Children of highly successful parents have their own share of issues, says executive coach Joella Bruckshaw.
I now realise that, quite unwittingly I have acquired a new niche: Working with ambitious and talented young people in their 20s who have derailed in their transition from university to an independent life. These are often the children of highly successful people including lawyers and whilst I haven’t sought them out, it has awakened a passionate desire to enable these high potential young people to take charge of their lives and follow their calling.
An intense period
Like babies, they get ill quickly but with the right input, they get better quickly too! When they are referred to me things look really bad. A young 24 year old from a small country village was struggling with working in London, feeling like a fish out of water but desperate to do well! He was so stressed his hair was falling out and as result of his ever more anxious daily calls home, his parents weren’t in a much better state!
Another casualty was a 26 year old, competent mathematician, who had lost his direction when his grandparents, to whom he was very close, were killed in a car accident just before he took his first year exams at university. He failed, left and rethought his career, setting his heart on becoming a ski instructor, only to be stopped half way through a promising career possibility by a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
Finally, a 25 year old girl in New York, who desperately wanted to do well, had for the last 4 years, worked in a company where she could see myriad ways of adding value and wasn’t allowed to take any initiatives. Constantly being held back made her doubt her own sanity! Her mother, who I had recently finished working with, asked me to work with her daughter to give her confidence and a direction in life.
A need for space
Engaging with these young people has made working with their successful and highly motivated parents seem really quite up hill work! Their willingness to open up and grasp the opportunity to consider their futures, whilst learning to distance themselves from their parents’ understandable anxiety about their child’s performance and their own, is humbling to see. They are a complete inspiration! Once parents see that their children are inevitably a ‘chip off the old block’ they relax and can see ways of more constructively supporting their offspring.
Because these young people are at a pivotal point in their lives, once they have understood why they are here they are more than happy to try things to confirm their own visions of how life can be.
The young man who was losing his hair, after gaining a better understanding of who he was and what environment would suit him, with the necessary degree of encouragement, went off travelling on his own for more than a year. A big change for both him and his family, the female members of which had expected him to call them when he got in each evening if he wasn’t at home! With a family meeting we were able to find a solution that worked for all. In a recent email, 18 months after our work together, he enthused about his return to GB and told me he had begun working with his best friend in an events business where he had recently been made a director! That was never going to happen!
The boy with MS summoned up his courage to tell his parents he wanted to take 6 months out, just to reconnect with the things he enjoyed. So responsible did they feel for his future, it was hard for them to let him do it but after a family meeting, where each had their say, the prospect looked doable. In that time, he moved into a flat locally, started a new job with children with learning difficulties and amazingly was given the all clear on the MS. Before the 6 months was up, the head master had recognised his gift for the work and gave him carte blanch to teach however he chose! With the necessary space he knew what needed to happen to move forward and as a result regained his sense of equilibrium and joy for life. I have no doubt that focused activity will continue.
The young woman, was so reassured when she accepted her own ‘out of the box’ approach to life and recognised that she was playing too small, briefly gave up her job to travel. We will stay in touch while she does this, Skyping at regular intervals as she begins to shape her vision more clearly and experiment with activities that throw more light on them. I am confident she will find the answers she is looking for.
Realising you already know the answers
The pressure to succeed amongst this group of ambitious young people can easily become too much! In working with them I have found, if I can create a space, with the agreement of their families, where they can begin to think things through in their own way, they realise quite quickly, that they know what to do and romp away! Sometimes you have to give the universe a chance to make contact with you and tell you what needs to happen next. That seems to be how it’s working for me!
Joella Bruckshaw is a performance consultant and executive coach based in London - www.joellabruckshaw.co.uk