Why Our Kids Should Go For It

Category: Weekly Columns

Magic happens when you take risks

Yes, we should encourage our kids to Go For It. Of course I don’t mean foolish or dangerous things, but those that will help them succeed in life. In our contemporary world, it’s the risk-takers who will succeed. Too many kids feel entitled, have been pampered or helicoptered, and the idea of taking a chance and going for it is completely foreign to them. Thomas Edison is a perfect example of a man who didn’t allow failures to deter his determination.

Motorcycle jump over Red Bull ramps

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work ~ Thomas A. Edison

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time ~ Thomas A. Edison

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up ~ Thomas A. Edison

In essence, I’m equating success with taking risks. And, I’ll back it up with several examples in my own life. I would define my life as a combination of passion, perseverance, and risk-taking. Within that definition, there were plenty of misses and failures. If I allowed those failures to either define or discourage me, I’d not be writing this column right now.

Let’s be clear on what I am calling a risk. I do not mean jumping out of a plane with a parachute, skiing over a cliff that appears not to have a landing clearly in sight, or bungee jumping a deep cavern or high bridge. Those certainly have their place, and in fact, I’ve taken my share of that kind of physical risk though I think with care, thought, and preparation. The risks I’m referencing are those that involve putting yourself out there, taking a chance on rejection whether personal or professional, and maybe venturing outside your comfort zone.

Quote about risk by Helen Keller

My favorite family example is what my older son, Arnie, did when he was sixteen. It has become – in so many ways – the defining moment of his life, so far.

My son found his passion in music. I did everything in my power to steer him toward sports but upon giving him an electric guitar when he graduated elementary school, it was clear where his future was heading. He took to it like the proverbial bee to honey. I recognized that passion as the same I had for tennis, which was my first big life passion. And, wisely, I let go of my hopes for a future NBA or baseball hall-of-famer.

Risk quote from Robert Kennedy

Naturally, his music tastes ventured all over the music landscape. But, a singular hero for him was Chris Cornell, who was part of two major rock ‘n’ roll groups, AudioSlave and Soundgarden. He is a premier rock guitarist and vocalist. My son literally knew how to play every song of his. I supported my son’s love of music by first taking him to concerts of the greats of rock such as Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen. As his own tastes developed, he would “take” me to his favorites such as Green Day and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Over time, we attended dozens of concerts including twice going to the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco. I came along both times and I was the old man on the festival grounds. He also got to see his idol, Chris Cornell, a couple of times at smaller music events.

When he learned that Chris Cornell was going to give an acoustic performance for a charity, he begged to attend. It was expensive, but I knew it would mean the world to him. So, I sprung for two tickets. He was now just sixteen, with a girlfriend, and this was clearly a time that dad was not needed or wanted as a chaperone. I was simply the driver.

Rock climbing an impossible rock

That day, at school, he exclaimed to all his friends that he was going to jam with Chris Cornell at this show, where it was a small venue and he expressed this with unwavering conviction. His friends indulged his claim with good humor and considerable skepticism, as did I.

Given that it was an acoustic concert at The Roxy, where attendance was limited to 300 or so standing-room only fans, Arnie was able to get a prime position near the stage. Cornell was performing with an acoustic guitar and a cello as his only back up.

Much as Eric Claption did in his first unplugged concert, Cornell did his heavy rock music in a passionate but slower style. Also, given the nature of this concert, there were short, quiet breaks between songs. During one of those breaks, as recounted to me, the following dialogue took place between Arnie, Cornell, and the audience:

Arnie: Hey Chris, can I ask you a question?
     Note: At the time, Arnie had very long red-hair and stood 6’2”.
Cornell (looking a bit confused): Yeah kid, what is it?
Arnie: It’s been my lifetime dream to jam with you!
Cornell (more confused): Oh, what instrument do you play?
Arnie: I’ve played guitar since 6th grade!
Audience (getting into it): Let him. Let him!
Arnie’s Girlfriend: He can do it!
Cornell: What song would you like to play?
Arnie: Fell on Black Days
Cornell: Heck, that’s our next song.
Audience (louder now): Let him. LET HIM!
Cornell (looking around, a bit bewildered): Okay, what the heck.
Audience (shouting): YEAH!

