There really is only one thing. And that is to let them pursue what they like the most.
That doesn’t mean letting kids play XBox for a week, nor does it mean encouraging your cousin Harv to Netflix-and-chill rather than going to work every day. What it does mean, though, is finding ways to let people do more of what matters to them, and less of what bores the hair off their legs. How many people have you met who absolutely hate their jobs? Bet you could name a couple. Maybe even fifty.
So many people end up in places / jobs / relationships they don’t like, or aren’t fulfilled by, or that frustrate the hell out of them. Reasonably few adults realize that they have the power to make changes to the status quo, and to adjust their life to bring more of what they want and less of what they don’t want. Consistently. Persistently. Until they get to exactly where they want to go. Most of them don’t believe that life actually works that way.
Life actually works that way.
The coolest employers are the ones who figure out how to get all their employees dialled into something they love doing. That’s where retention lies.
Let’s pan the camera for a moment over to a school — pick a school, almost any school — where hundreds of small human souls are pinned to desks for up to 75 minutes at a stretch, listening, reading or writing about things that may or may not matter to them, that may or may not bore them, and that may or may not frustrate them. A bell rings and they have to stop what they’re working on, move to another space, and start the process all over again. Another bell rings and they’re shunted into yet a different space to eat, whether they’re hungry or not.
We start kids off in life, largely, by feeding them straight into the same mindset we were just talking about. Because of our standardized approach to raising kids (school, and increasingly, organized activities), we teach them — as we ourselves learned — not to expect anything that’s personally relevant. And we certainly don’t become accustomed to asking for or creating anything different for ourselves.
There are an oddball few who do. We call them “entrepreneurs”. (Or marriage-leavers. Or activists. Or people who transition because they’ve spent years changing in the wrong locker room.) And for the most part, they scare the pants off most people. Because they dare to try something different — to try for something different. And when they succeed in knowing themselves well and knowing what they want, thereby creating success and happiness for themselves, we say, “That’s all well and good, but I can’t do that.”
And then we go back to our places / jobs / relationships that we don’t like, or aren’t fulfilled by, or that frustrate the hell out of us. We fail to realize that we have all the power we need right in our own hands. All it takes is for us to choose what we want more of.
That’s all. And you just keep doing it, at every opportunity. At every decision point in your day — and there are thousands — you choose the thing that feels right to you. Not the easy thing. The right thing.
It wakes you up.
Imagine if we could teach this habit to our kids? How much faster they would travel to the land of self-knowledge, self-assurance and feeling right within themselves? They would find their purpose much more quickly. Some of us are still struggling with our why in our 40s and 50s. I suspect Boomers never even got a chance at this kind of thinking, so they’re all but lost to the cause.
But the kids aren’t.
When we honour what lights them up, we do them a huge service. When we make space for them to dig around in that rich soil of personal curiosity, we’re building their faith in themselves as learners. When we help them out with their inquiries and connect them to other people who can help, we give them the satisfaction of building their networks. When we allow kids to explore what matters to them, they feel validated and seen — and that’s a powerful place to be.
Because people who feel good do good.
All that’s left is to get them practicing making those thousands of tiny decisions, every day, that lead them to a place of greater satisfaction.
Poof: We can make a lot of people really happy.