The skills and qualities that make great entrepreneurs are the same that help people live successful lives. Here’s how you can teach your kids about entrepreneurship—and why it will actually make you a better entrepreneur.
I was riding the train to a Dallas Mavericks game with my twelve-year-old son Kaden for some father-son time when my phone started buzzing. Three new emails had come in, all sales from my eCommerce business.
“Dad, you’re not supposed to be checking your phone,” my son reminded me.
Caught red handed. I couldn’t help but smile. I was shoving the device back into my pocket when something occurred to me.
“I want to show you something,” I replied, “You see these emails? These are all sales from Amazon. That’s how much money your dad made while we were riding on this train.”
The sales totaled to a few hundred dollars. That might not sound like much, but it sounds like a ton to a thirteen-year-old.
I took a few minutes to explain to Kaden how my business works: how I designed and sourced the products, arranged for them to be shipped and stored, and set up a website and Amazon account to automatically process sales.
“That’s called passive income,” I explained. “You set up your business, and it makes money while you sleep.”
“That’s really cool, dad,” he replied. And I could tell he meant it.
It was a proud moment for me. I had taught him something valuable. Not many adults in our society understand passive income. I had given my son a leg up in the world of business and his future.
**On a side note, if you’d like to learn more about setting up a passive-income business yourself, check out our new eCommerce course, AMZ Millionaire Blueprint.
We Need to Be Teaching Our Children About Entrepreneurship
A parent’s responsibility is sacred, and there’s a lot of talk out there about setting better work-life boundaries and making time for your family. Actually, this is pretty much our mantra at StartupCamp.
But that is not to say that your business should be completely severed from your home life. As an entrepreneur, you have a great opportunity to connect with your children (or any other young people in your life) by teaching them the small, necessary lessons that can make them happier and more successful.
Happier and more successful, really? I’m not kidding. In fact, research shows that entrepreneurs tend to be happier and healthier than employees. That doesn’t mean your kids have to become founders to live a fulfilling life. Just thinking like an entrepreneur is shown to have measurable benefits on mental wellbeing.
That makes sense when you consider the qualities of an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs have high self-confidence. They are optimistic about the future, driven, and curious. Above all, they’re highly adaptable problem-solvers, a necessary quality in the Age of Disruption.
Finally, entrepreneurship can be a very healthy avenue for children to flex their intelligence outside of the classroom. I wasn’t wired for traditional school, and that impacted my self-esteem. I am totally wired to be an entrepreneur, I just learned that much later in life. So it’s out of personal conviction that I share this with my kids.
So how do we talk to our kids about entrepreneurship? What do we even teach them?
The 3 Entrepreneurial Lessons Your Kid Needs to Learn
There are a million ways to introduce your children to entrepreneurship. The classic example, of course, is helping your kid start a business.
These videos will get the conversation started. Then, it’s time to think constructively about what you want your child to learn about entrepreneurship. For my money, there are three essential lessons that every entrepreneur needs to learn. Moreover, these lessons will help a person in every part of their lives, at any stage in their lives.
Here are three essential lessons I’ve tried to pass on to my own kids, and some resources to help you if you want to do the same:
1. It’s okay to fail
Expecting and accepting failure is a defining practices of modern entrepreneurship. The internet is plastered with stories about iconic startups and their founders learning from failure.
As parents, we are always trying to support, protect, and comfort our children. But we don’t always go so far as to teach our kids that failure and rejection isn’t just normal, it’s a good thing. Failure means you’re trying, learning, and pushing your limits.
How do you teach this, practically speaking?
Start by watching this TEDx presentation by performance coach Jim Harshaw. Jim believes that it’s critical we teach our children to fail, and that the best way to do that is to give them examples of great people from history who failed on their path to success.
Also, don’t be too proud to show your kids where you have come up short. This sounds painful, and it is. Not every day has been gangbusters for my business, and those bad days aren’t easy to share. But this practice keeps me grounded—and I’ve already seen the impact in my children’s lives.
For example, not too long ago, Kaden’s band was having a fundraiser. The kids in his class were going door to door, selling cards. Rather, they were struggling to. These intelligent, precocious adolescents were having a hard time to ringing the doorbell.
Things went a little differently for my son. He looked people in the eye and shook their hands. He knew that not everyone was going to say yes, and that wasn’t a reflection on him. He did the best he could, and actually made the most sales in his class.
All of us need to stop treating every obstacle and decision as a life-or-death situation. This is one of the most important lessons we can teach our kids.
2. Challenge brings opportunity
This is directly connected to Lesson #1. Because if you can be okay with failure, you can actually learn from your challenges. You can find their silver-linings—and their gold ones, too.