Arnie heads to the stage where Cornell helps him up. He whispers in Arnie’s ear, “What’s your name kid,” to which Arnie answers. Cornell takes off his guitar from around his neck and hands it to Arnie. Cornell pulls a chair up and motions to Arnie to sit in it while asking someone backstage to bring him another guitar. An electric guitar is brought out. Cornell checks the tuning, looks at Arnie and they exchange that Are-You-Ready look between musicians and then Cornell launches into the nearly seven-minutes song.

Rappelling down a steep cavern

Arnie matches Cornell note-for-note, including the somewhat complicated solo, which you can see in the YouTube video that we fortunately got from another spectator. The audience is whooping it up and some are shouting to Arnie’s girlfriend, “This was a set-up, wasn’t it?” because they played so well together.

When the song ends, Cornell gives Arnie a bemused expressed and says in the mike something to the effect, “Not bad. Not bad at all.”

Throughout the song, the expression on Arnie’s face was one of unmitigated joy – an expression I hadn’t really seen since he’d become a teen.

The YouTube video of that performance, in my opinion, was one of the factors that contributed to Arnie’s acceptance at The Berklee College of Music in Boston, given he had poor grades and didn’t even take the SAT. By then, Arnie’s primary instrument was drums so he had auditioned at Berklee on drums.

How many young kids would take that risk? And, really, what did he have to lose?

I had a 25-year career in showbiz that was defined by taking such risks. I brought a baby black-spotted leopard to a series pitch about a wild animal vet. I brought two WWF famous-at-the-time wrestlers to another series pitch that involved the participation of wrestlers. They came in full regalia. In recent times, I walked up to Guy Kawasaki at a conference and asked him to be a guest on #DadChat after he’d just given a keynote speech. He said, “Yes” (Note: He’s coming back to #DadChat on April 25).

Great quote about taking risks

Had I held back out of fear or embarrassment, where would my life be? Had Arnie not gone for it at that concert, where would his life be now as he’s finishing his freshman year at Berklee?

Taking risks can be a good thing. Teach your kids to go for it. Teach them the when and when-it’s-not boundaries and perhaps model some risk-taking yourself since our kids learn so much from what we parents do. Mostly, don’t be afraid. Don’t let them be afraid.

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Dealing with The Empty Nest

  • http://www.aha-now.com/ Harleena Singh

    Hi Bruce,

    I so agree with you here. Taking risks is what prepares our kids to face life with full force. It makes them real humans who dare to take on the world. Thanks:)

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I often say that too many parents today are so over-protecting their children @Harleena:disqus that when they’re young adults they’re not prepared for the slightest problem that they WILL face!

  • http://bestapplications4u.com/productivity Churchill Madyavanhu

    Taking risks has never been my strongest side. I understand the importance and hope that I will manage to make my kids do better than me. The last time I recall taking a risk is when I was asked to be a vocalist in a band that plays covers of musicians from the 70s. The catch was that I had three days to learn 11 songs with no previous singing or stage experience. I agreed, had three days of rehearsals over which I almost lost my voice and four days later I performed in front of hundreds of people. All I can say is that I am glad no one recorded my first performance. 🙂 I have been performing for six years, love it and I am terribly happy I took the risk.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Well @churchillls:disqus it sure seems that risk paid off for you! Why hasn’t it inspired taking more?

      • http://bestapplications4u.com/productivity Churchill Madyavanhu

        I believe the reason is a mixture of lack of confidence, shyness and wrong genes. But I am working on helping my kids overcome all three. 🙂

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          @churchillls:disqus – do it with them Churchill!

  • http://twitter.com/profkrg Kenna Griffin

    I think that children who feel unconditional support of their parents are more likely to take risks. This level of support makes it ok to fail. They know that their parents may be disappointed by the failure, but not by the child.

    Interesting post, Daddy’O.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I agree totally @twitter-27305797:disqus – yipes, are we starting a trend of agreeing with each other?

