12 months ago my son came to my husband and I with an “idea”. Year 12 had finished. The safety of school was over. Schoolies was well and truly done (thank goodness). He was faced with the big decision of what to do with 8 hours, five days a week. It was time to adult.
“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. My “that’s not how the world works” speech wasn’t working.
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 a similar 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 believed should get a degree or at least 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 how much he didn’t know, including 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 him 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 is amongst the small percentage of young people who genuinely 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 my son to choose a more traditional route. In all honesty I was tempted to do both. When I saw my son stumble I wanted to mention that perhaps a ‘normal’ job would serve him better, but I had to refrain from stepping in. I realised 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 served me well in their younger years. However, as they have become young adults, NOT KNOW has been my greatest blessing. Not knowing has allowed me to step back, and watch. I am daily learning who my boys are becoming as young men.
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. Talking About The “Why”
So many young people (my son included) believe that they don’t need a degree in order 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 think differently. They move differently. They are very connected to the cultural climate around them. The more we can help them dig into the “why” that motivates them, 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
Watching a young person start a business looks like absolute chaos, but we can’t underestimate what is happening inside of them. They are growing at a rapid pace. 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. I had to accept that all plans were tentative and that change was survival, not a lack of character. I often say to my son, “Keep what is working. Throw out the rest. If you find a better way, don’t be afraid to change your mind.”
3. A Business Not a Hobby
This is an interesting one! Market reality is a real lesson that all entrepreneurs NEED to learn. Financial viability indicates whether ideas are resonating with people, or not! There is a difference between a business, a lifestyle business and a hobby. In my opinion, realistic goals are something that young adults should be accountable to, especially if parents are supporting them financially. My husband and I 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 fully support our children. We are all in! 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 my son 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
Being a young person in business comes with its challenges. One challenge is having the maturity to know when and how to ask for help. I’m talking about “I’m stuck and I have a very specific question” type of help. Not the “I need your money” type of help. When it comes to helping, I have found there is a very fine line between taking over and offering practical support. We ultimately want to help our children fine-tune their ears to their inner voice. Try questions like: What options are you considering? What information are you missing? Who might have done this before? What is the next best step forward? How is this different or the same as past experiences?How 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 my pom-poms and enjoy the show.
RECOMMENDED READING: For more, check out Michelle’s book “Everyday Resilience: Helping Kids Handle Friendship Drama, Academic Pressure and the Self-doubt of Growing Up”.