We get it, parents: you are trying to make sure your child, the centre of your universe, your precious genetic legacy, is going to handle whatever the future can throw at them. We see it in the extra classes they do, the vast number of extra-curricular activities. We see it in their burdensome homework schedules, in their weekends packed with events and commitments. You are doing everything in your power to make sure that they can meet whatever challenges the future holds. We don’t blame you.
Of course, it doesn’t help that schools are adding the burden, promising to grant access to the most exclusive universities through a punishing regime of academics, sports and extracurriculars. Everyone with the means is trying to make their kid futureproof.
But honestly? How do you know what the future looks like? Does anybody?
I used to be a social media manager, a job unheard of when I matriculated. I tried to explain digital content marketing to my Yiayia, and eventually gave up, because how do you explain something that only makes sense to annoying power-yuppies who work in advertising? When I chose my subjects at school, at university, I never thought for a moment that I’d end up being a karate instructor. I just stuck with what I loved, and it worked out for me.
There are jobs that are being invented right now that will be antiquated in 15, 20 years. Some are predicting that humans need not apply, as many jobs will be outsourced to robots and drones. While it should free us to pursue our dreams and enjoy leisure, capitalism ensures that it will not. (Booo, capitalism!)
However, this isn’t really a discussion about AI and job replacement. My point is (and I do have one) is that by overloading our kids with stress, accolade-chasing and a shallow knowledge of many things but no time to develop true passion, we are only burning them out before they can find out who they are. Which brings me around to the reason I wrote this.
Kids get put in a dojo “because they need discipline”, or “because [vomit] a black belt will get them into university”. While we cannot do all the discipline work, and yes, a black belt looks nice on a university application, this isn’t the point. Dojos are being pushed to become grading mills, lest they lose students to the other activities competing for their time. We lose students because parents are not seeing ‘progress’ fast enough. Kids complain its too hard, and parents let them quit just when they were starting to show progress. (If I had ten bucks for every time I’ve heard ‘I wish I hadn’t quit karate when I was a kid’…) When they don’t see their child cracking a shodan in five years, they pack up and go. And yes, there are dojos who will hand out gradings like birdseed and devalue the entire point of it all.
But if you really want to futureproof your child, maybe teaching them that good things come to those who work is a better bet. By letting them quit as soon as the going gets tough, they don’t learn to stick anything out. The dojo should teach them patience, resilience, humility, confidence and compassion. We try to teach kids to learn to work on their own, and to work with others. We teach them the value of listening, of doing the boring grunt work that is part of any achievement. When everything around them tells them that success is glamorous and easy and sexy, the dojo reminds them that progress is often boring and success is not guaranteed. That they will fail, and they will have to learn to dig themselves out of the dirt repeatedly.
And yes, sometimes training will be so tedious. Oh my god, there are days when I want to die from boredom because it’s drill after drill on my own of the same stepping sequence. But like any subject, there will be boring days. Like any career, or ambition, there will be many times when the glorious achievements and progress will be preceded by doing stuff you don’t want to do. Just as there will be days where something bright and precious is uncovered, and becomes your own, forever.
Skills wax and wane in their demand and value. Now we have too many lawyers, and not enough nurses. Accountants will soon be replaced by a few lines of code. What is fashionable to study now will be the white elephant degree of the future. Think of all the MBAs who couldn’t become CEOs. But some things are eternal: hard work, ethical conduct, courage, humility and determination.
These are the things machines cannot replace.