5 tips on embracing a non-linear path to career success for your children

Just nine per cent of global entrepreneurs have a bachelor’s degree in business, so clearly, it’s not a prerequisite for success. Then why are we often scared about taking a different, non-traditional path or trying something out of our comfort zone? That pesky fear of failure often stops us from reaching our full capabilities or from giving something a go. And the seemingly well-worn paths to success can trick us into thinking there’s only one way to get there.

So, it’s no surprise that some students would rather ‘toe the line’ doing something they don’t love, rather than take the curvy, non-linear paths in education towards their careers. An award-winning education expert and innovator is advocating for more children to ‘take a chance’ and try alternative paths – and says this needs to start with the parents.

When was my light-bulb moment?

Growing up, I was taught the path to career success was completing university and then taking a slow, stable climb from intern to the C-suite. However, while working my corporate job, I became curious about technology, so I started running community meetups and doing short courses to broaden my skills – not knowing where the path might lead me.

It was around this time I knew I needed to take the plunge for a career switch. Even though it was terrifying to leave the stability of my role, there was no ‘perfect’ time. I just had to do it and take a leap and not let the fear of failure hold me back. This is what has led me to launch my alternative education business, which helps students learn all about innovation, big-picture thinking, and practical entrepreneurship skills. And I’ve never looked back since.

How can parents support their children?

5 tips to help parents and children embrace a non-linear path to career success:

Allow children to navigate their own obstacles

The mistakes and obstacles on the path to success can make children look at the world differently and is good for innovation, problem solving and changing their point of view.

Therefore, resist the urge to ‘save the day’ or solve problems for your children. While they may not be successful on their first try, often this harder process helps them be grittier in the long term, and becoming more comfortable with not always succeeding.

Understand your child’s strengths and play on these

It’s not possible to be good at everything, so recognising there are plenty of paths to success and encouraging your child to play to these strengths is a positive way to help them. For example, if they are artistic, allow them to explore this talent rather than forcing them down a different path like an analytical one that may not be geared to their skills and personality.

‘Big-picture thinking’ courses like those on creativity are another way to open up their minds to alternatives and endless opportunities. This is one of the reasons why I founded our entrepreneurship programs at HEX – to increase the capacity of students and think bigger.

Consider your own reaction to your children’s failures

Whether we coddle a child who has made a mistake, scold them, or tell them to ‘toughen up’, our response to failure can make a big impact on how children deal with uncertain outcomes.

Consider creating space to let your child reflect on the failure. Reflection, self-awareness, and the ability to make rapid adjustments are crucial skills for people embracing non-linear paths. Failing can increase emotional and mental capacity, and help prepare for future challenges.

Encourage kids to just get started

A mantra in the startup world is ‘Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard’. It is better to ‘start’ and take small steps towards a goal rather than always having a finalised project in mind.

It’s a mindset I had in founding multiple startups and is how many professionals thrive later in life. By encouraging this early on, it will help children develop a bias to action, which is very beneficial for developing the agile ‘test and learn’ mindset which is in high demand.

Redefine and celebrate the wins

Winning doesn’t always mean first place or an A+. There are wonderful wins to be had, no matter what the journey. Perhaps a win could have been a ‘pay it forward’ moment of kindness, sharing knowledge with a classmate, or making significant progress from where they started. Whether it’s big or small, celebrating the wins is a vital part of any journey.

It doesn’t always have to be a tangible reward, either. Consider the power of language and praise given to children and how it encourages and empowers them for future goals.

Jeanette Cheah is the founder and CEO of HEX (startwithhex.com) – an education technology company delivering internationally recognised innovation and entrepreneurship programs to university students and the next generation of talent.

Jeanette Cheah, Chief Executive Officer and founder of HEX