by Michelle Mitchell
My colleague, Michelle Mitchell, is a an educator and parenting author. Here she talks with such honesty, about the transition (for parents and young adults) from high school to the world beyond… and when you suddenly have a young adult with bold Ideas
My young adult with bold ideas
12 months ago my son came to my husband and I with an “idea”. Year 12 was finished. The safety of school was over. Schoolies was done. He was faced with the big decision of what to do with 8 hours, five days a week. It was time to adult. But he was a young adult with bold ideas.
“I want to start a film and photography business,” he said, completely out of the blue.
With slightly raised eyebrows my husband and I said, “Why don’t you go to university and study film, work for someone for a few years and then start a business from there?”
It sounded completely logical to me, but we didn’t get much enthusiasm back.
“I don’t want to study. I want to make film,” he insisted.
The discussion continued as we talked about building a strong foundation for life, the importance of life experience, the real pressure of business and the fact that he didn’t have a dollar to his name.
Still no love back. We weren’t winning.
I was looking for flaws in my argument, but I couldn’t find any. The only thing I could find was a child who insistently knew better. He was sure of himself and the future he wanted to create.
For anyone out there thinking, “What is she complaining about?? That is wonderful!!!” I DO AGREE. HOWEVER, I’d like to be very honest in an attempt to help parents who might find themselves in the same headspace. The idea of a 17-year-old running a business sounded a lot more wonderful when it was someone else’s child. When it was my academically capable 17-year-old who I thought should pursue a degree (or some work experience) it got a little more real.
As parents we think a lot. I thought about all my son’s options. I thought about how tough business was. I thought about everything he didn’t know about invoicing and insurance and time-management. I thought about the time he might be wasting while others were ‘getting ahead’. I thought way too much, and then wrapped it up in a bow and gave it to my son to unpack.
So, what happened next?
My dear son respectfully went against almost all of my well-intended advice. He listened, and then chose to reject it WITH my full blessing.
I had to accept that my son was amongst the small percentage of kids who have entrepreneurship in their blood. They like pressure. They thrive when the chase is on. They want to run their own course. They might succeed or fail valiantly, but they will do it on their own terms.
It would have been very easy to force or manipulate him into taking a more traditional route. I was tempted to do both. When I saw my son wobble and stumble I wanted to mention that perhaps a ‘normal’ job would serve him better, but I had to refrain from stepping in. I realised pretty early on that if I didn’t embrace his adventure, or if I tried to put someone else’s journey on his shoulders, he would lose himself.
What Have I Learnt About Championing Uniqueness?
It can be hard, especially when we think we know better. As a parent, I prided myself on knowing my two boys. This type of knowing has served me well in previous years. However, as they have become young adults, the ability to NOT KNOW has been my greatest blessing. Not knowing has allowed me to step back, and observe the adult which is emerging.
Practically How Did I Do This?
These are the five things which have been critical in helping me firstly accept, and then support my son’s dreams:
1. Connecting with the “Why”
I speak to so many young people, my son included, who believe that you don’t need a degree to build a career. The “work from anywhere” mentality has captured their imagination, and the internet has given them the thumbs up to pursue their dreams on their terms. This generation of entrepreneurs are built to create change in their world. They think differently. They move differently. They are very connected to the cultural climate around them. The more we can invest into the “why” that motivates our kids to create, the better equipped they will be to know how their gifts can make a difference in the world. When the going gets tough, “why” is the only thing that will carry them through.
2. Finding the Right Fit
It takes time to discover where ideas connect and resonate and become financially viable, so get ready for a lot of changes. From the outside watching someone start a business it can look like chaos, but there is so much processing happening behind all the commotion. If your son or daughter is creative they will be forever coming up with great ideas, failing, coming up with another idea and the journey continues. That’s a good thing. Being supportive of change, decision making, stepping forward and risk taking will only empower them. Our saying is, “Keep what is working. Throw out the rest. Don’t talk about it. Change it.”
3. A Business Not a Hobby
This is an interesting one! Market reality is a real lesson that all creatives NEED to learn. Financial viability gives an indication of whether their gifts are resonating with people. Cash is king, and there is a difference between a business and a lifestyle business or hobby. In my opinion, realistic goals should be something that young adults should be accountable to, especially if parents are supporting them financially. We have set monthly financial targets with my boy, to help keep him on track. We certainly don’t hold these over his head, but we work towards them together.
4. I Won’t Pick You Up
As parents, our hearts and minds are fully supporting our kids. I am sometimes annoyingly ‘involved’ in my son’s daily accomplishments. However, one of the things my husband and I have clearly said to our son is, “We will not financially pick you up (at all) but we will give you a safe place to fall.” I am not offering any loans or get-out-of-jail-free cards. (Some are surprised at this.) I don’t think he needs a loan to start a business. In fact, I think it would only be a hinderance to him. I will put a roof over his head and feed him at night. Business is tough, and I don’t want to shelter him from that.
5. Walk the Fine Line Carefully
As exceptional as being in business at 17 sounds, it also comes with its challenges of knowing when and how to ask for help. Not a “come and rescue me” type of help, but an “I have a very specific question” type of help. And when it comes to answering those questions, I have found there is a very fine line between taking over and offering a practical support. We ultimately want to help them fine-tune their ears to their inner voice. Try questions like: What options are you considering? Is there information you are missing? Who might have done this before? What is the next best step forward? How is this different or the same as past experiences? Can you reduce the risks? Do you need a back-up plan?
Occasionally it’s good to be proven wrong.
After 12 months my adventurous boy has successfully built a ‘baby’ business. He is paying his own way, doing what he loves. And although there is still much growing to do, it is clear that he is walking his destined path. And this mum has learnt to pick up her pom-poms and enjoy the show.