By now you've heard that Amy Chua (best known as Tiger Mom) is back with another controversial book, The Triple Package. Co-written with her husband, Jed, the premise of the new book focuses on how eight cultural and minority groups in America (among them East Asians, Indians, Jews, and Mormons) have three traits that make them better than other groups: a strong sense of self-worth, an uncertainty about their status in society, and an ability to avoid temptation and short-term gratification.
Although the book isn't a parenting memoir or handbook, the refocus on success and superiority has made the book quick fodder in the news. I haven't read The Triple Package yet, but both Slate and The Washington Post have already pointed out the flaws and holes in the thesis that only certain groups are the most likely to succeed (like ignoring historical and statistical data that don't fit the book's thesis and disregarding the impact of immigration and social class).
Just the superlative "most likely to succeed" reminds me of the school superlatives and stereotypes surrounding kids as they grow up, which inadvertently influence how they view and define success. But here's the thing: labels and traits are never as pat as we want them to be. And who's to say that having every single trait for success (even by Amy and Jed's standards) will actually determine success? Being Chinese-American seems to predetermine me for Triple Package success, and I remember growing up with the pressure to be successful in school and in my job -- not so much from my parents, believe it or not, but from myself. (Maybe it had something to do with being an only child.) But what does success really mean? By society's standards, the traditional ideas of success center on prestige, wealth, and marriage: school success means graduating with honors, work success means having a high-paying job, romantic success means finding your true love...you get the idea.
But by defining success narrowly and by traditional measures, we risk limiting a child's potential growth and feelings of self-esteem or self-worth. Kids are particularly susceptible to adults' ideas of success, so it's important for parents to emphasize that success is subjective; kids should define their own personal markers of success. These markers can change through the years, but one marker should stay constant: happiness. One of my favorite quotes is by Margaret Lee Runbeck, "Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling." For me, the word "success" can be substituted for "happiness" -- the journey toward achieving an outcome should be its own success. And this journey often means having determination and perseverance and being dedicated to an outcome that makes me happy. And to determine my level of personal success or happiness, I ask myself questions that kids can also ask themselves: Am I happy with my decision(s)? Am I happy with what I've accomplished? Does XYZ make me happy?
I know, I know, the idea of happiness sounds like a cliché, but it doesn't make it any less true. After all, one could achieve the standard checklist of success and still be unhappy or, on the flip side, one could achieve none (or a few) and have a happy life. And without happiness, it's hard to stay positive and motivated to keep moving forward in life. So instead of trying to live up to society's standards for success, help kids focus on what makes them happy and praise them for the time and effort they put into the journey toward personal success -- however they define it, and whatever it may be.
Share in the comments below: How will you help your child define and determine success?
Image: Chalkboard with text, Success It Depends on You, via Shutterstock