Luck and Success
“The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
--Gary Player, Professional Golfer
Ask anyone what it takes to be successful in life and most lists will include some variation of the essential three: hard work, talent, and luck. Remarkably, however, as people thrive more and more, luck slowly drops from the list of one of the three key ingredients, and there is a cost to this drift.
According to Robert Frank in his most recent The Atlanticarticle--Why Luck Matters—Much More Than You Think—this is unfortunate for us as individuals and as a society. Successful and “wealthy people overwhelmingly attribute their won success to hard work rather than to factors like luck or being in the right place at the right time…. That’s troubling, because a growing body of evidence suggests that seeing ourselves as self-made—rather than as talented, hardworking, and, lucky—leads us to be less generous and public spirited.” Deeper, with the purging of the luck factor also comes the loss of genuine gratitude, which research tells us is a key quality in all measures of well being and happiness.
As I reflect on this it is immediately apparent that all of our students receiving a Brentwood education are supremely lucky, for at least a few reasons. First, the quality and depth of the education itself is a huge gift. Second, rubbing elbows daily with peers who are deeply motivated to learn embeds them in a culture of growth and excellence. Third, it means they come from a family that values education by making the necessary sacrifices to provide for a Brentwood education and reinforcing attitudes that are conducive to hard work and learning. In this regard, all of us affiliated with Brentwood are lucky.
This week our 7thand 8thgraders experienced this luck in stark relief during an assembly featuring David Batstone, one of the founders of Not For Sale—an organization designed to combat the trafficking of children and teenagers around the world, including right here in Los Angeles. He pointed out that just over 30 million children are currently enslaved around the world and these children are targeted simply because where they were born and the economic realities of that region of the world. His work, as he went on to explain to our students, is social entrepreneurship at its highest. As the assembly came on the heels of the 7thgrade Human Rights projects, every student walked out of the theater feeling both inspired and profoundly lucky—a great combination.
Reflect for a moment on the role of luck in your life. I don’t know about you, but for me it is powerful, from getting my first full-time job to meeting some of my best lifetime friends. What’s interesting to see in these types of reflections is that the role of luck in no way diminishes the amount of hard work and talent needed for these successes. Rather, luck gave these two qualities the opportunity to flourish.
As parents, therefore, it is important to share some of these lucky moments from our lives with our children. Furthermore, it is imperative that they understand, in a non-guilt, inducing manner, how lucky they are and the role luck plays in many of their various successes. This is especially true of Brentwood students and alum, as one of our stated purposes is to have them “shape a future with meaning” for themselves and the world as a whole. In other words, we expect our students to make a difference in the world, for the better.
In Defense of Arguing
In most homes, regardless of parenting style, arguing with the kids is not encouraged. In fact, for most of us, it’s taken as a sign of disrespect. Indeed much of the arguing between kids and their parents is not helpful—berating us to change a decision they disagree with, taking out their frustrations with friends/homework/stress on us, or giving in to their natural defensiveness after making an error or poor choice. None of this furthers the relationship with us or bolsters their self-esteem.
But that is not quite the whole story. Recent research by Dr. Joseph Allen, a professor at the University of Virginia, points out the benefits of certain types of arguing between parents and children. That is, some forms of arguing actually strengthen our kids sense of identity, and very importantly, increases their ability to stand up to peer pressure. According to his studies, those children and teenagers that can effectively argue with parents are 40% more likely to say “no” to negative peer pressure.
So what is this type of arguing and how do we encourage it? It all comes down to emotional restraint, on our part. As they escalate in defensiveness, tone, and volume we need to stay calm. We need to listen to what they are saying—really listen. And as we hear their arguments we learn to set aside our own defensiveness enough to note their valid points, and acknowledge them, which is not necessarily agreement. Most important, we need them to see that they can influence our decisions. That is, we are open to reconsidering our position after hearing their input. This is true whether the topic is politics, curfew, summer camp, or where to attend college.
Part of how they come to trust us is by knowing that we will consider their ideas when we disagree with one another. And in those times when we blow it by reacting defensively we take the time in a moment of calm, often hours later, to reconsider their ideas. Then when we eventually come back to own our piece of the argument (translation: apologize), we take the time acknowledge the validity of one or two of their points. In these moments we will feel and see the relationship grow right before us, and just as importantly witness their deepening sense of self and trust in their ability to stand up for themselves, with peers and beyond.
This approach to teaching them to argue—through our behaviors of patience, reconsidering, acknowledging, and welcoming their influence in our thinking—takes time and is not easy. The outcome is, however, what we all want for our children and teenagers.
There is, however, one exception. If your child happens to be one of our champion debaters in the middle or upper school, well, I wouldn’t recommend arguing at all with them unless you are willing to be humbled! Huge kudos to all our debaters in both divisions for their unparalleled success in the last few weeks.