What Are You Investing In?

By Eric Wilson

Successful people have enormous demands on their time. In addition to working at or running a business, they may be sitting on corporate boards, pursuing philanthropic interests, and taking care of children and elderly parents – plus tending to the myriad of challenges in managing their personal lives.

What’s more, due to the intense social pressure on parents to “succeed” both inside and outside the home, chances are their children’s schedules are just as hectic as theirs. The ideal child is perceived to be strong, self-confident, nice-looking, an all-star athlete, a stellar student and involved in the community – and he or she should also play a bit of piano or violin just for good measure.

For families with means, it can be very tempting to surround children with extra help, signing them up for private coaching and prep classes and enlisting a tutor at the first sign of less than an “A” average.

But in their struggle to find the right balance, it would be worth remembering that failure in pursuit of success has a noble pedigree. Many people look back on their failures as the milestones that taught them some of life’s most valuable lessons. And here is the secret that no one has told them: Their success does not equal their children’s success, no matter how much they want it to.

Another secret is that many of these parents might be providing the wrong kind of example as to what constitutes being a successful parent to their children – they just don’t recognize it.

Consider the following: A highly successful businessman works long days and weekends for most of his life, sincere in his belief that he was doing it all for his family. Someday, he thought, when he retired, his family would all enjoy the fruits of his labor by spending time together, traveling and doing all the things they’d never done. He believed that once he had the money, he’d get those years back.

Here’s the question: Do you think he can get those years back? That he can get back the time reading bedtime stories or watching Sesame Street together? Is a birthday party for a five-year old with ponies and inflatable slides the same as a birthday party dinner with a teenager with high-school friends? Or is it anywhere close to the same experience attending a young child’s T-ball, soccer or basketball game as taking an adult child to a pro game?

The answers, I hope, dear reader that you will agree, is a resounding “No.” As parents, when we gamble with time, we are placing a bet we can’t cover.

To understand true success, it is more important than ever that we impart the fundamental life lessons to our children: accountability, reliability, economic self-sufficiency and, perhaps most important of all, letting the child know that it’s OK to fail – that the pursuit of the goal is worthwhile, even when the goal is not achieved.

In 22 years of working with some of the most successful families on the East Coast, I have not met a single person that has achieved monetary greatness without failing – not just once, but multiple times. Taught the virtue of perseverance early on, these individuals navigated their way through marriages that were on the brink of divorce, families that were on the brink of bankruptcy and businesses that were on the brink of collapse.

What sustains us in life’s most challenging situations are the basic truths we have been taught. Not giving up in the face of failure is a vital lesson and one of the most precious gifts we can give to our children.

A friend and client put it like this: “We are struggling for the souls of our children. Not in an evangelical way, per se, but in a more basic way. If I can’t trust my daughter’s ability to make good decisions, how can I trust her with the inheritance we’re leaving her?”

It’s a good question and one we should all be asking ourselves. After all, if success means that we gain the whole world from a financial standpoint and yet lose our families, what have we really built?