Genius is childhood recaptured

Our childhood has a massive impact on who we are as adults and with a huge range of factors from our early years impacting who we become. It’s worth reflecting on your childhood from time to time to take lessons into your life today whether that is how to live with passion, how to love with an open heart or on a more technical level how certain things influenced who you have become. In my book Defining You I explore some of those factors and in this blog post look at just two – self-esteem and social skills. 

SELF-ESTEEM

What is self-esteem? Put simply it’s the belief that you can achieve whatever it is you set out to do. If you have high self-esteem, you think that nothing will derail you; if your self-esteem is low, you may be riddled with anxiety about your capabilities. Self-esteem is relatively fragile in childhood, meaning that it can be built or undermined quite significantly by people or events, and the effect can remain with you into adulthood. 

Research shows that if you were lucky enough to have high self- esteem as a child, it will have had a positive impact on your income as an adult.1 It will also have helped build better mental health,2 which is the foundation not only to living a happy life, but also to fulfilling your potential. However, if you reflect on your early life and see a child riddled with self-doubt, that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed or become more confident in your abilities as an adult. It’s never too late to bolster your self-esteem and have more optimism in your ability to achieve your goals, whatever they may be. Simply being able to pinpoint events or people that knocked or built your self-esteem as a child will help you overcome obstacles that had a negative effect, and reap further benefits from things that had a positive impact on you. 

Think about the following questions. Don’t worry if you can’t answer them right now, just reflect and come back if anything springs to mind: 

  • How much self-esteem did you have as a child? Were you self- confident? For instance, did you throw yourself headlong into activities or hold back? 
  • Why was that? 
  • How do you think this relates to your self-confidence now? Is there anything that really helped build your self-esteem as a child that you could build on? Was there anything that held you back that still affects the way you see the world today? 

SOCIAL SKILLS 

Your environment when you were growing up also influenced the development of your social skills. These include a wide range of characteristics (e.g., empathy, kindness, and cooperativeness), but in a broader sense they refer to your interpersonal effectiveness and ability to forge friendships. Research shows that the social skills you developed as a child have an effect on your satisfaction with life, well-being, and mental health.6 Social skills are a critical foundation to being able to fulfill your potential and be successful.7 They are at the heart of all daily interactions, from deal making and engaging stakeholders to getting people to buy in to whatever it is you set out to achieve. 

When it comes to family influences on your social skills, research shows that if you had a close relationship with your father, you’re more likely to develop better relationships as an adult. If your mother left you to your own devices, you’re likely to be more effective at dealing with other people, whereas if you had a more demanding or critical mother, it may have had a negative impact on your ability to relate to others.8 The research has been carried out on these particular relationships, but most likely can be extrapolated to other situations. 

It’s important to point out that this is not about blaming your parents: most parents want the best for their child and that’s more likely than not to have been the case for you. Exploring how your parents influenced you is more about understanding yourself and the major influences on you than it is about pointing the finger at anyone. 

Although interpersonal skills are in part genetically influenced, they are modified by who we interact with and the situations we are exposed to, and this modification continues to happen throughout life. While profiling I’ve heard many stories of social skills altering as people grow up, such as those who were incredibly shy as children becoming outgoing as adults. If your interpersonal skills are not as fine-tuned as you’d like, don’t worry, this is something you can work on. It is worth investing time to think through when and how you developed your skills in order to build on what has worked, and to overcome or accept and move on from what hasn’t worked for you. We’ll be looking at this in more detail again later in the book. 

Think about the following questions, and if it helps take some notes. Don’t worry if you can’t answer them right now, just reflect and come back if anything springs to mind: 

  • What was your relationship with each of your parents (i.e., mother, father) or significant figures in your childhood? 
  • Was there anything that helped you become more sociable as a child that you could build on now? 

There’s so much to explore in who we have been and what we have learnt through life. Not so much through introspection and over analysis more from observation and curiosity. I hope you find some insights that are helpful. 

Extract taken from my book Defining You which I’ve been lucky enough to have won two awards for (Business Book Awards UK and Axiom Award USA). 

Defining You which is available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK as well as amazon.co.uk. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.comamazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.

Image: pexels.com by June Intharoek

Quote: Baudelaire

References:

1 Jo Blanden, Paul Gregg, & Lindsey Macmillan (2006) Accounting for inter- generational income persistence: Non-cognitive skills, ability and education, CEE Discussion Paper, London: Centre for the Economics of Education, London School of Economics and Political Science.

