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The Daily Juggle

Is there too much pressure on children to be as successful as their parents?

/ Sep 24, 2012 7:17AM / Print / ()

Is there too much pressure on children to be as successful a...

Westpac CEO Gail Kelly was on my flight to Auckland last Thursday. As I sat in my seat, just metres from Australia's most powerful and successful corporate woman, I wondered about the pressures on her four children to succeed - and if any of them chose banking as a career.

Do we expect too much of the children of trailblazers? Look at the treatment of the sons of Murdoch, Packer and Stokes. Every business decision attracts a public comparison to what their fathers might have done given the same situation. That's because they chose to join the family business. If they had instead carved a reputation for themselves as engineers or pilots would they be under the same intense scrutiny? I doubt it because their achievements would be much harder to compare. Apples and oranges.

One of my sons went to school with the son of a famous football player. Sport wasn't really the son's strength so he chose a different winter sport to the one his dad had played. It was a great decision and I always admired the father for his sideline enthusiasm.

We all want our children to be happy and successful. But are we happy for them to choose the path to success that defines their happiness? I went to university with a guy who came from a long line of lawyers. He was a creative mind and was keen on a career in advertising. It was a huge problem for his father and my friend suffered self esteem issues as a result of feeling as though his career choice wasn't acceptable to his dad. I suspect it could have been worse had he pursued a legal career and not reached the heights achieved by the rest of the family.

I contrast that scenario with the businesswoman I dined with last week. She is one of Australia's most successful company directors and has worked around the world in various leadership roles. Her daughter is also successful but has pursued a creative career rather than business. I have rarely met a prouder parent. And there is no possible way of comparing their careers as they are so vastly different.

When our 18-year-old son decided to switch his university preferences from media to commerce we were pleased he'd chosen a path that took him in a direction that better suited his skills and personality. He'd shown little aptitude for journalism but had thought he might want to follow in his father's footsteps. Journalism became his default position until he could be encouraged to consider a career that would be of interest to him.

The pressure on children to reach the heights of their parents doesn't always come from their parents. Friends and family are often to blame. During an interview with Uma Thurman in 2001 she shared her insecurities about her looks with me. She revealed that her mother was a "famed beauty" (she was a model) and that friends and family would compare them. When Uma was 10-years-old a friend of her mother's suggested she might need a nose job. The discussions made her feel like the ugly duckling and she suffered body dysmorphic disorder. Still, she started her career as a model before finding success as an actor.

We each have our own unique strengths, talents and passions. The combination leads us in different directions. Success happens when you are passionate about that thing you are good at. And often it has nothing to do with what our parents have achieved.

Do you agree that our children will have a greater chance of finding success and happiness if they choose a different path to the one their parents chose?

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