There are certain character traits that are extremely important in life. Traits like a strong work ethic, understanding the value of a dollar, and the importance of generosity and hospitality, for instance. These qualities are far more important than skills like the ability to understand math or the ability to start a new business. People who are nearing the end of their lives don’t want to pass on the knowledge of starting businesses, they want to pass on the knowledge of being a better human. Skills are important, of course. They are the tools that can help us reach our goals. It’s just that our goals should be more others-oriented than self-oriented. The goal should be to make the world a better place, not to start a business, but starting a business may be a valid method of achieving the goal.
I just read The Ultimate Gift, by Jim Stovall. In it, a wealthy cattle-baron has just passed away and in his will he lays out a plan of action for developing strong character qualities in his grand-nephew. The nephew isn’t excited about the plan, but as the book progresses he becomes a better person as he submits himself to his uncle’s plan. The uncle has the nephew perform twelve month-long tasks, each task teaching him a new, and highly valuable, quality. The nephew learns lessons about work, money, friends, and the thirst for knowledge, to name a few. By the end of the year, the nephew has become a new person, having been transformed by the hard lessons he has learned. Because he has learned all these lessons, he earns the ultimate gift, control of a $1 billion charitable trust.
Here’s the thing, I don’t have a $1 billion trust to leave my progeny. And even if I did, I’m a long way from leaving it to them in a will. But I desperately desire my offspring to understand and internalize all these lessons just like the nephew in the book. How do I instill a strong work ethic in my children? How do I get them to crave spending time with people and giving themselves away? How do I instill any of these desirable character traits?