In reply to the “HN thread”:http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1561845 for “Teenagers and Poor Business Sense”:http://joshpearce.posterous.com/children-have-bad-business-sense:
bq. Can I ask a question? I hope that this doesn’t come across as just another self obsessed post on the internet, but why am I different from the norm?
bq. I am 18 and in some ways I do match the targets the author puts forward, but no one in this environment taught this to me. Instead, I had to go out and find people I could learn from, My parents take me to be a failure, because I want to get the job done in as perfect a manner as possible and I constantly think about making things or doing something better. It takes me longer to do stuff and I fall down more than anyone else I know of, but I like it.
bq. My life would have been definitely easier if I could tow the line, but I can’t do it. I just know that my integrity is precious to me and there is nothing in the world I would sell it out for. I admit it’s not a smart thing to do, but at least when I am dying I won’t have any regrets.
bq. The interesting question is why am I so different? I am not special or anything at all. So, what taught me such stuff?
That’s a tough question to answer without knowing you, your family, and your history very well. I spend a lot of time thinking about questions exactly like this, because I make the assumption that if I know what motivated me to take pride in my work, I can apply those same motivations to others.
This is where I think the author is dead wrong. How the hell is a teenager supposed to “engage the economy at an early age.” Seriously? The economy is a collection of principles at work, but at very large scale, and by consequence, inaccessible to anyone without strong foundational understanding of the concepts. How is a teenager supposed to relate to that? I think the author “gets it”, but reaches the wrong conclusion.
Early in the piece, he points out that the industrial revolution transitioned our nation from one of rugged independence to monotonous conformity. Ok, so by his assumption we’ve been beaten in to submission. We are one of many. A worker bee with no self-importance beyond accomplishing the specific tasks we are assigned. Before you can take pride in your work, you have to take pride in yourself. You have to learn the basics of achievement and self-reward. In other words, you have to know what it feels like to be internally happy about your accomplishments.
For me, this came in two forms: fair work and pay at a relatively early age, and playing an instrument in the school band program.
Although I have since abandoned religion, I would not trade my childhood experience at a church for anything in the world. Beginning at the age of around 10 years old, my sister and I began helping my mother clean our church. It was completely optional, but our alternative was sitting around bored out of our minds waiting on my mother to finish her work. So we both decided to participate pretty much by default. Our work was always simple. We’d follow my mom around doing simple tasks like replacing trash can liners and cleaning glass. She worked with all the dangerous chemicals and kept a close eye on us to make sure we were safe and doing a good job. This was a big church, and we were distracted children, so the task would take us somewhere in the area of 3-4 hours. My mom gave us each $20, which was pretty good pay for the early to mid-eighties. The $20 was important to us, but we learned something more powerful. Something by example. My mom took pride in her work, and we followed her very closely. If something wasn’t right, my mom didn’t yell at us, she would show a little disappointment, and because of our close relationship, we wanted our mom to be happy. We’d fix it just to see her smile. Powerful lessons: A) You learn to be happy by making those close to you happy. If you aren’t close to anyone, your chances of finding happiness are less. B) Reward comes in many forms, not all of which are monetary.
I started in band in the 7th grade, but it took until some time in the 9th grade for me to really appreciate it deeply and begin to recognize the value it would have in the general scope of my life. In the early years, I learned how good it felt to master my instrument. Later, as I moved in to marching band, I learned how awesome it felt to work together in a group of 200+ people to simultaneously play incredible music AND create beautiful forms on the field. The applause at the end was the icing on the cake, but the goosebumps usually came during the performance when you realize you just nailed a difficult passage of music, or your lines were dressed so perfectly they look like corn rows. This gratification is _internal_, not external, and it’s the single greatest motivator in my life. Powerful lessons: Mastery is a great source of empowerment and confidence. Abandoning arts in our schools is a _terrible_ mistake. Learning self-motivation is one of the single greatest lessons you should take away from primary school.
All of this starts with a close relationship with your children. The amount of influence you have in your child’s life is well established by an early age (5-7 by my experience). If you haven’t established a strong influence by that point, you’re facing an uphill climb. Rather than asking your teenager to engage in the economy, or some other abstract externalized mechanism, begin at the beginning. The economy is the result, not the genesis. Teach your children the internal gratification of accomplishment. Don’t think that everything requires a reward. Mastery shouldn’t be limited to video games. The ability to do something — anything! — and be proud of it is a key factor that will deliver success in business and in life.