Wisdom I wish I had when I first entered the work world.
One of the most gratifying privileges I’ve had in life is to be the father of four amazing children and the responsibility to nurture them as they grow into strong and independent leaders in their professions, schools and communities. I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned along the way, at home and in the workplace, about being a good dad and mentor.
STEM EDUCATION IS FOR EVERYONE.
Proactively seek opportunities to get kids involved—especially girls—at a young age.
As a senior manager at global professional services company Accenture, I oversee event and sponsorship marketing. I’ve seen how rapidly opportunities have evolved for our workforce and how those individuals with strong digital skills and a grounding in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and work experiences have more opportunities than those without these skills.
My three daughters (26, 24, and 22) and son (18) began learning STEM skills at an early age in ways generations before them didn’t. iPads and smartphones have been a part of their teen and adult lives, and even their earliest toys included interactive computerized stuffed animals, books and games.
For them, technology has been an equalizer in eliminating STEM gender bias in classes and work. We were fortunate to have access to schools and resources that provided our children with challenging STEM classes and extracurricular opportunities.
Not all of our children pursued careers in these areas, but each of them received the grounding needed to excel in the parts of their careers that demanded and rewarded those skills.
BE YOUR CHILD’S EDUCATION CHAMPION.
Know what resources you can access to help them succeed.
Being involved in your child’s education is critically important at every level. You don’t need to have all the answers or need to be a genius resource for every homework assignment. What’s important is making it clear that you care, that education is a shared value, and that you are your child’s champion in helping them succeed in school.
Make sure you know their teachers, the classes they’re taking, when their major exams are, and when major projects and papers are due. Know what resources you can help them access if they have problems, and celebrate their academic success while you help them learn from their disappointments.
You might not be a teacher in their school, but as their education champion, you’ll be providing critical support—and demonstrating to them how to be a good coach and mentor for others.
INSTILL THE DESIRE TO SERVE OTHERS.
Our future depends on us paying it forward.
Some of the most rewarding times I’ve spent with my children happened when we were volunteering. Part of being a good parent is being a good role model—a model of what it means to be a good citizen, to be aware and to respond to the plight of those in need, and to demonstrate your commitment through actions.
I vividly remember taking my daughter Emily on several occasions to deliver clothing and food collected by our community to a low-income neighborhood in Chicago. I’ll never forget how she responded to the faces of the grateful people who received the donations. Each delivery was followed by a daddy/daughter breakfast together at a local café where we’d talk about how those in need must feel when others reach out to help and how we felt delivering the items to the grateful recipients. In addition to being teaching opportunities, these breakfast experiences were great bonding moments for both of us.
My son, Kevin, and I serve the homeless by handing out blankets, sheets and pillows at our local homeless shelter once a month, and our entire family often spent evenings filling food packets at a local charity called Feed My Starving Children. These experiences not only serve others, they bring us closer together as a family.
My wife, Maggie, and I know how important these actions were, not only for the greater good, but also to help us pass on responsible social-action behaviors to our children. The world will depend on our children in the future and depends on dads and moms today to set the example.
BE A GOOD MENTOR.
Introduce your child to your work and the people who make your professional life exciting and rewarding.
Almost every company or business has some sort of “Take Your Child to Work Day.” Don’t let those days pass unattended. And don’t let opportunities pass that give you the chance to explain to your child what is expected of every hard-working adult.
Share your work responsibilities. Let them know what you’re working on and how you work as a team. Carry that education forward into their teen years—and young adulthood.
Take them to meetings of professional organizations to which you belong, and introduce them to other professionals. Your kids know you work hard, but prepare them for their future by sharing with them real insights into your work life.
Teaching the value of professional networking is also important. After taking my daughter Brittany to a City Club of Chicago luncheon, she established a relationship with a business leader who sat with us, which led to a new volunteer opportunity for her. Through an introduction I made between her and a colleague from the Business Marketing Association, Brittany was able to establish a mentor relationship that helped her with important early career moves and eventually led to a terrific job offer.
THE WORLD IS AN ABUNDANT PLACE.
Help your child learn from disappointments and move forward with confidence.
Everyone experiences ups and down in their personal lives—and professional lives are no different.
We know we’re not going to win every contract, we’re not going to get every promotion, and, sometimes, we might find ourselves in a rut where we’re not satisfied with where we are professionally. At times like these, it’s easy to feel the world is small and opportunities are limited or are far out of our reach.
Your children need to learn that, despite the down times they might experience in their professional lives, they cannot lose sight of the fact that the world is not small at all – it is HUGE– and the opportunity is not at all limited – it is abundant. The ability to pick oneself up and move forward from disappointments without fear takes confidence, and that confidence is built with the help of your guidance and love.
This might be the most important lesson I’ve learned as a father. It’s not enough to just help children build the skills they need—you have to help them build their hearts, so they can see all the gifts that are out there just waiting for their energy, passion and action.
Recently, my daughter Stephanie found herself in an unrewarding job just after college. But she didn’t let that diminish her true passion, and she confidently moved forward to gain the additional training and certification she needed to earn the job and career she always wanted. Last week, she received that long-awaited offer. It was always there, waiting for her. She just needed to reach out and earn it. Move forward confidently, my child, the world is an abundant place.
Parenthood is not for the faint of heart. But when you give your children your best effort and surround them with love, the gifts you give them will last a lifetime.
Michael Nolan is a senior manager on the marketing and communications team at Accenture and works in the Chicago office.