I’m fascinated by artists and entrepreneurs whose visions of what can be had a significant impact on our culture. One of these interesting individuals is Steve Jobs. While I don’t agree with some of the personal choices he made (based on the stories I read in Walter Isaacson’s book and elsewhere),  I really liked his independent spirit.

What does this have to do with parenting? I feel that too often, parents just go along with the expectations of the culture rather than trusting their instincts or the instincts of their children. Remembering a bit of Steve Jobs’ independent thinking can be a helpful antidote.

Let’s start with this Steve Jobs quote:

When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

When you think about legendary people who have really made an impact in the world you’ll realize that the vast majority of them possessed some variation of this attitude.

If we as parents want to encourage this attitude to take root in our kids (or at least not impede it), we have to periodically support them when they want to go against what the system says they should be doing. This includes those things they may fail at or will have little utility on a college application.

Do Things That Are Meaningful

Jobs continues:

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

The above quote also hints at a meaning-based existence, when he mentions “you’ll want to change life and make it better”.  Notice how he didn’t say “make a lot of money” or “maximize your earnings potential”. Jobs is hinting at doing something that will actually improve things based on one’s assessment of what is meaningful. I’d even go so far as to say he implies that you should do things that are part of a higher calling.

Adopting this type of attitude can act as a protective shield children can carry with them. It would serve as protection against being overly influenced by the nihilistic ethos of popular culture.

It is my belief that we as a society have an existential crisis caused by a lack of deeper meaning – in other words, many of us are not being driven by something greater than ourselves. Sure, we all keep busy with day to day tasks, but how many of us can say we are living each day with real purpose?

This lack of meaning filters down to our children and contributes to the overall feeling of insecurity.

Pushing Forward When Failure Is Possible or Even Probable

Due to the nature of how most modern schools teach, many kids fear failure to an inordinate degree, and parents often reinforce this fear. In this way, school can actually counter-prepare children for adulthood.

The most important problems the world needs solving don’t have absolute answers and usually require trial and error to get right.  If a child has grown up in an environment that teaches failure is to be avoided at all costs and that there’s a right answer to every problem, that child will enter the adult world with a severe handicap and society will be worse off for it.

Consider Jobs’ attitude toward failure when he started Apple:

..we had nothing to lose and we had everything to gain and we figured even if we crash and burn and lose everything the experience will have been worth ten times the cost so what did we have to lose? There was no risk! You know I think that’s a very healthy way to look at it. Some people say well you could have gone to college and been a lawyer, well you’re right but you can go to college and be a lawyer when you’re 25 and there’s nothing that stops you from doing that. The only thing you really have in your life is time and if you invest that time in yourself to have great experiences that are gonna enrich you then you can’t possibly lose.

This is an incredibly important thought, that many, if not most parents are oblivious to.  Popular parenting culture says that the way to ensure success is to make sure kids first go to a good preschool, then a good elementary school, then a good middle school, then a good high school, then a good college, then maybe a good grad-school after that.  And of course, all the while, they need to get all A’s and be enrolled in enough extracurricular activities to ensure their college application will look good.

When we send our kids to school and demand perfection, we think we’re teaching our kids about how to perform well in academics, but the meta-lesson we’re teaching them is “If you want to have a safe and good life, you’d better follow along with the system because if you deviate, you’re screwed and we both know you’re too fragile to recover.”

We make our kids more robust, more fulfilled and more likely to live up to their real “potential” by teaching them that sometimes it’s OK to do things that aren’t the norm and if they do fail, it’s ok because they will learn and can try again or “pivot” to something new.

Our Mental Limitations Can Restrict Our Kids

The above mindsets are great, but they can be hard to adopt.  Besides the fact that it can be difficult to go against what society says is the proper way to raise a child, we as parents can unintentionally sabotage our kids’ success due to our own emotional limitations. These limitations can be long-standing and deeply ingrained within us, originating in response to our own upbringing and life experiences.

Because of the mental walls we’ve constructed, we need to trust our inner voice more and expand our comfort zone by doing things that may feel unnatural at first but we know is right for us deep down – if for no other reason than to get out of our kids way so they have a better opportunity to flourish.

The Video

The quotes found in this article were pulled from the first 4 minutes of the following video:

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