2 A. Goodman, H. Joshi, B. Nasim, & C. Tyler (2015) Social and emotional skills in childhood and their long-term effects on adult life. London: Institute of Education.

3 T.E. Moffitt, L. Arseneault, D. Belsky, D., et al. (2011) A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(7): 2693–98.

4 Goodman et al., op. cit.

5 M.B. Rutherford (2009) Children’s autonomy and responsibility: An analysis

of childrearing advice, Qualitative Sociology 32(4): 337–53. J.M. Causadias, J.E. Salvatore, & L.A. Sroufe (2012) Early patterns of self-regulation as risk and promotive factors in development: A longitudinal study from childhood to adulthood in a high-risk sample, International Journal of Behavioral Development 36(4): 293–302.

6 Goodman et al., op. cit.

7 D. Goleman (2003) What makes a leader? In L.W. Porter, H.L. Angle, & R.W. Allen (eds), Organizational Influence Processes, 2nd ed., Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 229–41.

8 University of Haifa (2007) The quality of a father–child relationship affects intimate relationships in adulthood, https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_ releases/2007-02/uoh-tqo021907.php

You Can’t Fake Passion

Although being passionate about something isn’t in itself enough to guarantee success, without a real interest in what you do it’s very difficult to get to where you need to.

Your childhood offers insight into what really drives and engages you and what you are deeply passionate about. It’s worth exploring your early years which may remind you of interests you’ve long forgotten about and could reignite. It may also help you to understand where you’ve taken the wrong path and how you could correct that.

One of the ways of looking at your passions and interests is through the lens of motivation. There are two basic types of motivation, one that is external to us and one that is internal.

Extrinsic motivation means being driven by something from the outside, for instance working toward a goal, or avoiding failure through fear of disappointing others. What led to your choices about the classes you took at school, whether you pursued higher education, or your first job? How much were you influenced by not wanting to let your parents down or living up to family expectations rather than following your own interests? There’s nothing wrong or right about how this came about, it’s just helpful to understand what might be driving you now.

Intrinsic motivation, or being internally motivated, is about loving an activity for its own sake, finding it exciting and engaging. It relates to the things that you have the energy for and want to pursue without any external rewards (e.g., money or recognition) and also to punishments or things you feel a need to move away from because they are less pleasant.

The people I meet as a psychologist working with leaders, often have a good deal of intrinsic motivation. They have a passion for what they do and see the meaning in it. Without this it becomes very hard to keep going over a sustained period of time in a demanding role. For example, I’ve also worked with people who are more motivated by external rewards: the potential to earn a lot of money, social recognition, status. They don’t love what they do or have a burning interest in the industry itself. This makes their work really draining and can lead to burnout. Constantly being driven by extrinsic goals alone is not healthy. Ideally, you need both internal and external motivation to keep following your true passions while remaining connected to the world around you.

Who influenced your career choices?

Research shows that our parents’ expectations have a huge influence on the career path we take and what we achieve, regardless of their own upbringing or income. Studies also reveal that teenagers often set out to follow in their parents’ footsteps, whether as an entrepreneur, shop assistant, council worker, small business owner, or doctor  and those whose parents are in “top jobs” are more likely find themselves in such a job. What parents think their child is interested in and capable of also strongly influences a young person’s choices and the actions they take toward pursuing a specific career. What is critical here is that parents’ best intentions can lead children astray. For example, if they think their child is passionate about numbers so encourage them toward a career in accounting, but the child actually always adored drama, then the child may miss out on pursuing their real dream. If you look over your early life and conclude that you were led mainly by your parents’ wishes rather than your own, that realization may be enough for you to take ownership and control of how you move forward.

School can also have a strong influence. For example, a highly academic, high-achieving school can put strong pressure on its pupils to continue to the best universities and pursue what society deems to be the top jobs. Conversely, a large school struggling for resources may not support children’s individual passions, meaning they never have the opportunity to explore and fulfill their potential.

Think about the following questions but don’t worry if you can’t answer them right away, come back if anything springs to mind:

  • What were you really enthusiastic about as a child? Are they the same things that you get joy from now?
  • How many of your own career or life choices were influenced by your parents and/or your environment? Do you think what your family wanted took you off on a certain path?
  • How much of your time at work or in life is spent doing things because you have to and how much because you want to? Do you think you need to address this?

 

Extract adapted from my book Defining You which is available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK as well as amazon.co.uk. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.comamazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.

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“You can’t fake passion.” -Barbara Corcoran

References to research in Defining You by Fiona Murden

Photo by Bruce Mars from Pexels.com