How comfortable are you with the unknown? Scientists say that successful entrepreneurs have a strong tolerance for ambiguity. But most company founders also know that the opposite of success is failure. The stakes are high and losing hurts. And that is a good thing. If it did not hurt -- we would not try so hard to avoid it.
At least this is what my wife and I tell our children. But it can be a tough lesson for young minds. My own kids experience it through sports. Instinct tells them to try their hardest to win, but their brains do not always know how to react to a loss. Take it too hard and it could feel like that single loss drowns out everything else.
Come to think of it, I have seen some "grownups" act this way as well. I once saw a VP of sales break down and start crying hysterically when he was told that the customer was going to go with a different solution.
I think most of us want to see our kids succeed in whatever they choose to do in life. And that means sharing our beliefs and lessons to help guide the way. I am the CEO of Aha! -- which is one of the fastest-growing software companies in the U.S. -- so I enjoy talking to my kids about leading teams and working exceptionally hard.
Obviously, you do not need to be a CEO to share important lessons. The values and traits that will make kids better human beings -- integrity, grit, empathy, and teamwork -- are integral to almost any role.
Here are some of the business lessons I have used to teach my own kids about success and setbacks:
Go after big goals
Winning is not everything. But it is not nothing, either. We compete out of a desire to achieve something great. For businesses, that means defining your vision and relentlessly pursuing your plan for realizing it -- a lesson that easily translates to anything your kids want to achieve. Taking a goal-first approach is the best way to do that.
I do not believe in winning at all costs. No victory is worth the price of your integrity. When people make that trade-off, they hope to get away without being discovered. Instead, knowing that you would not deserve the win should be enough to keep you from acting dishonorably in the first place.
When I see somebody who takes a big disappointment in stride, I do not think, "What a graceful loser." I think, "That person does not care enough." In fact, a recently published study shows that an emotional response to a failure can lead to a better outcome the next time around. For my kids, this means acknowledging both excitement and disappointment as part of the process.
Competition is motivating
Studies show that kids do not care that much about winning -- they would rather just have fun. And yet nobody likes to lose. What's more, strong competitors show us where we can improve and how to adapt to opponents and circumstances. There are lessons, ideas, and personal betterment that spark from competition.
Practice under pressure
Mimicking (even if you cannot completely replicate) competition conditions during practice makes it easier to handle the real thing. Relentlessly practicing under pressure lets you push fear and self-doubt to the side during competition and keep the focus where it should be -- on the outcome and the actions you need to take to achieve it.
When you maintain humility and perspective, you can be a better leader. Our team at Aha! lives by The Responsive Method (TRM), which includes the principle of kindness. Experiencing setbacks can help your children build empathy and avoid the psychological pitfall of categorizing people as fundamentally "winners" or "losers."
It takes a team
Just like winning, losing is a team effort. There are many actions made by many teammates that lead to a bad outcome -- not just one or two that people may remember. Examining a loss honestly and holistically and then sharing the results lets everybody learn from the experience. This also gives you the best chance of improving for the next time.
If you are reading this, you are like me -- privileged. I have worked hard but I had the gift of a caring family who made a meaningful investment in my education and well-being. I am fortunate. It is important to teach children to be grateful for what they have. Show them they can choose to recognize that and help others who have a lot less achieve their goals too.
We want our kids to be passionate, resilient, ambitious, and kind. On a gut level, we also want to shield them from disappointment. But reality imposes it on all of us anyway, despite our efforts.
That is why we want to set our children up to be not just successful, but all-around good people.
What do you teach your kids about working hard?