How well are you taking time to share important life lessons with your children as they grow?
Does leadership by example work with a child? I doubt it. Like many things we need time to explain, time to encourage, time to advise. I believe it is critically important to teach our children to value their own time, their own place and their own involvement in life – and of course, they must learn the value of money. I also have had my own experience regarding the power of teachers and the impact they can have on children from a young age with sage words about being kind, taking chances and doing the best we can. I wonder if these same simple lessons by which I have lived are taught in the same simple way I was taught by Mrs. Robinson, who clearly set me up for the priorities in life.
Since selling my business, we are comfortably off and sometimes people are surprised that my daughter still had a pub waitressing job all the way up to her A Levels. I feel very strongly that I would actually be doing her a disservice though, by not teaching her to go out and make her own money – and learn her own lessons in the process. All of my children work for their money, in one way or another. Of course they are given more than I was ever given but I am relentless in my messaging about looking after their things and not wasting anything, whether that is resources or time.
When I look back at the things that shaped me as I grew up, my experience of working for a living taught me an incalcuable amount, giving me far more than just income but experiences, perspective, the time to practice patience, the need to get on with all types and so much more. I started off cleaning my parents’ cars for a few dollars here and there, and as soon as I was old enough I got a job at McDonald’s. Here I learned the best marketing approach in the world: do you want fries with that? This is something I’ve brought with me to every business I have worked in and on since: looking to sell something extra.
After this I worked in a 24-hour shop called 7-Eleven. My shift was from 3pm til 11pm. From this I learned that if you stay open longer and work hard, you will get business. There is benefit in being the first place open in the morning; the last place to close at night. Whether you are a coffee shop or selling products wholesale to vendors, those extra hours at the beginning and the end of the day are what will help you to stand out against your competitors, and to catch your potential customers when others are snoozing.
For a while when I was sixteen I worked for a market research company – you know, those people who stand around in town with a clipboard, asking you to come in and try different food products. This involved approaching strangers who were busy with their shopping and trying desperately not to make eye contact with me. It taught me invaluable lessons about reading people, engaging them in conversation, and doing things that frankly were very scary when I was still quite young. This lesson has been absolutely priceless to me throughout my career. If you can stop a stranger on the street in East Croydon and ask them to come and taste test a Wotsit, walking into a meeting with people who were actually expecting to meet with you is a breeze.
When I finished my A Levels and went home to my parents, it was the first time I had seen
them for a year. I had been away at boarding school and they hadn’t been able to afford to visit or bring me home during the holidays. When I arrived I was met with the news that my father had gone bankrupt and I would need to get a job and pay rent. And so, two weeks after I finished my A Levels I had a job in sales and was paying my way in the world.
I knew that as I earned my money, if I kept saving I would have a bit of a backstop, in case anything went wrong. As I was growing up I saw my mother struggling around Hong Kong carrying huge English textbooks, as she taught private lessons in order to afford an education for my brother and I. This was an amazing example which had a lasting effect on me, and I want to set the same example for my children.
When my daughter finished her A Levels this year, she had been planning to increase her hours at her part time job – but as it happened, there was no work for her there. I was so proud to see her response to this; although she did complain that it wasn’t fair (she is after all a teenager), she quickly decided to just visit as many places as possible and ask for a job. When I asked her later that day how the job hunting was coming along, she told me she had visited fourteen places and had no luck. I asked what her next steps would be; she said she would visit fourteen more! Of course a few hours later she had a trial pub job in another place and is now welcome back whenever she can be around.
My parents never taught me anything about finance or the value of interest, or what a mortgage was. I learned these things for myself. I think they were just so busy working hard to keep my brother and I in school, and I was away at boarding school so didn’t see them often – so there was no time to actually sit me down and explain these things. I think it’s so important, especially these days, to talk to children about money and finance – and to have them learn it for themselves by earning their own money. Children are much more smart than we often realise, and they learn from our example even when we’re not intending for them to do so.
My children see me getting my hands dirty in my business; they see that I work just as hard as anyone else in the team. I unpack boxes; I set up stands at trade shows; I turn right when I get onto aeroplanes. Things like CEO’s parking spaces are from the dark ages and reward privilege rather than hard work; I think the parking spaces at the office should go to whoever is there first in the mornings. These are the lessons I want to pass on to my children, and I try to always lead by example. I want them to learn how to think charitably, to behave well, and to earn their own living.
Don’t get me wrong; it has been hard at times to tell my teenage daughters: if you want it, you’ll have to earn it. That was often met with: but you have the money! It is hard as a parent to tell your child that the money you have is money you earned, and that they will need to do the same for themselves. Of course it feels nice to be able to buy anything I want for my children, and there is that temptation to spoil them now that we can afford to do so – but I think that would be damaging in the long run. If they have never had to work for anything in their lives, they will never want to work for anything in the future.
In 1986 Warren Buffett told Fortune Magazine that you should give your children ”enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.” This philosophy is what drives me when it comes to educating my children. Education is so much more than academics; it’s great to have A Levels and degrees and whatever else, but it’s arguably more important that we as parents look at the lessons we are teaching. The one thing we can do to give our children the best advantage in life is not to ensure they get a university education or a trust fund; it is to ensure they have confidence. Confidence is not something anyone gains by having everything handed to them though.
Put your children in difficult situations and strange places; have them order their food at restaurants; at the airport have them hand over their own passport. And yes, have them earn their own money. All of these things will help them to grow confidence, and confidence is what will allow them to go out into the world and achieve great things. STOP, INHALE and be brave enough; you will not regret the resistence, you will have been better parents and have better global citizens for the fight that is worth having.