I am realizing that I have a specific goal for my kids. I want them to understand what it is like to work hard at something and be good at it. I want them to know how to find what they like and then figure out how to accommodate that passion in their life. This might sound simplistic to you, or too narrow, but I do a lot of life coaching for adults. And invariably, what adults who are not happy are missing in their lives is either passion, or the ability to respond adequately to that passion.

In an effort to help my kids feel good about their adult life,  I have three things I’m focusing on:

1. Early adopter mindset.
People who find new things first are people who have passion. Pew Research points out that early-adopters are nearly always well-educated, and I think what they mean by that is that each early adopter had someone helping them to learn how to live at the intersection of curious and passionate. You can be an early adopter in tech (vscreens) or travel (airbnb) or music (Akiho). You can be an early-adopter in anything, really. And that’s what I’d be happy with from my kids — anything they had passion for and they took action to be part of.

2. Expertise in something.
I’m an unschooler, I think. I think that because we have no curricula (though if video games count, we’re golden) and we do not divide the world into subjects. But I sign the kids up for tons of lessons. This is not actually out of the ordinary. Annette Lareau, sociologist at University of Pennsylvania, reports that people with college degrees have their kids in an average of five hours of activities per week (as opposed to people who dropped out of high school who have their kids in two hours per week.) I have my kids in about ten hours per week, which maybe is a result of going to graduate school, but probably is a result of me having read Flow, a celebration of expertise.

Flow, by the impossible-to-pronounce psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, explains how we are most happy when we are in a state of flow. That is, a state where we are focused and engaged and sort of forget about time and energy because it feels so good to be where we are. He says you can only get to this state by becoming an expert in something. It makes sense to me. Flow comes from mastery.

In an effort to help my kids attain mastery, I don’t just put them in one swim lesson a week. I do two. Private, in case this is what they want to be great at. And I don’t just buy a skateboard to quell a sudden, six-year-old hankering. I get skateboarding lessons at an indoor park. And I practice music with the kids for an hour a day. Because even if they don’t love music, practicing something as hard as a string instrument each day teaches the process of mastery for when they are ready. I think mastery is like learning a language. Do it once and you have the skill to do it again.

3. Finding good mentors.
I’m obsessed with coaching. The difference between being average and great is not only how many hours you work at it (to be sure, you have to work long hours) but it’s the way you work at it — the practicing has to be very effective when you do it.

The more I read about coaching the more I realize that it’s the high achievers who find the best coaches. It’s not luck that they have the best coaching. They seek it out. I want to teach my kids how to do that.

In life, each person ends up spending long hours doing something. For some of us, it’s our job. Eight hours a day. For some of us it’s something outside our job. Or taking care of kids. My point is that everyone who is content with their life has an answer to the question, “What do you do?” Whatever that answer is, you want to be the best you can at that. It is, after all, what you are doing with your day. And we know, from Flow, that being very good at something is very pleasurable.

The way to get good at anything is to have someone good helping you.

Sometimes, when people say to me that I’m nuts for starting a homeschool blog when I have so much on my plate already, I think to myself that a blog is a way to crowdsource mentoring when you are not sure which way to turn.


Enter your name and email address below. No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.

18 replies
  1. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    “People with college degrees have their kids in an average of five hours of activities per week (as opposed to people who dropped out of high school who have their kids in two hours per week.)” Any idea if income was taken into consideration here? It does make sense though that people with degrees would value learning in a class setting more than those who did not pursue learning in a class setting beyond what was legally required as a minor.

  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    In the spirit of crowdsourcing, I will add a goal I think is worthy to pursue – the ability to adapt to change. Change is a given and will happen regardless of whether or not you want it to happen. Learn to embrace and adapt to it if necessary. Change can be hard on both fronts – either adapting to it or resisting it. Which brings me to independent thinking and decision making – both of which I think should be included in goals for the education of children.

  3. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I like that you are trying to teach your boys now some of the lessons that you see adults struggling with later in life. That makes a lot of sense to me, particularly since you have unique insight into that area with your career coaching.

    I wonder, though, if your education goals would change if you had girls instead of boys. We know that women struggle with some of the same, but many different, career issues as adults. Do you think if you had girls that you would have some different education goals for them that reflect those different issues?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I wonder about that, too. So often I think to myself that if I had a girl I would have to look at myself more closely — look at assumptions I make about girls because of me and which assumptions are lazy or undermining because I wouldn’t want to do them with a daughter.

