When my children were young, I devoured parenting books, looking for insights to help me understand how two vastly different creatures could come from the same parents. With my older son, I struggled to understand him while helping him interact with the world he struggled to navigate. Here was a child who loved books and could name dozens of train engines at age 3 but melted down with the slightest change in routine. While his younger brother was requesting “av-cado” for snacks by age two and soon after started stealing spicy Italian sausage pieces off dad’s plate, John stuck to a few comfort foods he knew and loved.
One book that stuck with me from those early years is, “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher,” by Rahima Baldwin Dancy. It emphasizes how important a parents early influence and role modeling can be for children, and according to a review on Amazon, “Gives you the wisdom and understanding to enrich your child’s natural development in the right way at the right time.” As February is a month when we celebrate love, another closely related topic is passion. Ok, not that kind of passion, although I’m a big believer in regular date nights for parents, but passion for how we live our lives.
While I didn’t always recognize it as a child, my dad was a great role model in that department. He found joy in the small things, from Gene Wilder movies, math books at the kitchen table and road trips to Civil War battlefields and Midwest farm towns to see relatives. As a small child it can be hard to fathom why parents would ever want or need time to themselves but demonstrating our varied interests to our children can help them discover passions of their own.
I had the opportunity recently to catch up with fellow marketer and creative thinker, Danny Schuman. I first came to know Danny in 2002 when I joined the marketing team on Gatorade and Danny led our creative team on the agency side. While my role focused on retail marketing, I was fortunate to collaborate with colleagues across disciplines and witness what a commitment to vision and purpose can do for a brand. Danny is one of the humblest leaders I know, and last year wrote a book about the insights he’s amassed from his years as an advertising executive followed by a decade now running his own company.
In what Danny calls “A guide for humans who work to create a life that works,” he reflects on ten years as an entrepreneur or self-described “UDOT” (Us Doing Our Thing). His book, The Worst Business Model in the World grew from his years building Twist, a consultancy focused on brand storytelling and personal branding. The lessons shared in his book encourage a mix of trust, generosity and bravery when striking out on your own. My favorite chapter is called, “Hug A Client” and truly resonated as helping others succeed has helped me find professional fulfillment, and a certain degree of success.
In true Danny fashion, he wasn’t sure why I’d want to talk with him about parenting insights. But as we spoke, and Danny mentioned how, “More people need to force themselves to be uncomfortable,” it became clearer how his approach to his life’s work served as a good model for raising two children to be independent adults.
Danny shared he’s an introvert who’s learned to thrive in a world that favors extroverts. He told his kids, “The world belongs to the enthusiastic.” Encouraging them (and himself) to embrace challenges and new opportunities with positive energy. At the same time, Danny tempers his enthusiasm with regular self-reflection, staying true to his passions. “When I’m not loving something, I’m probably doing the wrong thing,” Danny told me. Our conversation was a reminder that some people are lucky enough to discover their passions early on, and other people spend years trying to be a round peg fitting into a square hole.
When it comes to encouraging passion in children, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist Katie Hurley writes that parents often confuse passion with a need to specialize early on. In 2018 she wrote about “toxic competition” in US News & World Report and how stressful that can be for kids, often damaging schoolyard friendships. She writes that, “The competition to succeed academically, socially and within other areas of interest also results in burnout.” I am all too familiar with this from my own childhood. My mom was convinced each child needed to excel in something and attend an Ivy League college. Her efforts paid off, depending on how you look at it. Three of her children attended Harvard, Yale and Brown.
My interests were more varied, taking me to soccer fields, student council conventions and speech team competitions. I wasn’t Ivy League material, yet managed to go to a very good college and believe I turned out more than ok. But the stress brought on by dashed parental expectations was difficult for me. However, it did lead me to approach parenting with a much more holistic mindset.
I am equally proud of my 5th graders’ passion for baseball, football, basketball, electric guitar, drawing and now the school play. I encourage my boys to measure success on effort, not outcome. And when there’s deep enthusiasm for an endeavor, success may look different than what you’d expect. Take the Purple Cobras, my 7th graders park district dodgeball team made up of boys he’s known since early elementary school. As another mom pointed out recently, “They’re easily the worst team out there, but they’re having the best time.”
Purple Cobras 2020