Parental Advice

Perhaps it depends on where one was brought up, but if you were brought up in India, there is a very high probability that you will relate to what I am going to say here. You might relate to it even if you did not grow up in India. I am talking about that single sacred piece of advice that we have heard so many times in one form or another, that it has become ingrained in our minds like a sculptor makes marks on stone. Many of us have lived our entire lives on this piece of advice, and I wonder how many of us realize, like I do now, that this sacrosanct counsel is actually false!!

Most of our parents must have repeatedly said, or otherwise implied, "Do your studies well, and you will be successful in life." The same story repeats itself in school. I wonder if they do not realize how false this statement is, or if they are only content to trade short term success in terms of grades, for a more accurate picture of how the world is today, and how it functions. Parents, who are not that successful themselves (unless you're the child of a Bill Gates, or a Sachin Tendulkar), don't seem to take a clue from their own situations, where they themselves started out following this same piece of advice, and ended up where they are. Either they see it but still want the illusion to persist, or they don't understand it at all.

People study very hard in school, even though they don't enjoy it, and then wonder why they end up doing a job which they don't like anyway, earning a salary which is a fraction of what they desire. They then look at that person in their class who played cricket all day long and bunked classes, and failed in exams, who's now a successful sportsman, and then they crib, "How come he earns more than me? I had better grades!!!" The student who just scraped through passing grades earns a six figure salary, seven if you're in India, and living the American or Indian dream, while the class topper lives miserably. It's time to get a clue: "Life doesn't follow your high school marksheet! There is no syllabus for life."

Either I was extraordinarily stupid as a kid not to have seen the obvious, or there is something really fishy going on. Parental advice is supposed to be good, right? At least that is what widlife videos on National Geographic suggest, where the leopard teaches her offspring to hunt. For humans, it looks like most parents train their children to become just like themselves, even if they are not particularly proud of what they are. Does the "Study well" advice equip children to hunt on the savannah and move upward along the food chain? Or does it just train them to remain where they are, and thus be overtaken by faster, stronger competitors who prey upon their dreams and aspirations?

My contention is that "studying well" makes one good at only one thing: "studying well". However, academic excellence, a successful career, financial success and happiness in life are not necessarily a series where one leads to the other. I do not mean to say that parents should advise their children to drop out of schools. That would be the same thing done a little differently all over again. I feel that children should be taught to be independent thinkers from an early age. Education in schools, and examinations should not be only to test how well one does at maths or physics or economics or history, but to test the kind of thought that one forms. I feel that a child should be made to realize early on that academic success does not guarantee a happy life, neither does it guarantee financial freedom. The child should be free to take a decision regarding what he or she would like to do. There is enough proof in the world to show that "branding" a failure in maths class as a failure in life is wrong and absolutely foolish.

Take the example of most sports superstars. They started playing their sport from an early age, and were fully dedicated to it. Academics were almost always a secondary issue for them. When one puts all of one's energy into one's most passionate pursuit, only then can one reach the pinnacle of success.

Why were most of the successful entrepreneurs of today regarded as rebels in their youth? That was because while everyone else was walking with blinds on their eyes inside the imaginary lines drawn by their upbringing and false advice from parents and teachers, these brave souls dared to roam free on the fields and thus made hay(money) when the sun(opportunity) shone(was sitting there).

I am not a parent yet, and do not intend to be one for a good number of years to come. However, I feel very strongly about this subject. I think childhood is the time to make mistakes and learn from them, so that we develop an independent style of thinking, so essential to our individuality, so that as young adults, we are ready to pursue that which we are passionate about and not make the same mistakes our previous generation made.

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