Don’t teach your kids to start a business

Jennifer Senior has a great article in New York magazine about our cultural delusions about entrepreneurship. For example, most people say they want to work for themselves, but most people will never do it. They like a regular paycheck, and they like going to work in an office that is not in arrears. They like co-workers who are mentally stable and not willing to risk their family’s finances on pie-in-the sky ideas like vertical knowledge networks.

Inc. magazine says most entrepreneurs want a similar business experience—one of entrepreneurship—for their kids. The magazine then goes on to show how to teach your kids entrepreneurship in ten easy steps.

Who would want that for their kids? Most people working for themselves are constantly stressed about money, and always looking at people in terms of business relationships rather than friends.

Moreover, kids see the financial instability of their parents. The life of the child of an entrepreneur is not being able to download free games on the iPhone, because even just to get a free game your iTunes account needs to be tied to a credit card that is not overdrawn.

My son says, frequently, “Mom, your card is overdrawn again.” And that’s nothing compared to the time our electricity was turned off.

So it’s no surprise that each time I have encouraged my kids to start a business, I have been met with resistance, or at least indifference. They do not glorify the idea of having their own business. And while I’m home all day long, with total control over my hours, they see me as working all the time, and when I inadvertently shut my eyes at lunch, I’ve been up all night working.

Maybe it’s because of the insane instability my startup life brings upon my family, but I am particularly sensitive to people who advise teaching kids to be entrepreneurs.

Business Insider says kids should use entrepreneurship to follow their passion. But first of all, you don’t need to work for yourself to do what you love. But second of all, doing what you love is terrible career advice. It’s not realistic. Do you love sex? Should you get paid for it? Probably not. See? We do what we love because we love it. We get paid for doing other stuff.

The most reliable predictor of who will become an entrepreneur is who has money to begin with. Because that’s what it takes to be able to endure the financial roller-coaster of generating your own income.

And somehow this has got to be tied to the research about how you shouldn’t bequeath your fortune to your kids. Bill Gates is giving his away as are most of the other in-the-know billionaires of Silicon Valley. And anyone who is considering giving their money to the kids is probably being swayed right now by Prince Andrew’s forray into a teenaged sex ring because what else do you do when you don’t need a job?

I think the conclusion is that too much money makes you take stupid risks, because you forget the value of money.  One of them is entrepreneurship, and like other dangers of ill-begotten money, entrepreneurship is probably best left to those who have no other path but the wrong one.

11 replies
  1. David Blazina
    David Blazina says:

    To solve this I am creating a community of persons doing what they love, each is useful to the other, benefiting and growing together.
    Liberty blossom. Fb twttr youtube wp are up so far. Let’s work together not apart.

  2. SarahButtonedUp
    SarahButtonedUp says:

    Amen sister.

    Although having recently taken a break from my own startup for a ‘steady’ gig at another better funded startup I can say once bitten by the entrepreneurial bug – it’s like having an incurable virus that flares up at random times making it difficult to stay in a regular gig.

  3. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    Good pic to go with this post as HSBC is on the tip of a scandal.

    If you already have alot of money, what is wrong with being a philathropist? If I ever win the lottery I always envision taking school kids on trips to the symphony, and donating community centers with my name emblazoned across the top carved in marble or something.

    So much of the world needs money, I would think having money would be fun to give away, more so than starting a company to try and make more.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    This kind of fits with your recent post about teaching kids to be investors vs being entrepreneurs.

    I’d love a second post on the investor aspect and how it is going for your boys.

  5. Christine
    Christine says:

    “I think the conclusion is that too much money makes you take stupid risks, because you forget the value of money.”

    I understand what you are saying, but an abundance of money does not cause unwise decision-making.

    That said, people tend to exhibit decision-making patterns passed down, both genetically and culturally, from their families.

    I have the privilege of knowing many people who grew up with very little, as well as many people who grew up with a lot. Unwise decision-making patterns are all over the economic strata.

    “[E]ntrepreneurship is probably best left to those who have no other path but the wrong one.”

    You and I both know that what you are really saying is that if entrepreneurship is the best path a person can take, then it’s the right one.

    I think that you are worried about your sons. I don’t think that you should worry too much.

    If they are not destined to be entrepreneurs, then they probably already know, because they’ve seen what it’s really like firsthand. As you noted, they meet the idea of starting a business with resistance or indifference. That’s probably good.

    Further, it appears that your husband provides a great example of a very different type of entrepreneurship — living lean on a farm.

    Finally, most kids are likely to check out salaried opportunities on their own — and not end up working for themselves anyway.

  6. Lisa @ Four Under Six
    Lisa @ Four Under Six says:

    I see what you’re saying but I think this is highly specific to circumstances, skill, ambition, resourcefulness, and a bunch of other factors. Basically I think it really depends. If somebody really wants to own their own company and doesn’t mind working their tail off, then great! Go for it. I think the whole point of the exercise and what we teach our children is that we find something that works for us, right? Whether it’s our “passion” or just something we’re really good at, or something that will make money for us, or working for somebody else so we can only work 40 hours a week.

  7. Tom Groleau
    Tom Groleau says:

    ‘Who would want that for their kids? Most people working for themselves are constantly stressed …’

    This reminds me of the 1996 book “The Millionaire Next Door”. Many of the millionaires researched were small business owners – obviously successful ones.

    Most of them did NOT want their kids following their footsteps. They wanted their kids to be doctors, lawyers, accounts, etc. because a) those were stable professions (lawyers could still get jobs back then) and b) as business owners they knew how much they had to pay good lawyers and accountants.

  8. Mike Gluck
    Mike Gluck says:

    Quick question – do you have a source for this statement:

    “The most reliable predictor of who will become an entrepreneur is who has money to begin with.”

    I’m writing a book, and this is an interesting statement about predictions. Is this just your belief based on personal experience? Or do you have sources / data to back it up? (And yes, if I want to use your quote in the book I would contact you for permission.)

    Thank you.

  9. Kaneesha
    Kaneesha says:

    Penelope, I went back and read this article after class. I agree with the uncertainty and fear associated with an income that fluctuates.
    But would you have to stay up all night if you weren’t so start-up inclined? What if the state of where you are was enough? What if your blog that can print money was enough? What if Quistic was enough? Could you make it w/out working all the time?
    I think we will all come to entrepreneurship from different angles. I hate working for other people. I don’t miss my coworkers at all. I can text them anytime I want to.
    I think learning to earn money for ourselves is a crucial skill now. Neither you or the farmer work for others. Like you said, you’re great at email marketing but you choose not to do it. But it’s still an arrow in your quiver.
    Just wondering how you reconcile wanting your kids to be employees while their parents are self-employed?

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