A great way to introduce this topic to your children is with this video of kids on Shark Tank. Notice how the first two competitors designed their inventions based on conditions others would consider “limitations”.
Teach your kids to find opportunity in challenge by talking to them about the limitations they face. For example, my son does not have a phone. He’s thirteen now, and every other kid in his class has a phone (and probably has for years). Except him.
Studies show that just having your phone near you lowers your cognitive function. When my son asked me why I wouldn’t get him a phone, I wanted him to understand how this “limitation” could actually help him:
“Why do you actually want a phone?” I asked him. “Has not having a phone made you different from your friends?”
Kaden figured out pretty quickly that he wasn’t really missing a phone; he was missing his friends, who often turned into phone-zombies. He also saw that his peers were more shy around strangers, and that this gave him an advantage in the card-selling fundraiser.
Lack can be a great teacher, if we look at it through the right lens. I call it innovation through constraint, and it’s essential in entrepreneurship (and life). In this case, constraint helped teach my son people-skills in the age of all-consuming screens. More importantly still, he learned that it can be a good thing to stand out.
3. Know your strengths and weaknesses
As leaders, we are trained to leverage our strengths and account for weaknesses. But why does this process only start when we’re on our way up to the C-Suite?
We don’t like to admit that our children have hardwired weaknesses. We prefer to think that their minds are so malleable that we can train out the things they find difficult. But deep down, we understand that perfection is impossible, and the hunger for it is its own kind of limit (see #1).
The real question is, how can we help our children understand their weaknesses?
My strategy has been to find role models that share my children’s weaknesses. My son, like me, is dyslexic. Fortunately, there is no shortage of great people in history who have this same obstacle, from athletes like Nolan Ryan, to entrepreneurs like Richard Branson.
Learning about these people has helped my son put his own obstacles in a healthy perspective. He’s less afraid of failure and able to be more honest about his effort. And in our house, effort is more important than grades.
Ultimately, your children can learn all of these lessons another way: by actually starting a business. And when your kids are ready to put the rubber to the road, take a peek at this article for a list of solid business ideas that your kids can start and run—with minimal supervision.
Talking to Your Kids Will Make You a Better Entrepreneur
Renowned child psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman tells us that we have to teach when the stakes are low, because that’s when the brain is primed to learn. For a few tips and pointers on how to be a good teacher to your children, check out this short video from The School of Life (we cut ahead to where the info starts). The animation is a little goofy, but the advice is solid.
But I found something surprising as I explained business to my kids: I learned as much from them as they did from me.
That’s right, talking to my kids about business actually made me a better entrepreneur.
Sound crazy? Here’s what you can learn from conversations with your kids:
- You’ll learn to keep it simple. The simplest plans have the highest chance of success. So try explaining eCommerce to a twelve-year-old. When you boil down your business to its most basic elements, you’ll be surprised what gets left out. You might come away with a clearer picture of your goals or uncover some unseen weakness or gap.
- You’ll learn to teach. On some level, business is really about teaching. As a boss or manager, part of your job is teaching people how to do their jobs. Teaching a child requires patience, diligence, clarity, and simplicity. Good practice for when you’re doing exactly the same thing with a bunch of stubborn, self-important adults.
- You’ll learn what real confidence looks like. Kids are so trusting. If you tell them things are a certain way, they’ll believe you. If you say jump, they will. Basically, they act without social conditioning. They have not yet “learned” to self-doubt and fear rejection. That is exactly what we need to learn to be successful entrepreneurs.
- You’ll learn what’s holding you back. Conventional wisdom holds that parents place their unsatisfied dreams on their children. The same is true for their hidden fears. Notice the points during your talk about entrepreneurship where you start to caution them. Those warning are probably what you tell yourself, quietly, every day. And they might not be serving either of you.
- You’ll learn that work can be FUN. Let’s face it: for the most part, work is a chore. But it doesn’t have to be! Through the eyes of a child, you might just realize that what you do is actually cool! Every sale starts to feel like the very first one all over again.
Not that you needed another reason to talk to your kids about entrepreneurship, but, you know…
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Learning to accept failure with a positive attitude. Learning to spot opportunities when resources are slim. Learning to be okay with your weaknesses, and accept yourself for who you really are. These are the lessons that make great entrepreneurs, the lessons that we can and should be teaching our children every chance we get.
What’s more, by teaching these lessons, we just might learn them ourselves.
Have you tried teaching your kids about entrepreneurship? What was the lesson, and what was your experience? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section of this article or on social media. And as always, thank you for sharing.