My 8th Father's Day
...And my 45th birthday were on the same day this year. This time my birthday felt different than other years. Recent events, of course, played an important role in this. It was one of those days where I couldn't stop thinking about past choices and how they have influenced who I am now. On occasion, I have these odd moments where I wonder why life works the way it does. Asking myself if choices I make are a product of my upbringing, or related to the environment I am in (work, friends, family, sports community, etc.) Or have I unconsciously built my decision-framework over the years, without knowing what drives my choices. It was a heavy morning.
During difficult times, when hard choices need to be made, I wish I could grab a magic list out of my pocket. This list would have been handed down by my late father when I was a kid, and contain the ten most important things to do and especially not do in life. Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way. Even if it did, at a young age, I wouldn't understand anything on that list. We learn by means of struggling through life. We fall, and with enough effort, perseverance, and luck, we get up again. For instance, I learned the hard way what it takes to build a network and to start a business. But I also had to learn how to be vulnerable and open. At 45, I begin to value these lessons more than ever, mainly because none of them were easy.
A Framework for Ownership
As we speak, I haven't been on an airplane for at least three months, so there was more time to sit down and think deeply about my own, but more my children's future. Marijke and I are not too fussed about what kind of career our children will choose. Lana is very creative and says she wants to be an artist. Amare likes to break anything in sight. The one thing we are fussed about is how we make sure they reach their full potential and be happy at the same time? How do we, as parents, hand down that magic list of 10 to-do's and not to do's to Lana and Amare? How do we guide them through a challenging future? A to-do list for our kids will unlikely have any effect, but we CAN give them a framework. One of my oldest and dearest friends, Sean Schipper, helped me shape my thoughts around this. For lack of better terms, I call it a framework for ownership. The message for my children is they should strive for ownership. I can best illustrate this using an old proverb.
Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime
This proverb has many interpretations, but the essence is to teach a person a skill instead of giving a handout. I fully agree teaching skills is an essential part of education, but there is one aspect missing in my opinion. An aspect that was also missing in my younger years, and that is ownership. Staying with the fishing analogy, before you can teach a man how to fish, he needs a fishing rod, weights, tackle, fish bait, etc. Instead of teaching a man (in this case, my children) how to fish, I want them to learn how to build tools for fishers. Building and owning these tools allow them to be independent and gives them a sense of responsibility. More importantly, in my opinion, ownership eventually enables the transfer of knowledge, intellectual capital, and even wealth to our future generations.
Why is this so important? When I go back to my childhood and remember the conversations I had with my parents, owning a business or building something for myself was hardly part of our discussions. My parents focused on providing my sisters and me with a safe home environment and a stable future. This meant they worked 24/7 to make sure we could afford proper education and have the ability to be active in sports (karate, judo, gymnastics, and athletics). There was hardly any room to discuss entrepreneurship, building something for ourselves, or let alone think of how ownership could play a role in our future.
The value of learning in an entrepreneurial environment would have allowed us to understand how to deal with failure early on, the importance of communication and the power of a network. Being able to see how ownership enables opportunity would have allowed us to create our own infrastructure instead of assuming we have to be dependent on others. One of the reasons I ended up co-founding my first startup was due to a convincing neighborhood friend. He was determined to start a business with his brother and me. Without that nudge, I might have decided to stay with my corporate career. As parents, I want to make sure Marijke and I, give both our children that nudge early on.
Passing on ownership has become an essential aspect of the way I think about the future. It hasn't been a typical conversation in our culture in the past, but I am opportunistic for our future.
My ambition for the coming years is 2-fold:
Educate our children on the importance of building something they are fully responsible for (taking ownership), and can control and manage without being dependent on others.
Offer young entrepreneurs from underprivileged backgrounds a supporting platform that helps give access to networks of (former) entrepreneurs and investors who are not only willing to mentor but provide active guidance and potential partnerships. I now fully understand how difficult it is to progress without a platform and the right influence. These young entrepreneurs deserve the same opportunity to build, own, and pass on ownership to their next generation.