This month, Joseph Chou – Ironfish CEO and proud father of two – shares some interesting insights into how he helps nurture confidence, tenacity, financial literacy and a possibility / success driven mindset in his kids.
In an American survey, two thousand millionaires were asked to rank the major factors that led to their success. Contrary to popular belief, top marks at school, or a great university education were actually at the bottom of the list. Instead, the top 5 factors were found to be:
- Honesty and integrity
- People skills
- Working harder than others, and
- Having the support of a stable partner.
For me, this all rings true, and these are principles that I want to pass on to my own children as they make their way in the world. I’ve told my kids about this survey many times over the years; I find kids never respond well being told what to do. So, my approach has always been to tell stories like this, about other people. They take it all in, even if it’s not relevant at the time, and they remember it down the track.
Turning a no into a yes
Because I travel a lot with work, my wife manages most of the day-to-day routines with the kids and is often the ‘strict’ one! My kids sometimes come to me, as many kids do, when mum has said no to something, hoping that dad will say yes. When it comes to matters of principle, my wife and I are always in full agreement – so it would be a ‘no’ from dad too.
But in other cases, when I feel there is some leeway, sometimes I do say ‘yes’. Because I want to encourage my kids to be persistent and not give up too easily in life. I want to give them an opportunity to make their case and have their points heard. I also want them to know that if they keep trying they might get a yes. It’s a numbers game, after all!
Make it a savings game
When my son started high school – which meant some newfound independence travelling into the city and so on – I decided to play a game with him to help him learn about self-discipline.
It was about half way through the school year, and as I was dropping him to the station, I handed him a $100 note – something he’d never seen before. I said that if he could go the whole month without spending it, I’d give him another $100 the next month, and so on till the end of the year.
The two exceptions were that he could spend the money in case of emergency, and he could spend it to help others – either to make a charitable contribution, or to help out his friends if they’d forgotten their lunch money etc. But he wasn’t allowed to spend any of it on himself.
My son took on the challenge and saved about $800 by the end of the year. I did the same thing with my daughter when she started high school as well. They both continue to save now and have a good understanding of the importance of saving. My next step will be to teach them about earning as well!
Cultivate a competitive spirit
These days there is a lot of emphasis placed by teachers on the merits of participation alone – and that participation is more important than winning. That’s one thing that I disagree with and told my kids during their schooling years not to listen to their teachers on this one.
I believe it’s important to cultivate a competitive spirit from a young age – whether it’s a race to be the first one up to the bath – or sitting a scholarship exam for Sydney Grammar. I believe this because if you’re competitive, you are less likely to accept mediocrity.
I agree that winning is certainly not the most important thing and you don’t have to win all the time, but the will to win is very important – it’s what will keep you striving for excellence and towards greater pursuits and bigger dreams.
Programme success and self esteem
I never had any preconceived ideas around what I wanted my kids to do when they grow up – I never wanted them to be a doctor or lawyer or businessman. We really just wanted to raise them to be good people – and to try their best. My mother was the same with me; when I said I wanted to be a table tennis player for the Chinese national team, she bought me a bat and said go for it. When I changed my mind later and decided to play soccer, she supported me in that too. She never said, it wasn’t possible or to stop changing my mind, she just encouraged me to have a try.
I make a point of ‘programming success’ into my kids’ mindsets, so, I always describe my kids with the qualities I want them to live up to. For example, I might send them a text saying: “I’m so proud of you, you are so generous, kind, funny, disciplined and you’ll excel in anything you put your mind to,” – even if they are not being particularly disciplined at that given moment!
The other thing my wife and I agreed on was to cultivate self-esteem by ensuring that we never punished our kids. If they did the wrong thing, we’d absolutely address the action or behaviour and help them to understand how to do better next time, but we’d never put them down as a person. One of the best things you can do for your kids I think, is to help your kids establish high self-esteem, which will help give them confidence throughout their life.
Nurture natural talent
My son was awarded a full scholarship for Sydney Grammar – many parents will know this is a substantial achievement given the fierce competition – so we are very proud. But the truth is there’s no parenting secret to his success. He was always bright, and taught himself to read from an early age – he surprised us at the age of 3 and a half by reading a sign about Santa at the local Shopping centre. We read a lot to the kids, it was part of our ritual.
One of the things I’d do to help nurture his affinity for and interest in reading was to make deliberate mistakes as I was reading a story. He’d then have to read and correct me. I know many parents put their kids through many tutoring classes and so on, but we never did with the kids. My son had some Maths tutoring in Year 11, because he wasn’t particularly interested in Maths, but that’s about it.
We just wanted our kids to do their best – there was never any shame associated with coming home with a bad report, or low marks. We’d just talk about why and support them where necessary to improve. At the end of the day, we all know that you don’t need high scores to succeed. I never had the highest marks at school and it has never stopped me from doing what I love.
Don’t steal the dream – show them how to achieve it
When my kids first watched the movie Johnny English, they fell in love with Aston Martins and started talking about how they wanted one when they grew up.
We never want to steal dreams from our kids – they need to be encouraged to imagine and dream. So instead of laughing it off as – oh that’s too expensive, it’s too hard to do that – I’d start a discussion: “Well, do you know how much that car would cost? No. Well it’s about this much. Do you know how to buy one of those? No. How would you go about making that kind of money? Well, you need to do something that benefits so many people that you may well be rewarded accordingly and be able to buy that car!”
When it comes to money matters, while there is no want in our home, my kids know they need to earn it for themselves. Do something you’re passionate about, that you’re good at, and brings value to as many people as possible. I told them the story about J.K. Rowling as an example of success, because they love Harry Potter. The stories bring value to so many – so Ms Rowling has done very well for herself as well!
Break the taboo around ‘wealth’
Wealth is a taboo topic. We don’t talk about it amongst ourselves, or with friends or colleagues, and certainly not with kids, generally speaking. Financial literacy or setting long-term financial goals is not taught to kids at school, even though it’s an incredibly important life-skill. And with modern technological and medical advances, we will live longer than ever before – but how many people are actually prepared for the reality of that? How will people be able to afford to live that long? The burden of an ageing population is already an active issue for our Government.
But in my experience, ‘wealth’ can be taught, and that’s why it’s been my mission, and our company mission to help people invest in property, not just as a one-off endeavour, but with the aim of building a portfolio designed to achieve better long-term financial security.
Parents can play a key role in helping kids to develop their financial skills and help them to understand the need to plan for the future, set goals, budgets and enjoy the satisfaction of achieving what they’ve set out to accomplish.
Focus on giving
The idea of creating value for others, servicing others is a central value we try to teach our kids. And this works on many levels. My son works part time in a Chinese restaurant (while he’s studying at the Conservatorium of Music) and he’s learning the empathy, life and people skills that come from knowing how to serve others. I believe giving is an important part of self-sufficiency – being able to share your success with others. We sponsor kids and projects as a family; my wife and my son are visiting Myanmar next year to visit one of our projects, and I plan to do the same with my daughter in future.
Whilst we are always teaching them the importance of saving, we also encourage them to be generous with their savings or earnings; earn enough money to look after yourself, with enough money left over to look after others. We always want them to be able to see the world in terms of how they can help others. At the end of the day, that’s what success is really about.
Joseph Chou is the CEO & Founder of Ironfish and father of two teenagers. He regularly travels across the country presenting at property investment seminars, workshops and business events. To book your seat at his next speaking engagement in your city, please see our events page.