Wouldn’t it be nice if your kid grew up to become an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurs, in my view, are not just founders of for-profit businesses. They are resilient, hard-working people who start something, who come up with ideas and bring them to life, and who turn passion into projects.
As research for my book, “Raising an Entrepreneur,” I interviewed 70 parents who raised highly successful adults about how they helped their children achieve their dreams.
What I found is that communication plays a big role in a child’s future entrepreneurial spark. Here are four phrases these parents never used when their kids were young:
The parents all stressed the importance of responsibility and accountability. They wanted their kids to take ownership, fix problems, learn from mistakes and be more confident as they got older.
But it’s not just about homework. John Arrow dropped out of college a few credits before he graduated to start Mutual Mobile, a technology company that has generated more than $200 million in revenue.
When he was in fifth grade, he and his friends wrote a school newspaper, which sold out immediately. But they failed to do the fact-checking. The principal was furious, and his friends got in trouble with their parents. But John’s parents laughed and told him to fix his mistakes.
“Knowing my parents would support me, even when an authority was against me, made me double down and work harder to show them they were right to believe in me,” John said.
“Never hand out free cash,” one father told me.
The parents I spoke to all came from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and taught their children the value of money. Even the more affluent kids had to work to spend money.
Nyla Rodgers is the founder of Mama Hope, a non-profit that funds and advocates for community organizations. When Nyla was in high school, she wanted to go overseas with her French class.
But instead of paying the full amount, her mom said she had to earn half the cost of the trip. With no other choice, Nyla babysat, mowed lawns, walked dogs, taught swimming and did data entry.
“I worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week to raise the money. By the end of the summer, I’d raised enough to go. That’s what started my entrepreneurial journey,” she said.
Many of the parents I talked to didn’t understand their kids’ passions, but they all gave them a lot of time to dive into it.
Some kids pursued their passion in addition to being great students. Others put all their energy into their passion and weren’t so great in school. The parents supported them regardless.
Jon Chu, director of blockbuster hits like “Crazy Rich Asians,” had a passion for making movies from the time he was in second grade. His immigrant parents ran a restaurant, and they hoped he would achieve the American dream by working hard, but it never occurred to them it could be in film.
In high school, Jon’s mom got upset one night when she found him working on a video instead of his homework. He started crying: “But this is what I love! I want to do it my whole life.”
When she picked him up at school the next day, she had filmmaking books she’d gotten from the library. “If you want to do this,” she said, “study it, and be the best at it.”
Growing up, the future entrepreneurs were never taught the life goal was to be rich. Instead, it was to succeed, to do better, to improve, and to create something great.
The parents understood that their kids would never be happy if they were plugging away at something they didn’t enjoy, and that they would never excel at something if they didn’t work non-stop at it, and that they would never work non-stop if they didn’t love it.
So they raised kids who put their passions into their businesses and made better products and services. The kids trusted that, in all likelihood, the money would come. And even if it didn’t, it’d still be better than working hard at something they hated.
As a result, they grew up with a sense of purpose and wanting to make a difference in the world.
Margot Machol Bisnow is a writer, mom and parenting expert. She spent 20 years in government, including as an FTC Commissioner and Chief of Staff of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and is the author of “Raising an Entrepreneur: How to Help Your Children Achieve Their Dreams.” Follow her on Instagram @margotbisnow.