensive experiences that kids from comfortable suburbs today voraciously seek. Volunteering, if done, isn't mentioned in the article. Neither is overseas travel.

The first jobs for these CEOs generally offer dull, repetitive and intellectually unchallenging work that requires conscientiousness and a tolerance for boredom. They reward those who are willing to work hard, and preferably cheerfully. A child so employed learns that doing the job well and getting it done are rewarded. Enjoying the job, or finding it enriching, are secondary. The enrichment the child gets is greater discipline, persistence and reliability. These traits can pay very large dividends later in life. While they aren't the only components of success--ability, education, personality and, last but certainly not least, luck, play critical roles as well--it would seem that starting off with a low paying, low status job may actually be an excellent opportunity to learn how to work. Don't take my word for it. Ask the CEOs in CNBC's article.

No comments: