I want my children to be wildly successful in their lives. Not perfect. But successful. By successful, I don’t mean materially successful. Instead I define a successful life as something more meaningful. I want them to excel in their marriages, their parenting, and their chosen vocations (whether that is goat farming or something entirely different). I want them to stand out in their culture and generation as individuals who have their priorities in the correct order.
With this theme in mind, I decided to read the book Outliers* by Malcolm Gladwell for the second time. The first time I read it, I was thinking more about myself. It came out in 2011 and I was still doing a lot of reading to improve my ability to make Goat Milk Stuff a success. But now that my children are older, I wanted to re-read the book with the children (and their success) in mind.
I like to underline meaningful passages and there were three sections that I underlined in the book while I was reading it. (Ok, I underlined more, but these are the ones that apply to this topic.)
1. “Successful people don’t do it alone. Where they come from matters. They’re products of particular places and environments.” (Gladwell, 119)
If I want my children to be successful, I need to pay attention to the places and environments into which I put them.
Over the years, I’ve worked very hard to provide my children with an environment that fosters creative thinking, problem solving, and hard work. For those of you who don’t know us personally and only read the blog or watch the videos, it may seem like all my children do is work. But this is far from the truth.
I’ve always made sure the children have lots of free time to read, think, draw, play, or do whatever they wished. The juxtaposition of hard work and free time fosters an environment that is conducive to long-term success.
On the flip side, I also work hard to keep my children away from environments that I believe to be detrimental to their success. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about negative environments is video games. I do not allow my children to play any type of video game while they’re living in my house.
Why do I feel so strongly against video games? My main reason is because I believe they are designed to be addictive. For those who would argue otherwise, let’s agree that they at least may lead some children to compulsive behavior. In any case, the opportunity cost to video games is huge. I’d rather my children be running around playing with their friends or reading or building or creating or doing anything other than play video games.
I’ve been challenged by other parents that children can learn a lot of good skills from video games. We could sit here and argue that, but I will always believe that whatever good skills they can supposedly learn from video games can be learned from other endeavors that are healthier for them.
And remember – every family is different. I’m not saying that every family needs to banish video games for their children to be successful. What I am recommending is that you be intentional about whether or not you allow them.
Bottom line – as a parent, I can play a part in determining if the places and environments in which my children reside are helpful or detrimental to their ultimate success. And so can you.
2. “outliers always have help along the way” (Gladwell, 120)
Don’t you love that? People who are truly successful have had help.
I want my children to understand that their hard work and their effort matters when it comes to their success. But it’s just as important that they realize they have not done it alone. I don’t ever want the children to become puffed up and proud about their success. I don’t want them to ever think that it was because of how special they are that they are successful.
Successful people attain their success in part because certain people were in a position to help them along the way.
Can you control this? Not directly. But you can put yourself or your children into situations where they can meet other people. I never introduce my children to people with the expectation that they are going to help. But I do introduce my children to people whom I admire for what they have done with their lives. And if down the road, that relationship improves the success potential of my children, that would be wonderful.
But I do caution my children to never expect help and to never take on too much help. As with most things in life, it’s a balance.
3. “The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with.” (Gladwell, 137)
I know lots of people that struggle in this life. They struggle with financial success. They struggle with relationship success. They struggle with vocational success. Despite hard work and effort spent trying to become successful in their lives, they don’t ever seem to achieve it.
I don’t know for sure. But one possible reason may be the fact that their backstory takes place at a time that is not filled with easy opportunities for success. Children of divorce are more likely to be divorced. Children of poor money managers are less likely to be financially savvy. It takes effort to break out of our backstory. There are times when this is easy and times when this is harder.
One recent example was the difference in employment opportunities for those who graduated college during the 2008 Great Recession. They had fewer “particular opportunities” than those who graduated a few years earlier.
In our particular example, we couldn’t have started Goat Milk Stuff at a better time. The internet had been around long enough that people were comfortable with purchasing online. Amazon was still just a book seller and not dominating online sales. And goat milk soap was still pretty new to people. We were able to give them a sample and when they realized the difference it made for their skin, they were hooked.
Because we started Goat Milk Stuff in the year we did, we were able to achieve very rapid success. Was that success because of our hard work? Yes, hard work was necessary and played a big part. But I don’t underestimate the fact that a large part of our success was because of the opportunities available to us at the particular point in history we began our business.
I’m also teaching my children that they can’t get so caught up in the work they are currently doing that they lose sight of what is going on around them. It’s super easy (especially when you like what you do) to get complacent. But you can’t, you have to constantly pay attention to the opportunities that are currently available to you.
That was a big part of why we became a Grade A Goat dairy. We saw that we had an opportunity and that there was a need. We’re taking advantage of it because we know that success doesn’t only come from our hard work. It comes from “the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with” (Gladwell 137).
Another way we’ve paid attention to the opportunities around us is to notice that we no longer have to teach people what goat milk soap is. Instead, we’ve recognized that our opportunity now is to show people that not all goat milk soap is created equal and that ours is much better than what they can find on Amazon or at their local farmer’s markets.
So those are three of the sections I underlined in the book. To summarize them in my words:
- I need to put my children into environments that can increase their chances for success.
- I need to help my children learn that they can’t be successful completely on their own. They need to connect with people and be willing to accept help.
- Opportunities are more available at certain points in time than others. The children need to be aware of the opportunities that are available around them.
And of course, even though I read Outliers* with the children in mind, these same takeaways also apply to ourselves.
What are your thoughts? Do you think hard work alone guarantees success?