Skip to main content

President Harry S. Truman once observed that “[t]he best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it” (1).

Unfortunately, anecdotal experience suggests that too many children wind up working in a family business, or in the wrong position in the business, because it is expected, convenient or lucrative—not necessarily because it is a good “fit.” And, while some of those individuals successfully handle their roles in the family business, others simply don’t have the skills, talents, or interests to succeed, much less enjoy their work.

Perhaps this phenomenon is most insightfully captured by Albert Einstein, who is credited with say that “[e]everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid” (2).

Particularly in the case of children of family businesses, much like the children of affluent families, they’re expect[ed] to excel at school and in multiple extracurriculars and also in their social lives. They [may] feel a relentless sense of pressure that plays out in excessive substance use; as the kids stoutly proclaim ‘We work hard—and we play hard!’ It [may] play out in crippling anxiety and depression, about anticipated or perceived achievement ‘failures.’ It [may] play out in random acts of delinquency—stealing from a friend, shoplifting, defacing property” (3).

Ongoing research now adds scientific support to the importance of “fit”—and even how to assess it.

— Julia Jensen


(1) Lydia Dallett, 32 American Presidents Share Their Best Life Advice, Business Insider (Feb. 16, 2014, 10:25 PM).

(2) Melanie Harth, Fishes and Trees: 12 Timely Mindfulness Tips from Albert Einstein, Huffington Post (Sept. 16, 2013).

(3) Suniya S. Luthar, The Problem With Rich Kids, Psychol. Today, (last updated June 9, 2016). For a discussion on raising children in affluent families, see generally Lee Hausner, Children of Paradise (1990).