A few weeks ago I was in a particularly depressed mood. That’s not the norm for me, but this time it was completely justified. I was pondering my children’s futures.
College prices have sky-rocketed, far surpassing wage increases. My daughter will be ready for college in five years. Will we be able to afford a college education for her or even pay a percentage of it? And, if she does go to college, what will she major in that will provide a reliable career in a world whose future is increasingly unreliable?
Perhaps my kids should learn a trade that would provide a rock-solid income, but what would that be? As a mom, I want their futures to be as secure as possible, giving them a chance of achieving their dreams and a comfortable lifestyle.
As you might imagine, it was right around this point that my thinking got pretty muddled. Is there a career that’s EMP-proof? A job that will provide their families with an income even if the dollar goes belly up and America, as we know it, declines forever?
I’m still not sure what path they should take, and of course they have a say in their future plans! However, my brain lit upon something that gave me hope as I contemplated a dismal future.
What’s more important than a college degree?
The future job market may be bleak for professions from A to Z, but people will always, always, look for and need leaders. People who have the skills, confidence, and personality to stand up and lead. Isn’t that what our world is crying out for right now? Leadership?
My son could easily become an electrician, capable of wiring a building, knowing electrical code, and also able to give direction, focus, and encouragement to his peers and family. Perhaps my daughter will become a florist, but why can’t she also live her life with goals and a vision and inspire others to do the same? It’s those leadership qualities and skills that may very well trump another person’s Ivy League education.
I believe the future belongs to those who possess leadership skills and are willing to step out and lead. Leadership, though, is mostly taught and nurtured. Skills such as decisiveness, ambition, the ability to motivate and inspire are not taught in the public school. I spent 9 years in the classroom as a public school teacher and another 4 as a school district trainer. Trust me. There is nothing in the public school curriculum that teaches leadership skills. If your child is to become a leader in a tumultuous and unpredictable future, you will have to teach him or her yourself.
What skills and qualities should you begin focusing on? Here are a few:
From an early age, give your children practice speaking to and with adults. At restaurants, insist that they place their own orders with the waitress. Stand back and let them approach the librarian or store clerk with their questions. Be willing to sit and just listen to your child as they put their thoughts and emotions into words. Enroll them in activities that will require them to make speeches or presentations or communicate with the general public. Many adults shrink away from this themselves, but it’s impossible to be a leader without effective communication skills.
Even if there is no need for your child to earn money, getting a job is an excellent way to learn how to communicate with all sorts of people. My first job was at J.C. Penney and I had to work in the children’s clothing department. I learned how to strike up conversations with customers, ask my boss for help when I needed it, and not crawl into a hole when the store manager showed up! All lifelong skills!
Creating a vision
All children have fantasies and dreams for their futures. Encourage them to talk about what they want to be when they grow up, what they want to do, to build, to create. Nothing meaningful on this earth has ever been accomplished without, first, a vision. Our world has been greatly enhanced by people like Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison. They let their imaginations run wild, and apparently, so did their parents!
Setting and achieving goals
Once your child has a vision for something, help him or her break it down into smaller parts. Setting and achieving goals is an enormous confidence builder but too many people, including most adults, have no idea of the power of goal-setting. Start with a small goal, perhaps earning a certain amount of money or achieving some specific goal in a school subject. Write out the goal and what has to be done in order to complete it. This teaches kids to know what they want and what has to be done to get it.
Courage in the face of opposition
We live in a world where too few people have courage. They are too willing to behave like sheep and kowtow to the latest version of political correctness. A real leader stands up for what he or she believes in the face of ridicule, prejudice, and rejection. As well, it takes courage to finish a difficult task and overcome obstacles of every kind. Facing peer pressure is another chance to be courageous and do the right thing.
Confidence comes with competence. Require your kids to always to their best and to not make excuses. However, don’t expect them to succeed in something without thorough instruction. That applies to school subjects, athletic endeavors, and even household chores. I used to get frustrated at my son’s attempts to load the dishwasher until I realized that I had never actually taught him how to do it! Don’t demand a high level of competency without making sure your child understands exactly how to accomplish the task. Once they are competent and experience repeated successes, just watch their confidence soar!
Ability to encourage others
We all need a pat on the back, a word of encouragement, or a note of appreciation. Let your child see from your own actions what it means to encourage others and give them opportunities to do the same. Perhaps they could write a kind note to a friend who lost a pet or send a get-well card to a relative. Our culture encourages isolation and selfishness, but this will teach your kids a more rewarding way of interacting with others.
People will never trust a leader who they know to be dishonest. Honesty brings with it respect and admiration. Reward truthfulness and integrity every time you notice it.
I have a friend who decided what her daughter should wear each day until the girl was at least 11 years old. Yes, she was always perfectly coordinated, but without meaning to, I’m sure, her mother was teaching her to doubt her own decisions. Part of learning to make smart decisions is bearing the consequences of poor ones. When my kid spend all their money foolishly, I don’t slip them a ten when they see something else they want! Let your kids make decisions. Talk about what they give up if they make Decision A versus Decision B. It’s important to take into consideration the consequences of their decisions and learn to not rush into something without giving it plenty of thought.
How should these be taught?
- Point out examples of leadership in movies, TV, literature, and real life. Be specific in explaining why that person, or character, is a good leader. For example, one reason many people look up to Ron Paul, regardless of political beliefs, is because he speaks his mind, even when his opinion is unpopular and he stands a good chance of being criticized. It’s important to actually label the specific leadership skill or quality.
- Ask your child to look for examples of leadership among your circle of family and friends and tell you why that person is a leader.
- Encourage your child to read biographies of famous people and then analyze their leadership qualities and skills.
- When you observe these skills in your child, be sure to point them out and praise them.
- Set family goals and track progress with a chart or a marble jar.
- Family meetings can be helpful in discussing decisions, conflicts, and goals. They also give each family member the chance to express their opinions and feelings. In other words, they can help develop important leadership skills.
- Give children an allowance in order to help them make decisions involving money. Teach them how to keep a ledger of income, outgo, and savings.
You and I have no way of knowing what careers will be “hot” in ten or twenty years, but in a way, that doesn’t matter. Young adults facing the future with the confidence that comes with these leadership qualities and skills are ready to tackle anything and succeed, even without that Ivy League education.
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