On a recent podcast by Scott Hanselman, he said something very enlightening. I'm paraphrasing here, but essentially it was:
Teach your children to make life choices rather than just let life happen to them.
The phrase he used was, "Don't live your life by default." I know many people that have lived their life by default. In many instances I see unhappy folks that are stuck in dead-end jobs they don't enjoy but "it pays the bills". Letting life affect you instead of determining your own fate is a bad way to live.
In my early years, I was all about living my life by default. I took jobs that had little room for advancement and offered little enjoyment other than the minimal checks I received weekly. And, I believe, through high school, I lived my academic career by default; I only graduated because all my friends were smarties and being a dropout would have left me out of the group. But, when I started driving the car of life for myself things got much, much better. I made decisions that shaped my future instead of just letting things happen.
Most people, me included, find change and life decisions difficult and avoid them for three prime reasons:
1. Fear - If you make the choice to change professions, you may fear that the money won't be there to support your family. Or, you fear you may hate the new job and the current job is okay enough. To this I say, it's okay to be afraid, but don't let it cripple you. There is an optimistic way to view everything. Just like the old joke - We have shit for dinner, but there is lots of it. So, even if the job doesn't work out, there will be a silver lining...The most obvious is, at least you gave it a shot.
2. Life disruption - Going back to school, for example, will likely be a huge life disruption. It was for me at least. Three days a week for four hours after work, plus homework and studying...And in my case for six years. But, you need to decide what is more important; making it home to watch Big Brother or changing your life for the better. It's your choice.
3. "I don't have the means" - I hear people give up before trying all the time and the excuse is often, "I don't have a..." What ever the ... is, (car, money, time, grades, skill...) they are all just excuses. If you REALLY wanted to go to MIT, complaining that you don't have the money is not going to get you there. There is ALWAYS a way. That way may be tough, but there is a way. Don't give up before you start.
So, the real question is, how do you teach someone to not live their life by default. My children are young, but I have already started instilling this edict into their tiny little brains. I have two overriding philosophies that I believe are leading them to a life != default.
1. Expect they can do something and help them when they can't - There is a first time for everything, making their own meals, cleaning up their toys, warming up the car, researching a school project, getting themselves dressed and taking care of their pets all seem simple, but if you start early, expecting these things can just be handled by your children, they will surprise you with how much they can actually accomplish on their own (without you even telling them what to do). This fosters confidence and builds character.
2. Solicit feedback in the decisions you make about their lives - My boys play hockey, so I'll use that as an example...I ask them what they want to do for each season. Whether it is what team to tryout for, camps to go to or equipment to use...In my mind, that choice is ultimately theirs, and so I ask them to make those decisions. Also, let's just say they are to be punished for something. It happens, right? Really, six and eleven are like oil and water in terms of brother ages. So if there is fighting or other disciplinary offenses, sometimes I'll ask what they would do if they were me. It allows them to have a say in the punishment, but it also teaches them not to just blanketly (<- might not be a word) accept others affecting their lives with out trying to have a say.
One more bit, we went video game free on those little guys more than a year ago and they have never been happier.
So, thanks Scott for putting a phrase to a philosophy I have been living for quite some time.