Point Them Towards What They Can Change

Victor Krulak, one of the most revered Marines in the history of the Corps, remembers the blunt advice his father gave him as a boy. “You will be short and you will be bald,” the short, round, bald man told his son about the reality of their genetics, “but you don’t have to be overweight.” It was, in that uncomfortably coarse and insensitive way of most parents in the 1920s and 30s, a ray of pragmatic hope the elder Krulak was offering his son. Unlike his height or the hair on his head, even if he were genetically predisposed to slow metabolism or thyroid disorder (which his father almost certainly wouldn’t have been aware of), Victor could do something about his weight if he felt like it was becoming a problem.

In some sense, we will all need to have a version of this conversation with our kids. They don’t control their hair color or their eye color or color blindness. They don’t control whether the BRCA1 breast cancer mutation runs in the family or if they’re one of the unlucky ones for whom cilantro tastes like soap. Despite all our technology and medical advancements (we’re still a long way away from elective gene editing procedures), biology is still destiny in many ways.

But all is not lost! Because most of the things that matter in life have nothing to do with biology. We still have so much control over so much that matters.

So what if we don’t come from a long line of savants or geniuses. Our kids get to decide whether they’re hard workers or not, whether they’re curious or not. There will be things your daughter wishes as far as her looks go, your son too. That’s not up to them. But they can still be beautiful, especially per the Stoic definition (which is by making beautiful choices). Your family may not be of illustrious lineage or generational wealth, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful, that doesn’t mean they have to be ‘normal’ or ‘average.’ No, they have complete control over what kind of life they live, what legacy they create.

We’d love to give our kids everything they want. We’d love to fulfill every wish and eliminate every inadequacy. We can’t. So we must focus on what we control, we must point them to what they control, what they can change, where their effort matters most.

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