Attention vs. Affection.
I had some pretty interesting feedback from my last post about "What Matters. Who Cares?" I can be a smart ass about things, because I've forsaken much of what most people want in life. I'm not about the nice car, but boy am I about writing something worthy of a Pulitzer, hell that's something I can get behind. Re-read that last sentence, it didn't say I aspire to win a Pulitzer, but to have the talent to do something that good. Some years, the competition is just too good. But to be in that company would be inspiring. One thing where people rightly care about things is raising their kids. Everyone wants their kids to do well, it's probably evolutionarily inspired to make sure your kids do well, actually just better than everyone else.
But what amazes me is that people have to ask, how did they turn out and most people will say ok. And they didn't have all the advantages that today's typical kids have, the lessons, the programs, the computers. Those things don't make a student better, but what they may do is find what someone is good at through exposure. Too much of our educational dollars is spent on sending people to college. It's a waste, since they might be happier and more effective in non-college type work. We need people who can work with their hands, who can build stuff. It's not as easy as it looks. But we convince ourselves that if you don't have a college education, you don't have a chance. Actually, you don't have a chance if you don't offer something of value. Now the Wall Street jobs are probably gone, Michael Lewis so vividly recounts in "The End"
To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital—to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn’t the first clue.
I’d never taken an accounting course, never run a business, never even had savings of my own to manage. I stumbled into a job at Salomon Brothers in 1985 and stumbled out much richer three years later, and even though I wrote a book about the experience, the whole thing still strikes me as preposterous—which is one of the reasons the money was so easy to walk away from. I figured the situation was unsustainable. Sooner rather than later, someone was going to identify me, along with a lot of people more or less like me, as a fraud. Sooner rather than later, there would come a Great Reckoning when Wall Street would wake up and hundreds if not thousands of young people like me, who had no business making huge bets with other people’s money, would be expelled from finance.
So why the College-Industrial complex? In short, the money. There's a lot in grants, scholarships, etc. Education is not a calling, it's a business. Don't let anyone fool you. And what do they address, not skills but fear. Love of learning is so not on the radar of the average college student, no it's about getting a job and getting into bed with the girl on the other side of the lab. Speaking of fear, I recently re-engaged with Television (capital T), and it's an amazing thing. If you look at the advertising, there are two kinds:
First, you totally suck and you got to improve yourself. This is the drugs, the workout tapes, the do it yourself stuff.
Second, you totally rock and deserve to pamper yourself. The luxury goods.
A bit of a contradiction, eh. (Bear with me, this all actually connects).
When we raise our kids, we want them to be in a good school district, and sure it helps. We want them to have resources. And most of all we don't want them to be left behind. Fear and Deservedness in our personal legacies. Frightening. But if you look at success, you realize there's a lot of luck. Malcolm Gladwell's new book "Outliers" if nothing else should rob ourselves of our self determination. Yeah, we have to put effort in but it doesn't mean it's going to happen.
So what can you do? You can create a spark in your children that causes them not to ask what's missing, but what can I do with what I have. (I'm assuming they have a decent lifestyle and are not dodging bullets, I'm not naive.) To get them to wonder and explore, regardless of what they have. I love the stories of Feynman playing with ants going, what are these ants doing? What, why, how and make are the values you inculcate in their minds. If you can think that way, you can see opportunity wherever you are at.
This post has gone too long, but it all boils down to Robert Redford in my posts these days. The actor Sam Waterston was getting accolades for his recent work and Robert Redford gave him some advice that is timeless, "Don't confuse attention with affection." In my career I've seen wild swings, it happens. I see how people respond to the it company of the moment. I try to remember Redford's maxim in these times. In the same way, preparing and mentoring is not about showering them with attention of the best, but genuine affection, that leads to the ability to affect the world they live in.