Last week was a momentous one in my life: My eldest son, Guy, was offered his first job. Then twenty-four hours later he was offered another job.
Given what I have dedicated my working life to, it has been a fascinating experience to observe the process of my own child attempting to enter the workforce for the first time.
Guy turned fifteen in August and immediately announced that he wanted to get a job. I encouraged him to do so as I had started a casual retail job at the same age and apart from earning my own money, I earned many valuable things about working with adults in a formal environment.
As both his mother and stepmother had successful and enjoyable times working at McDonald’s, and there being a local McDonald’s within walking distance of his mother’s house, Guy decided to apply to work at McDonald’s. He successfully completed an online application and was invited to the local store to be interviewed by the store manager.
I deliberately stayed in the background while all this was going on, based on my (mostly-but-not-always-followed) parenting principle of ‘if my son/daughter wants my advice then he/she will ask for it’. I resisted giving Guy any interview advice with the belief that he’s a smart kid who is capable of looking after himself.
‘How did it go?’, I asked.
‘Pretty well, I think.’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘Well, at the end of the interview I asked him how I had done, and he said I was the best person he had interviewed today.’
There you go, I thought to myself. You don’t need to give your son advice, he is confident enough to ask the right question at the right time.
Guy was advised by the McDonald’s store manager that he should check online for notification about his application’s progress. Some weeks went by without word.
Again, I resisted the temptation to tell him what he should do. If he wants the job desperately enough, he will follow up, I thought.
While he was waiting to hear back from McDonald’s, Guy applied for another job, at his local Subway. After his online application was accepted, he was scheduled for an interview at the store.
The day before the Subway interview, Guy decided to follow up directly with his McDonald’s
interviewer and found out that he was meant to have been advised some weeks before that he was successful.
About an hour before the Subway interview, Guy was offered the McDonald’s job, subject to successfully completing some online training. Guy went to the Subway interview anyway, and was also offered the Subway job.
Guy now wants to try and do both jobs. He reasons that he is not guaranteed any amount of shifts at either McDonald’s or Subway.
This is not what I would advise, but he hasn’t asked me for my advice and given my successful track record of keeping my mouth shut with respect to my son’s work-related decisions, why should I tempt fate now?
I was discussing this series of events with a long-term friend who is the respected CEO of a highly successful recruitment agency and father of two teenage children. We were discussing the issue of parental intervention in the lives of our respective children – where is the line between encouragement, suggesting, telling or simply trusting your child to work it out for themselves?
It’s not clear, nor will it ever be clear; I don’t think.
In the conversation, I said I couldn’t recall my parents ever telling me what I should do with respect to my choices about education, friends, sport, or career.
The only exception to that was one night my father waited up for me to get home from a late night. I was playing cricket the next day. I was a top-order batsman who had some talent. My father gave me a big serve, the gist of it being that if I was committed to doing something then I should give it my best shot and not compromise my chances of doing well by ‘burning the candle at both ends’. I proved my father right by being dismissed in a forgettable way for a low score the next day.
Needless to say, I ignored my father’s very wise advice and my cricket ‘career’ finished up being a tale of unfulfilled promise.
This was the exception; overall my parents trusted that they had brought their son up with a set of values that enabled him to work stuff out for himself in his own time.
I started an economics degree without any real idea of where it might take me. I completed that degree four years later at the age of twenty-two, no further enlightened as to what career I might choose. I don’t recall this lack of planning and rather haphazard approach of mine leading to any serious conversations, initiated by my parents, about ‘my future’.
As Guy commences his working life I hope I am wise enough to continue to learn from the example set by my parents. Trust that each of my three children will be guided by the values that enable them to work things out for themselves and learn something from each of the choices that they make.