I believe my job as a parent is to teach my children to leave me. If I do my job well, they will have a strong sense of self, find meaningful work that makes a difference in the world and discover personal fulfillment through their connection to others. (Of course, I hope they’ll want to come home and eventually live near me with grandchildren.) While I can help them become self-sufficient, I can’t advise them on their future career. The economy is transforming faster than imaginable—with a projected 85% of jobs changing by the time students today enter the workplace. However, my research into the new world of work has shown me that there are Five C’s that will determine their success: collaboration, communication, creativity, connection, and character. All of them can be developed through mindful parenting.
#1 Collaboration is the foundation of all future work. Rather than climbing the corporate ladder, our children will interact on projects with multidisciplinary teams–either in person or virtually. Their ability to be a team player will determine whether they are hired and rehired in their field. Their relational intelligence will help them navigate to and through projects.
This will be difficult for a generation of students who were raised to individually achieve and whose education consisted of being ranked and rewarded in competition with their fellow peers. Luckily, collaboration is fundamental to being human. It is how we have survived throughout history.
As parents, we can help by prioritizing the nurturing of relationships over tasks and ensuring time for social development with people of all ages. Encouraging our children to play in unstructured environments when they are young is the key to learning many of the needed interpersonal skills. Household chores or assisting a neighbor with babysitting, pet sitting or gardening can also provide collaborative experiences. As they get older, part-time jobs, internships or volunteering can expose them to a bigger world and their potential role in it. Our children need to understand how they can contribute their slice to a collective pie.
#2 Communication has always been important. Both written and oral skills are necessary, with written skills increasingly harder to find. There is also a new type of communication they will need to master–the ability to communicate about themselves. The promoting of their skills and the value they can add to projects will be how work opportunities are created. They will need to brand themselves on websites in a way that clearly communicates who they are and what they do. This requires entrepreneurship skills and computer literacy. Their product is the service and/or technical abilities they can provide to the team.
Helping our children develop a sense of self by allowing them to explore and struggle is important. Their interests will determine where they find the most meaningful work and they need to identify them. In our culture today, we tend to heavily guide children depending on what we think looks good on a college resume. These external models of success have left many children feeling hollow and unfulfilled. Truly seeing our children as individuals and allowing them to learn through their interests will help them find their way.
#3 Creativity is more than artistic expression, it is the ability to generate ideas and problem solve. Problem-solving is about figuring out the right question to ask, not just finding the answer. Our standardized testing system has suppressed the ability of students to be creative and think outside of the box. They have been taught that there is one correct answer determined from memorized facts and corresponding to a bubble on a test.
Encouraging students to be curious and make mistakes facilitates creativity. Just watch a group of young kids make up a game and lose themselves in the flow. As we have limited time for play and downtime in favor of adult-directed structured activities and regimented cognitive learning, we have diminished their creativity. Our educational structures reinforce conformity and yet it is the nonconformists who have done more to change the world. Those who have repeatedly failed and persisted at things they believe in are the ultimate success stories.
#4 Connection to others is fundamental to both personal and professional wellbeing. The disconnection bred by our current culture of competition has separated our children from a true sense of community. This isolation, combined with a lack of control over their lives, has led to crisis levels of mental illness. The ability to deeply engage with others and to feel like we belong is critical to our health and happiness.
In the professional arena, technological advances have created a person-to-person economy where we no longer go through institutions to facilitate interaction. This is transforming how future workers will find work. According to LinkedIn, 85% of jobs are found through networking and referrals, not job postings. Increasingly, companies are encouraging employees to recommend people they know to fill open opportunities.
As parents, we can pay attention to our out-of-balance focus on academic achievement which has exacerbated the ability of children to develop social skills. Being able to connect with others is essential to their opportunities in the new web of employment. Creating time for multi-age interactions will provide lifelong advantages. Both in person and online connectedness are needed in the new world of work.
#5 Character is the sum total of who a person is and the most important determinant of success in all aspects of life. It can influence whether a person earns an income at the high end or low end of the salary range. A child’s character is shaped through struggle as they learn how to handle life’s ups and downs and how to treat others in the process.
Focusing on external outcomes such as grade point averages and awards as the measure of a child’s worth is shortsighted. Few people in the real world introduce themselves with their statistics and achievements. Instead, people are judged by their integrity, empathy, and kindness. Those who can interact and collaborate to ensure the success of everyone, as well as the project, will be the ones who benefit the most. We can help our children see that they have control over these important traits whereas they don’t have control over external outcomes.
A parent who smooths the way (known as a helicopter, lawnmower, or snowplow parent) is likely to raise a child who doesn’t have the necessary self-regulation, self-initiative, or adaptability to navigate life well, let alone the workplace. Hard lessons will come from being the most deserving and not getting the promotion or from meeting all the external measurements and still not getting into the school of their choice. But if they know they are valued because of who they are, they will be able to weather the storms that life will inevitably present.
Because each home situation is different and each child’s personality is unique, there is no perfect template for parenting. In the end, the best thing we can do is to model the qualities we value and prioritize their importance in our homes. None of the Five C’s will be learned through homework or standardized testing; they all relate to human interconnectedness. Rather than relying on institutional systems to teach our children these essential skills, we need to mindfully parent to prepare them for entry into the new economy. With the Five C’s as a guide, we can improve their chances for success.