In the very popular US drama Scandal, Olivia Pope is in conversation with her Dad, Rowan Pope. The conversation goes as follows.
Rowan: “How many times have I told you, you have to be what?”
Rowan” YOU HAVE TO BE WHAT?”
Olivia “ Twice as good”
Olivia “TWICE AS GOOD”
Rowan “ Twice as good as them to get HALF of what they have”
It was interesting that when I posted on some social media platforms that this was something that I would NEVER say to my daughters, some thought the advice from Rowan Pope was true and good. Others asked me what I would say instead. I hate this kind of advice, and heaven forfend I say this to my kids, blood or otherwise. Let me explain why.
I have mentioned before in my writings that I grew up in an environment where my parents told me to work hard, study hard, keep my head down and don’t get into any trouble to get ahead. To work twice as hard as white students. To not argue with white bosses. This was the way forward.
I did this for a little while and then said screw it when I realised that there were students around me who didn’t follow this formula and were able to live life a little. Employees who never followed that rule either. And their non conformity to such rules helped to shape their own professional success. I knew from an early age that even when I did get a job it would only be temporary. That I would always have my hustle on the side. That hustle would eventually turn into my own businesses. I don’t mind playing by the rules, but sometimes those rules have to be set by me too. Especially by my values.
When I reflect back on the advice from my parents (all well meaning as they were) and when I reflect the conversation I mentioned in the beginning of this piece, I think one of the worst bits advice you can give to your offspring is that they have to compare themselves to anyone else. To work twice as hard or be twice as good. That kind of advice does not change the system you are in by any measure, and worse still, it leaves you feeling inferior because you are comparing, sometimes constantly, to others.
In business there have been many times when I have had to seriously push down that old advice. To tackle that subconcsious inferiority. To see that work and opportunities have gone to a homogenous group who look alike, hang out golf courses together, have the same kind of trophy partner on their arm (yes I went there). I admit sometimes I wondered what do I have to compromise in order to achieve what I want. But then I looked back on all the professional successes I have had in my life. A heady mixture of talent, hard work, better still smart work, being opportunistic and a healthy dose of luck. Whether travelling the world as a speaker, motivating young people globally, being on TV, networking with power movers and players. The heady mix has been the same. But at the heart of it has been this unwavering self belief that MY BEST IS GOOD ENOUGH. My work speaks for itself and in the words of Muhammad Ali, it’s not bragging if you can back it up.
My network, family and close friends remind me of this. They applaud me when I succeed, chasten me and show me how I improve when I am less than excellent, encourage me to chill but they sharpen the saw. I make no apologies that over my years of work my network has opened up opportunities for me. And not just me but my wife, my friends and I will seize upon those same opportunities for my daughters.
My eldest aims to be a well respected film director, producer and actress. So I set up a company with her to incubate those ideas now. While she is still a teen. To establish that sense of ownership and self belief before woman hood kicks in and its harder to unlearn old habits.
I connected her with people in the industry and am continuing to do so. I get her to study the craft of others but create her own narrative. To seriously question, how is she going to leave her mark? To work hard and smart, but never to forget her BEST IS GOOD ENOUGH.
My youngest loves science and tech. Proper geek head. She loves literature and to be honest I have no idea what career direction she will take but I will be telling her at some point to create a vehicle for her ideas, intellectual capital and as with her eldest sister how to manage her money. She is a very very hard worker and sometimes I tell her she needs to chill. Don’t overstretch herself. To enjoy the moment and to trust the process, and never to forget her BEST IS GOOD ENOUGH.
As a trained counsellor, youth advocate and even when I did career coaching the biggest turning point with all my clients came around confidence. With people not feeling they were good enough. To get them to understand that they were worth it. Their name. Their accent. Their hair. Their body shape. Their experiences and training. To many of us are always comparing and feeling that there is some kind of unreachable standard to reach before we can be ourselves.
NO. NO. NO. Self worth comes from recognising that what you have in your hands are the building blocks. It is unique to you and it is important to value those things first or you will always have to look outside of yourself to determine your self worth. To gain acceptance from others when true confidence comes first from acceptance of self.
I tell my daughters to be wary of any future partner who puts them on a pedestal. Why? Because all long term successful relationships I have seen have seen, and even modelled my own relationship on, have been about mutual appreciation. Shaped by interdependence and a clear defined space about boundaries and acceptable behaviour of self. And recognising that THE BEST IS GOOD ENOUGH.
There are a lot of other things that I tell my daughters daily and weekly to help build resilience, resourcefulness and appreciation of self. Mostly I love you, raise your game for you and YOUR BEST IS GOOD ENOUGH. I try my best along with my wife and other significant adults to show them how to navigate the messy space that is this world, but that’s between me and them and therefore is none of your business.