The Hard Way is the Easy Way

“As a general rule, in prosperous societies we have been outsourcing more and more of the work that, a generation ago, was done “internally” in the home. It sounds almost quaint by comparison to life now, but in the modest neighborhood in which I grew up, there was a lot of work going on in our homes. We had gardens and fruit trees; we grew a lot of what we ate. We had to preserve much of what we grew so we could eat it during the winter and spring. Our mothers made much of the clothing that we wore; and in the absence of wrinkle-free fabrics, we had to spend hours and hours washing and ironing our clothes. The idea that one might hire someone else to mow the lawn and shovel the snow at your home—it just never happened. There was so much work going on that children essentially worked for their parents.”

“Step by step, over the past fifty years, it has become cheaper and easier to outsource this work to professionals. Now the only work being done in many of our homes is a periodic cleanup of the mess that we make. In the absence of work, we’ve created a generation of parents who selflessly devote themselves to providing their children with enriching experiences—so-called soccer moms, a term that wasn’t even part of the American lexicon until fifteen years ago. They lovingly cart children around to soccer, lacrosse, basketball, football, hockey, and baseball teams; dance, gymnastics, music, and Chinese lessons; send them on a semester abroad to London; and to so many camps that many children don’t even have the time to get a part-time job in the summer. Taken individually, each of these can be a wonderful chance for a child to develop, and an excellent substitute for all the work that used to take place around the home. Kids can learn to overcome difficult challenges, take on responsibility, become good team players. They’re opportunities to develop the critical processes that kids will need to succeed later in life.

“Too often, however, parents foist all these experiences on their children without that in mind. Now, on one hand, exposing them to lots of activities is commendable. You want to help your kids discover something that they truly enjoy doing, and it’s actually critical for them to find something that will motivate them to develop their own processes.

“But that’s not always the impetus of parents imposing these activities on their children’s lives. Parents have their own job to be done, and it can overshadow the desire to help their children develop processes. They have a job of wanting to feel like a good parent: see all the opportunities I’m providing for my child? Or parents, often with their heart in the right place, project their own hopes and dreams onto their children.”

“When these other intentions start creeping in, and parents seem to be carting their children around to an endless array of activities in which the kids are not truly engaged, it should start to raise red flags. Are the children developing from these experiences the deep, important processes such as teamwork, entrepreneurship, and learning the value of preparation? Or are they just going along for the ride? When we so heavily focus on providing our children with resources, we need to ask ourselves a new set of questions: Has my child developed the skill to develop better skills? The knowledge to develop deeper knowledge? The experience to learn from his experiences? These are the critical differences between resources and processes in our children’s minds and hearts—and, I fear, the unanticipated residual of outsourcing.” (Excerpt From: Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth & Karen Dillon. “How Will You Measure Your Life?.” Emphasis added.)

Sometimes I stumble on success. My son Mikael is becoming a skilled app developer, but sadly for my ego, I’m not the reason behind this. My life has been so busy these last several years that I’ve had limited time to spend with him teaching him about the process. All totaled, maybe 50 hours over the last 5 years. It pains me to admit this, but as a result Mikael has had to figure it out on his own. This has developed in him more than just skill as a developer, but skill as a learner and problem solver. It has been hard for him. I could have made it easier, but if I had, he would be weaker as a person.

“The end result of these good intentions for our children is that too few reach adulthood having been given the opportunity to shoulder onerous responsibility and solve complicated problems for themselves and for others. Self-esteem—the sense that “I’m not afraid to confront this problem and I think I can solve it”—doesn’t come from abundant resources. Rather, self-esteem comes from achieving something important when it’s hard to do.” (ibid.)

Unwittingly we can create dependance and entitlement as we optimize for ease and opportunities that outsource the hard stuff that builds independence and capacity.

The most damaging form of outsourcing is outsourcing our communication with God to others. Sadly, there is a lot of encouragement to do exactly that.

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