As a former teacher with two children of my own, it's hard not to spend large portions of my time thinking about what the future will look like for those I have the pleasure of raising. Not to mention, what might best help them succeed amidst the crazy challenges ahead! So, recently I began to consider what a healthy set of 'life ingredients' might be for young people, ones that could best help them lead a successful life (in the broadest sense of the word).
Parent or not, I'm sure we've all wished at some point during our lives, that the secrets of life could be distilled into a simple to use formula: 'In a relationship with a difficult partner?' 'Important decisions to make?' Well, so the logic would follow, if we could turn to a manual of some sort, follow the instructions, them 'poof!' - problem solved. If only! It goes without saying that life is more interesting than that; alas there are no magic wands.
And of course how one defines, or further, measures 'success', is another question altogether, one that I'll pick up on in part 2 of this post, but suffice to say I think most would agree that success is simply a matter of 'doing/being well', and what this looks like differs from person to person.
That said, if we think about success in terms of work, business coach and leading performance consultant Prof. Nigel Maclennan actually identified 7 important ingredients, or enablers, of business success: direction; desire and motivation; self-image; belief structure; persistence; a willingness to learn; and support systems.
Importantly, Maclennan goes on to say that: There is no absolute prescription [emphasis added] for successful performance. Of course, the ingredients are influenced by what kind of success you want to create...[and] The ingredients of success are tied to the objective; the recipe is your choice.
So being a successful entrepreneur, for example, would neccesarily require you to understand your users; test your ideas; be confident in your service or product etc. These are 'ingredients' that most would deem important. You may not like the 'recipe', but the bottom line is that we do tend to have a good grasp of what works in business, don't we? Well, what then, 'works' or is important for preparing young people to live fruitful, successful lives?
[Before you scroll down, have a think about this question?]
With this in mind, here are a selection of 9 'ingredients', far from exhaustive, but ones that I think are important for us to provide young people with:
1. Acceptance: Provide young people with access to caring adults who say 'I love you'; will lead by example; will accept them for who they are, but will also challenge them towards what they could be!
2. Decision making: Help young people see that life is full of choices and that hidden behind every choice, is a consequence, good or bad (thanks David Murray).
3. Life partner: I am convinced that who we choose to be our soul mate / life partner, or still, the friends we allow in our inner circle, can have the biggest effect on whether we live a successful life or not.
4. Money management: Help young people understand 'value' and by extension, money: how to save it, invest it, and spend it!
5. High expectations: Have high expectations of young people. But more importantly remember that a high expectation without a plan is simply a hope. It is a statement of what we wish for. Expectations, in my view, should be accompanied by 'a strategy', which is empowering, and enables young people to realise this hope. Without a strategy, so to speak, high expectations can too easily feel like unreachable, burdensome goals. But both are needed to best help young people grow.
6. Character: Help young people cultivate the inner, 'spiritual' aspects of life: love, belief, forgiveness, self-control, integrity etc. Those things that add meaning to our lives, and to life more generally.
7. Power resources: Help young people access 'resources of power'. The 12 step AA programme reminds us that there is, naturally, a limitation to our own 'power' - our own will and agency, if you like. Allied to this reality, is that we get to operate out of a greater power base, when connected to something bigger than ourselves. This might be a cause, a project, a great team or even a personal faith!
8. Service/Responsibility: Create in young people a sense of service and personal responsibility - provide opportunities to learn how they can their talents into strengths. (Shameless plug, here's one great example of this)!
9. Self-awareness: Lastly, as the popular aphorism goes - know thyself. Help young people learn what motivates them - what their E-factor's are! This is more than mere knowledge of self. It's also connected to the idea of possessing a 'growth mindset' (to use the current buzzword) that enables us to, for example, learn from failure: rather than fear failure, we realise that not being in a position to fail, is really not being in a position to succeed.
Which ones resonate with you? I'm not wedded to these. In fact, some of these ingredients clearly overlap with Maclennan's. Importantly, as with anything of value, they all represent a journey, an on-going process and not (despite the title) a one-time pill that you 'administer' to people.
That said, what would your own ingredients be, and why?
As Maclennan describes, young or old, we have to work out our own 'recipe' for achieving personal success. In fact, if you wrote a separate list for each young person you knew, it would likely look quite different.
Finally, if we listen to what Self-determination Theory (SDT) tells us, then as human beings, we have three innate psychological needs: achievement of competence, relatedness with others and autonomy. These three things make up a kind of set of 'protective factors', ie meeting them on a regular basis, can help to 'protect' us against personal dissatisfaction, and provide us with a direct source of motivation. And motivation is, of course, the vital aspect behind any successful endeavour!
So have a look at the ingredients you came up with, do they tap into these three needs? If you have children or work with young people, what do they think are the ingredients that can help promote personal success?
Look out for part 2 of this post in the coming weeks, I'll delve a little more into the topic of success, as well as happiness and the connection to our own values.