  • http://twitter.com/AlliPolin Alli Polin

    What a great story, Bruce! Fantastic! We were just discussing this very topic with our kids tonight at dinner. One of them suggested that you should only take risks when you think you know what’s going to happen and plan for it. We talked a lot about different kids of risks and what you can learn from the experience even it if doesn’t go as planned. If you never try, you’ll never know what could happen. We moved as a family overseas this year and that’s a risk that we learn from every day.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      That experience (of moving overseas) will be invaluable to your kids @twitter-35823189:disqus – where are you living now?

  • http://www.thindifference.com/ Jon M

    Absolutely! We need to let our kids explore and experience. You never know when a spark might happen that sets them off on a meaningful path. You call them “risks;” I call them “sparks.” We need to enable, position, and let our kids do out-of-the-ordinary things. Great points, Bruce! Thanks!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I like that term @JonMertz:disqus – sparks!

  • http://twitter.com/CarpoolGoddess Carpool Goddess

    Great message! I’m always trying to tell my kids this – don’t be afraid to fail. You lose nothing by trying.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      TY @twitter-215103550:disqus – you might enjoy #DadChat which is every Thursday at 6pmPT/9pmET…#moms are always present and very welcome!

  • http://twitter.com/robhatton Rob Hatton

    Great article Bruce! It seems too often we worry about the embarrassment or what others might think if we fail and not stay focused on how great it would be to succeed. Or even just have an important learning experience.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thanks @twitter-21305883:disqus – that fear of embarrassment really tends to plague our kids!

  • http://twitter.com/homeschoolmovie Homeschool Movie

    Thanks for sharing your great story. Your story seems to really revolve around enabling your child to follow their passion and encouraging them to take risks.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      EXACTLY! @twitter-241560116:disqus

  • http://brianvickery.com/ Brian Vickery

    I loved the video – and meeting Arnie in person during his road trip to college.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thx @dbvickery:disqus – it’s a LIVING example of what this column is ALL about. I still get such a kick watching it myself!

  • http://www.patrickkphillips.com/ Patrick

    Agreed! Unfortunately, no one ever said achieving our dreams was supposed to be easy! 🙂

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Tell me @Patricksplace:disqus – would we feel as good about our achievements IF they were easy?

  • http://twitter.com/ColeFlash Craig Cole

    I wish I’d taken more risks when I was younger! As you get older and get more responsibilities it becomes so much more difficult. (Arnie rocks by the way!)

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      You can teach your kids @twitter-90736334:disqus the boundaries of taking risks and encourage them! Thx on Arnie – it was quite an experience!

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  • http://twitter.com/JennGHanford Jennifer G. Hanford

    I have two beautiful boys with special-needs. The most important advice I ever received was to allow them the “dignity of risk.” In other words, if what they’re doing isn’t going to harm or kill them or someone else, by golly, let ’em do it so they’ll learn from it.

    It’s good advice and it’s allowed them to become more self-sufficient and confident as they’ve grown older. It’s taught me a lot as well, and I’ve learned there are benefits to the “dignity of risk” for myself – or any adult who is willing to take a chance.

    Great post, Bruce!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I’m so glad that worked for you and your boys @twitter-250743015:disqus – hope we’ll see you at #DadChat tonight!?

  • david weber

    Good ideas for self-development and general satisfaction in life.

    I read an article a few days ago by a university professor who grades his students on failure. That is, five percent of a student’s course grade is based on what he terms “quality of failure.”

    In class discussion, for example, the student who may be “wrong” but is articulate and engaged in when making his or her comments, earns a high “quality of failure” mark that day. The students have taken up this language, e.g., “Wow, I had a high ‘quality of failure’ that time!”

    The idea is to cultivate a willingness to “go big or go home,” i.e., to take calculated risks when doing so is to one’s benefit. The more risks the student takes, the higher his or her “quality of failure” score.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      @7f990e539df4ddefe26884eb65a5f04c:disqus – I love that kind of creative teaching! Thanks for sharing that, Professor!

    • http://twitter.com/Dr_Weberman Jennifer Weberman

      That is really interesting. It powerfully shifts the context of “failure” making it more of an accomplishment. Love it!

      • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

        Isn’t it great @twitter-434387174:disqus !? We’re #TakingRisks at #DadChat this Thursday, btw!

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