      I guess I already do this to some extent — just having kids. But I think a daughter would be more intense.

      I have a feeling, though, that wanting to be a stay-at-home parent is something that is a natural decision for many people, but much easier for woman than a man to make. So in terms of goals, I wonder if boys need more help than girls in being able to see a wide range of possibilities.


      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        “So often I think to myself that if I had a girl I would have to look at myself more closely….”

        That is exactly how I feel with my daughter. A lot of times I find myself projecting my feelings on her and wondering what I would want for her in facing the decisions I face in my own life (I don’t do this nearly as much with my son). But the truth is, she is very different from me. She will have her own decisions in life–which will very likely be different than my own–and there is no way for me to prepare her for these decisions, except develop in her values, skills, and confidence like you describe in your post, and then send her on her way to figure things out for herself.

        I do think you are right in that all parenting causes you to challenge a lot of your own assumptions, so that you allow your child to grow into their own person.

  4. Helene K
    Helene K says:

    When I read your blog there is much about music and doing activities outside the home.

    I’m wondering if you teach your kids the basic courses like math, science, languages etc?

  5. Helene K
    Helene K says:

    Seriously? Where is the balance?

    Homeschooling sounds great, but learning to sit still and concentrate on “boring” subjects like math is essential as well.

    If there is no rules in regards to this in homeschooling in the US, then something is amiss and it goes beyond wether parents physically abuse their children. It’s the parents responsibility to teach their children structure and social skills. If these children ends up in corporate businesses, they will have to learn how to deal with disappointment (also from other people), human interaction, bad workplaces, bad work assignments quickly. And there will be basic skills missing in knowledge.

    Only in America…

    • LJM
      LJM says:

      There is zero evidence to suggest that adults who were unschooled are less able to deal with society than kids who were schooled.

      It is only “essential” to sit still and concentrate on boring subjects if those subjects serve some sort of purpose. There are many people who refused to do boring things and have fulfilling careers and lives.

      People do things like math and reading because it serves them. When it stops serving them, practically or aesthetically, they stop. And that’s fine.

      There’s no more reason to worry about homeschooled kids not adjusting to society than there is to worry about public schooled not adjusting to society. There will always be a few kids who have problems, regardless of how they received their education.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        The view on education in the US is highly individualized:the focus especially in unschooling is whether one kid is interested in the subject. If this person is not interested in Math or orthography then it is not important, the interest of the individual is taken as the guiding line, not the interest of society to educate all of their members as best as possible and give them skills ( skills which might not initially line up with their personal interests).

        • Helene K
          Helene K says:

          There are many lacks in the us school system today. The really strong points of homeschooling is that it is entailed to the individual and let him/her explore the world and interest as they see fit.

          But the school system does have some good qualities as well – which is math, history etc. Kids doesn’t know they need to learn this and understand how this will help them further in life. That is the job of the parents and schools.

          Are you really that hung up on the positive sides of homeschooling, that you are unable to see the weak points of homeschooling? That there is no set curriculum by the government that regulates what children learn is definitely a weak spot.

          If math, science etc. are boring subjects it’s usually because of poor teaching. I believe in letting kids (and adults) work according to their strength, but everything within reason.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            you are adressing the wrong person as being hung up on homeschooling. I was merely pointing out the differences in the understanding of schooling between the US and many European countries. In the US many people do not think that the government should indeed impose a quality control on learning and testing in the sense of setting standards, these often decide for that very reason to homeschool, or unschool. The argument is that standards are not tailored to the individual interests and strengths of a child. That unschoolers or homeschoolers do not perform worse is probably due to a wide range of careers which are out there to choose from. I personally would be interested to see how many homeschoolers/unschoolers choose careers in science or engineering, my guess would be less than the average population.

          • LJM
            LJM says:

            There is no perfect system of education. There are pros and cons to be dealt with, no matter what path you choose.

            That said, since kids who are homeschooled do at least as well in adulthood as kids who go to public and private schools, it’s a net positive to have another choice for kids. That’s all homeschooling is, anyway. It’s just another education choice that works well for a lot of the kids who try it.

