Forthright and Fastidious: Teaching Kids Good Long-Term Habits

White bald man posing like a pimp
I’m concerned about celebrity culture. As a mom, I worry that my kids will be more influenced by the spending habits and career choices of Lindsay Lohan than the lessons I try to teach them. The best examples of success are rarely glorified in the media; attention goes to a starlet’s disputed bill at the Chateau Marmon or Justin Bieber’s latest car purchase. Though, to be fair, Bieber tries to lead this generation by advocating no texting and driving in a PSA:

I want to teach my kids that success comes from being forthright and fastidious. That smart decisions — like putting your phone away while you drive — pay off in the long run. That you get rich slowly. That if you’re ever lucky enough to hit the lottery (literally or figuratively), you shouldn’t spend it all on meaningless things. I want my children to know that slow and steady is how they win the race.

Bad Eggs…

Unfortunately, the best examples of this type of success are rarely the ones that take the spotlight. I could point to Mark Cuban or Donald Trump as business successes, but they have an air of hubris I don’t care to glorify to my children. I also don’t care to teach them that it’s okay to use money as power and weaponize it. Donald Trump is a prime example of using wealth to bully people into doing what he wants. In October of 2012, when he wanted to see (and release to the public) further proof of President Obama’s citizenship, what did he do? He offered a $5 million donation to a charity of Obama’s choice in exchange for the president’s college records and passport application and records.

Regardless of your personal politics, that approach to life is not one I want my kids to embrace. I don’t want them to be bullies, to burn bridges, to hold people hostage with ideas, money or opportunities.

…And Some Good Ones

At the end of 2012 the Anti-Defamation League, an organization dedicated to fighting bigotry, protecting civil rights and defending democratic ideals, awarded an ADL Acheivement Award to Mark Weinberger. As it turns out, Weinberger is the CEO-elect of the financial services company Ernst & Young. As I read more about the award and its recipient I realized that here was a prime example of what I want to teach my children.

Here is a future CEO of a major American firm who doesn’t trade on flash or drama. Business leader Weinberger started his career with E&Y and now he’s taking over the company. He left E&Y to take a job in Washington, D.C. and used that opportunity to learn and grow. From there he started his own (successful) firm. He sold that firm to E&Y and returned to the company with an increased role.

I know our culture currently celebrates “sticking it to the man” and flamboyant videos of employees quitting jobs they hate. Here, though, is a story that shows the value of building and reinforcing the proverbial bridges in your business life. Weinberger left E&Y again, to serve as assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury before finally settling in as the CEO-elect of E&Y.

I know the tortoise rarely gets the same 15 minutes of fame as the hare. But I’m also confident that the tortoise has a better long-term financial outlook. And that’s what I want to teach my kids.

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august, 2021