Share the Secrets to a Successful Life with Your Grandchild

I live in the Silicon Valley where the pressure to succeed is enormous, especially for high school students. I witnessed it first hand during my 15 years as an outreach counselor at an outstanding local community college. I remember a graduating senior from Gunn High School confessed that he was embarrassed to tell his classmates he’d chosen to attend our community college when everyone else was going to 4-year universities. (An exaggeration but that was his perception.)

I retired in 2003, the year my first granddaughter was born, and the pressure has continued to increase over the past 12 years. Tragically, so have the number of suicides among local high school students.

One woman is on a personal mission to help parents reduce the pressure on their children. Her name is Julie Lythcott-Haims and she is the author of a new book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. She’s also the former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and the parent of two teenagers.

Julie has been speaking to high school audiences around the country and receiving standing ovations from students because she’s giving them permission to express their fears about the increasing pressure they feel to succeed and go to the “best” colleges.

Recently, I watched her Tedx talk at Gunn High School and it made me cry. I also felt hope and wanted to share some of her wisdom with parents and grandparents.

Secrets to a Successful Life

Julie told her young audience that the secret to a successful life is to remember three things:

  1. Figure out what you’re good at.
  2. Figure out what you love.
  3. Figure out what you value.

As grandparents, we can help our grandchildren ponder these big questions by noticing what they’re good at and having a conversation about it with them. We can ask them what they love to do and talk about ways they can do more of what they love. We can talk about values with them and show them how values apply to everyday life. Ask your grandchildren questions that help them get to know their wants, desires, fears and dreams, so they can make better choices for themselves instead of checking off a list of accomplishments their parents have decided for them.

When a person figures out what they’re good at, what they love, and what they value, the intersection of those three areas will allow them to lead a happy, joyful and meaningful life.

As Stanford’s Dean of Freshmen for ten years, Julie had a front row view to changes in childhood. Each class was more accomplished than the last. Each had higher grades, higher scores, and longer resumes. Yet, the students seemed less and less familiar with themselves. They could say what they’d accomplished but not who they were.

She is quick to reassure students that very few 17-year olds know their passion and may not figure it out until their 20s or even 30s. But that’s what life is about — figuring out your passion, purpose, and path.

5 Rules for Students

Julie’s advice for students is to follow these five rules:

  1. Be kind. It’s astonishing how the world opens up to you when you’re kind to others.
  2. Work hard. Sure there will be ups and downs and confusion but apply effort and try.
  3. Think for yourself. It’s a process to get to know who you are. Don’t be spoon-fed. Figure out what you’re curious about.
  4. Choose the college that’s right for you. Have the courage to look beyond the “best” colleges and find one where you’ll feel a sense of belonging.
  5. When you get to college, study what you love. Then you’ll love what you’re studying and life will unfold.

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