        • LJM
          LJM says:

          Considering that homeschoolers and unschoolers do just as well in adulthood as kids who go to public and private schools, I’m not sure what you’re arguing here.

  6. Cathy0
    Cathy0 says:

    “In an effort to help my kids attain mastery, I don’t just put them in one swim lesson a week. I do two.”
    Are you sure that your kids aren’t receiving the message they they must not only enjoy something – but excel at it?
    Because i think this can be a dangerous message to send.
    Posted in a spirit of constructive feedback. :)

    • Gustavo M
      Gustavo M says:

      I’ve never liked the saying “It’s OK to just enjoy it (you don’t have to be good at it)”. I instinctively reject it as a lack of ambition.

      I think we should push ourselves to excel at the things we choose to spend our time on. And if there’s no enjoyment in becoming better at something, that’s usually a signal to move on to something else. I think this mindset lets us maximize our happiness while striving for progress (and this is a personal philosophy of mine on life in general – happiness is not a goal in itself, it’s a means to a fruitful life. Progress is a goal).

      But I do see the danger in pushing kids to excel at their activities, and that danger is in how we define ‘excellence’; if it means being the best in the class, having the fastest time, then that’s a signal that you haven’t really thought things through (it’s analogous to the person who says their goal in life is to be happy. The goal should be to accomplish something – finding happiness in doing it should come naturally).

      To me, excellence is about reaching the height of your own personal potential, and consistently overcoming your previous best. And this takes a lot of factors into account – for swimming, the time you have to practice, the food you eat, your mental state, the mentors and peers you have around you to interact with and learn from, etc.

      So you maximize the factors you can control, in order to give your kids a chance to experience what it means to excel at something they enjoy.

      • Cathy
        Cathy says:

        I like a lot of what you’ve said here, Gustavo, but I don’t think we always have to push ourselves to excel. For example, a kid can take swimming lessons just to get to be water-safe. That child can then enjoy the teacher and the other students so much that she chooses to take the other four sessions of swim lessons that summer. If her schedule and budge allows this, well and good. Some other kid or adult, watching all these swim lessons, might think that she “should” now swim competitively, or at least be timing her laps and getting better/faster. But maybe this particular kid is really there for another, more subtle, non-swimming reason…

        Also remember that kids and adults (perhaps especially kids) should feel free to try lots of different sorts of activities, and at different levels, to see if they love it. There shouldn’t be an expectation that ice skating or painting, for example, will actually be a huge part of the child’s life. Maybe he just wants to explore it for a semester…and then move on. That’s okay. (Of course, in anything, as he does more and more ice skating or painting, he will learn and improve. But maybe that thing will not be the thing he chooses to excel in.)

        Penelope said that she wants her kids to gain expertise in something – to practice mastery. She used three examples of activities, not just one, so I can see why CathyO might worry that P.T. is teaching her kids that they have to excel in everything. However, I got a good feeling from P.T.’s examples; it seems to me that she is trying to facilitate the kids’ interests in a way that promotes, but doesn’t demand, mastery.

        Here’s a quickie example from my kids’ lives about mastery and passion: one kid loved to dance from an early age, and a lot of people told me I “had to” develop her skills because she was so good. I questioned them – “do you really mean I HAVE TO?” Their answer was “yes,” she was just that good….But I followed my kids’ expressed interests, instead, and she did a lot of dance classes, complete with performing opportunities, and she was even on a competitive dance team for one year…but it turned out that she pretty much hated performing and competing. She chose instead to develop another of her obvious talents: visual art, painting and drawing. Today she is achieving a lot as a working fine artist.

        Another kid also loved both dancing and drawing. I gave her classes in both, at her request. She was judged by almost everyone to be even better than her amazing sister, age for age, in drawing…but she chose to develop her dancing. I didn’t have people going gaga over her dancing, as they had for my older kid, but everyone always praised her work ethic in dance class. What I noticed was that she loved loved loved to perform – and even liked competing to some extent. She achieved a ton as a teen and at 19 got her first lucrative contract as a prof. dancer…

        If I have a moral of the story, it is that kids and adults will choose how they develop their interests, in which activities they wish to put in the time and effort, where they will develop mastery and become experts…

Comments are closed.