Gone are the days when the goal was to find a good, stable corporation or manufacturer where you could hope to work your way up the ladder while socking away a retirement nest egg. Instead, we've seen a marked increase in the numbers of Americans who are going into business for themselves – as entrepreneurs.
One study put the number of entrepreneurs in this country at 27 million, or nearly 14% of the workforce. When you consider the cultural shifts concerning worker satisfaction and the potential for automation to drastically alter the future jobs landscape, it's no surprise. Entrepreneurship is fast becoming the desired route in a new American economy.
Parent Co. spoke with April Cornell – who started her own clothing and textiles company almost 40 years ago based on a love of travel and a deep respect for beauty – to find out how you can encourage your future worker to blaze her own trail as an entrepreneur.
If you’re not an entrepreneur yourself, perhaps you have a friend or family member who started her own business. It’s helpful for children to be acquainted with someone who’s done it, says Cornell, “because then they know it's possible, it's not a distant reality…I think if you can expose your children to others who do start things and have to find their own solutions or have done that, then that helps set an option for them. ‘I could do that, my uncle has done that,’ or, ‘My mom's friend has her own business.’ I think seeing other people who try to do things independently, even if it's not your own parents, is a good example.”
In contrast to the common tendency to over-schedule the lives of our kids, Cornell suggests that you leave “unfilled places for children to find their (interests), to experiment.” It’s in these spaces between the structured aspects of your kid’s life that they’ll likely discover new skills and nurture a habit of opening themselves to inspiration.
As many as eight out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. Failure is as much a part of small business ownership as is the generation of ideas. Cornell reminds us that it’s “important (for kids to) see that not everything's successful. If you own a business you have to be able to sustain your confidence through times when things aren't going your way, or maybe you have to make a change.”
It can be tempting to create a mistakes-free zone for your kids, to orchestrate a world in which they cannot fail. But that’s not the broader world in which they actually live. Says Cornell, “I think kids have to feel it's okay to not be completely successful, or what so many people would look at as success. Trying something, that's a huge success. Trying something else, that's even more important.”
In most instances, you probably view your kid’s defiance as a negative trait. But consider the grit needed to persevere in the face of unfavorable odds and you’ll see stubbornness as a requirement.
Cornell explains: “You need some kind of stubbornness… You have to have sticking power. Success, it hardly sticks to you, but when you do something wrong, you never forget those things.”
This one sounds obvious and maybe even superficial, but consider Cornell’s deeper perspective: “Parents having confidence in their child is really essential. It's essential. Otherwise the child grows up fearful. Whatever you're feeling is as a parent, you have to be careful not to fill your kids with fear.”
So even if you’re afraid or embarrassed at the thought of your child selling cookies and lemonade at the end of your driveway, don’t share those feelings with your kids. If you had a bad experience putting yourself out there in some way as a kid (or as an adult) keep that experience to yourself. Rely on a deep confidence in your child to know what she wants to do, and on her ability to do that thing.
Cornell says that successful entrepreneurship requires a litany of skills, but one of the most important is the ability to communicate effectively. “If you’re going to have a business, you’re going to have to talk to a lot of people. You're going to have to promote your company, you're going to have to talk about your product, you're going to have to call your staff together and have meetings sometimes.”
A common roadblock to easeful communication is a basic fear of public speaking – or straight-up shyness. Cornell suggests that you create opportunities to overcome those fears “within your family, like having plays or presentations or talking about a book or TV show. I think it's important that kids learn how to communicate to others in a way where they're in charge, and also learn to listen to others and allow other people to be in charge. That's really important.”
Written communication is also key. “Maybe you have a way of seeing or understanding something and you need to communicate it to people. If you can write it out and have some kind of structured presentation, it helps people get somewhere.”
Maybe the more accurate phrase here would be “allow them” to always see the beauty in the world. Kids do this naturally, but you can help by training your own eye to see things more deeply. And when your kid sees things “more deeply, then they will see more beauty and feel more beauty within themselves.”
“I'm always looking for the shape and the curve and the color (of things)… Pretty soon, you start to become aware of those things. You see them repeatedly and you start to know them and become a part of your references. In this way, life become more experiential,” says Cornell.
By living a deeply experiential life, kids can more naturally identify those “things that please them and that they’re drawn to, and then those things can actually become a livelihood.”
Cornell points out that “if you look at the artwork of any five-year-old, it is so good. It is so spontaneous and so good, so many people would like to be able to do that. Then as they age, it becomes more confined and more structured. Of course they're learning control, which is important, but how can every five-year-old be an artist and by 10, there are only two in the class?”
If the role of an entrepreneur, in some ways, is to see possibility, then it’s our job as parents to help keep those wide eyes open. And if we can agree that parenting is also about paying attention to the limits that you accepted as you grew up, it’s incumbent upon us to make sure we don’t place to same limits on our children. This can be accomplished through the nourishment of your kid’s innate desire to create – free of judgement or expectations.
Cornell stresses the importance of allowing your child to pursue his or her own interests without any implication (overt or otherwise) that your happiness is somehow tangled up in your kid’s success.
This can be a tough one for parents to tease out and may pop up in some surprising instances. Cornell provides an example from her own experience: “I remember when my son was a teenager, he was going bowling with a bunch of guys and they were doing it repetitively, and I go and buy him a bowling ball. He was like, ‘What the heck are you doing? I have no desire to become a professional bowler, I'm just having a good time.’”
Our desire as adults to be the best at something, or to do it a certain way, must remain separate from the desires of our children. “Be there to help them,” Cornell says, “but it's not your career. It's not your life, it's their life. Let them do some of the development themselves.”
April Cornell has sponsored this piece because they believe in the power of creativity and entrepreneurship in the next generation.
It takes a village!
Join ours. Before we were parents, we were people. Sign up for tips and stories from parents who get it.