The other day, my youngest sister-in-law Jaliah was in town visiting from California. Jaliah recently completed college and started working for an advertising company. As the discussion veered into careers and jobs territory, she started telling us about all the things she’s realizing about work now that she’s actually a paid member of the workforce. Things like: “Why did I ever have to take Economics class?”, or “How come no one ever taught me about basic stuff like professionalism, or corporate politics, or the stuff that could actually help me succeed in the corporate world”?
As we, the slightly older and (not so slightly) disillusioned corporate folks on the table, smiled and nodded, it had me thinking about all the “stuff” we could (but don’t) teach our kids about having healthy, fulfilling careers. Instead, so many of us tend to postpone the harsh reality until they’ve accumulated enough student loan debt, slept through enough classes, and would rather get their wisdom teeth removed then finally go to work.
How many headaches would we save our kids if we started teaching them some of the most basic, but most important, principles we’ve learnt the hard way in our own careers? I mean, remember when you started in Big Corporate and were all excited after that first paycheck, only to later drown your sorrows in a tub of Haagen Dazs Sea Salt Caramel Ice Cream (you must try it!) at the prospect of spending your best years in a cubicle/office/paper jail?
After diving into many tubs of Haagen Dazs ice cream myself, and telling Jaliah many a stories about the do’s, dont’s and “Oh hell no’s” of the career world, here are seven easy, basic, but very often overlooked, career principles I recommend teaching your kids now (before they dry up all the Sea Salt Caramel ice cream in the world):
I’ll go ahead and start with one of the most cliche life and career principles ever. But before you start rolling your left eye at me, hear me out. I, like so many among us, started my career thinking I had to slap this “professional”, “corporate” persona on my face and body for the whole 8 to 10 hours I was at work. And it was— miserable!
First off, there’s no such a thing as a “corporate” or “professional” persona. What it basically means is that you’re taking all that originality, authenticity and genius inside of you, and painting a mask a la “Madea” all over it. Except Madea is a hundred percent more fun, and you’re basically suffocating under all that MAC foundation and waterproof mascara.
Fast-forward a few years later, I redefined my own professional look and brand. I now sport my hair natural, incorporate color in most of my workwear, and no longer hide that I’m an introvert. Teach your kids to show up as who they really are!
Remember how annoyed you got when your toddler wouldn’t stop asking you a gazillion questions? Well, turns out, it may be a blessing in disguise.
So many of us lose our desire to ask questions as we “grow up”. We think we know it all, or are too embarrassed to admit we don’t. Yet, one of the true characteristics of leadership is the ability to ask questions, and good questions at that.
So let little May ask all the questions she wants about anything and everything. You never know, you may be raising one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the decade!
While we’re on the topic of asking questions, remember that curiosity is also one of the greatest characteristics of leadership. That kid of yours who wants to know everything about everything may just be destined to the C-suite!
Encourage your children to be curious, and never be afraid to seek more knowledge or question the status quo.
It’s OK to Change your Mind
How many of you wanted to be astronauts at 4, and decided Superwoman was better suited to your personality at around 7 (and somehow kept it up until now)? Kids change their minds, and maybe if more adults accepted that it’s OK to do so, we’d have more fulfilling lives and careers.
Teach your children it’s OK to change your mind if it makes you happier and more fulfilled. That while you need to stick to something to learn it at first, you don’t have to make yourself miserable doing what you absolutely hate on a permanent basis. And no, it’s not being spoiled, it’s being willing to start something, learn it, and move on. Oh, but they still have to eat their veggies though.
As much as we value initiative in our work and in our lives, respecting authority is also a sign of true leadership. And it starts at home…Teaching your kids about authority starts with you, and ultimately, it’s what’s going to help them represent authority themselves.
Most of us resent authority until…we actually have to become the boss! And start learning what it feels like to be on the other side of the fence. To become a true leader, one must be willing to respect leadership. So don’t feel so bad next time you’re sending little Joe to the corner, you may be raising a future CEO!
But don’t be afraid to disagree
It’s not because one has to respect authority that one’s not entitled to their own opinion. As a parent, one thing I learnt about effective discipline is to explain to your kids the “why” of your actions, and give them the opportunity to present their side of the story. If I’m sending little Walter to the corner, I’m still explaining to him why I’m doing so, and asking him why he did whatever he did (which has given lieu to really interesting stories, but that’s another topic for another day…).
Encourage your children to present their side of the argument, respectfully of course. Accept the fact that they may disagree with you, and allow for healthy, respectful conversations to take place. You may just be showing them how to stand up for what they believe in, in a healthy (and interesting) way.
Wonder why so many people look forward to Friday like ice cream day? Because they hate their jobs, and are having about as much fun as a root canal patient. Ok, let’s be real, most of us aren’t exactly jumping out of bed to head to our dream jobs.Yet, all of us could use some more fun, even in the least enjoyable of circumstances.
Ask my little Walter, and he’ll tell you he can turn “corner time” into fun time anytime. And frankly, I wish I could turn my own “corner time” in life, into fun time as often as he does.
Let your kids find the fun in everything, and just enjoy wherever they’re at. Sometimes, it may mean coloring the walls or messing up the living room. But it also teaches them to see and act out the good in every situation. You may just be giving them permission to enjoy their lives and careers after all!
What other career principles would you start teaching your kids now?
Solange Lopes is an author, blogger and CPA. She writes about career and lifestyle topics for women at work in her blog The Corporate Sister (www.thecorporatesister.com). She’s the author of The Corporate Sister’s Guide to Taking Back Control of Your Career: 7 Steps to Reclaiming Your Work.