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Don’t Force Your Child To Follow The Path You’ve Set For Their Success, Reminds Expert
  • Eighteen years of schooling hopefully with honors, get into a top university, land a good job, take a graduate course, be an executive at 35, and  a CEO at 45. How many of us want this same success map for our kids?

    For some of us parents, it may have personally worked this way, but will it work the same way for our children? In her article for the Atlantic titled ‘Kids Don’t Need to Stay ‘On Track’ to Succeed’, writer Madeline Levine, Ph.D. made the argument that setting a linear path of success for our children may set them up for disappointment.

    Dr. Levine, who is also a psychologist, goes on to tell the story of a 10-year old patient, who, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up answered, ‘I want to run a start-up.’

    “He doesn’t even know what a start-up is, but he does know, in exacting detail, the trajectory he will need to take to become wildly successful in running one,” writes Levine.

    She goes on to point out that the people surrounding the boy’s life — parents, teachers, and even the community —are likely to encourage this way of thinking, meaning a thinking where ‘money is overvalued and character undervalued.’

    “He wants to be a winner, but knows nothing about the kind of work he’s signing on for,” writes Dr. Levine.

    Interestingly, such thinking resonates for many parents around the world, especially today, when parents want to have their children compete globally and prepare them for jobs that have yet to be created especially in this time of digitalization.


    The idea is just to be on ‘track’ and success will fall into place, but, Levine argues, reality says otherwise. “….this concept of success as a straight line can set kids up for unrealistic expectations and disappointment,” she writes.

    Success is a curved path not a straight line

    In her 15 years of giving talks all over America on the ’intersection of child development, psychology and education,’ Dr. Levine found out that majority of the people she spoke with took a curved path to be where they are today.

    “Straight arrows make up, at most, 10 percent of the people who consider themselves successful. The remaining 90 percent are folks who have taken risks, failed, changed course, recovered, often failed again, but ultimately found their stride,” she says.

    What may have worked for you as a parent, may not necessarily apply for your kid, she adds and makes an example of parents who push for their kids to apply in the same school they went to.

    “Encouraging children to follow a linear path makes them cautious and competitive, when what they are most likely to need are curiosity, a willingness to take risks, and a talent for collaboration.”

    At some point in our life, we know of or have met someone whose current job was a far cry from what he studied in college — a surgeon who became a contractor. An accountant who became a fulltime yoga instructor. A lawyer who gave up the profession to become a full-time farmer.

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    Dr. Levine in her article tells the story of a Wharton School of Business graduate who realized in the middle of his way up the ladder that he wanted to become a policeman. While on duty, he got shot in the thigh which rendered him unfit to be out on the streets again. At just 32, he had to switch careers.

    Another four years in school and he was able to fulfill a career he loves: Being a math teacher and a sport coach. Today, he is an Athletic Director at the same high school where he also teaches math. 

    Real passion makes all the difference 

    “One of the patterns that I see regularly among people who consider themselves successful is real passion about the work they do: the kind of passion that makes them work harder than others, welcome mistakes and even failures as learning opportunities, and feel that what they do has impact,” Dr. Levine writes.

    While, for many of us, this isn’t something we are hearing for the first time, there still seems to be that lurking fear that our children might not make it if they don’t follow a straight path. Based on her many conversations with people, Dr. Levine says that it is very rare for people to go from point A to B without making any detours.

    When it comes to our children’s success, this kind of ‘template’ might be more beneficial for a child’s healthy development. “More often, a meandering and unexpected path is what leads to success,” she concludes in her article.

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