E.H. Harriman was a hell of a businessman and, as we’ve talked about before, a surprisingly good father. He had a reputation as a rapacious industrialist, but at home he was tender and engaged with his kids. He was patient and instilled in them good values.
Once, he wrote to his son’s headmaster to ask how the boy was doing in his schooling. “Fair in his studies,” came the reply, along with news that young Averill was “gaining steadily.” Encouraged, he wrote to his son whether he might be able to “jack up” his efforts in English. “I know you can as well as some other subjects,” E.H. wrote. “It is encouraging to have you so improved, and I am sure you will catch on, and go on and on and be something and somebody.”
That’s a perfect phrase. He wasn’t telling his son he needed to get perfect scores. He wasn’t telling him that he was worthless for having come up short. He was saying he knew what his son was capable of, and more importantly, what is expected of a person with his potential: Be something and somebody.
We don’t necessarily need our kids to be financially successful, or supremely powerful or famous. But we do expect them to make something of themselves—to be somebody, whether that’s a respected member of their small church or the head of a legislative body. We expect them to do something, because life is a gift. To waste it? To do the minimum?
No, that’s failure for them and for us. So let’s jack up our efforts and our expectations for them.