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.
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