Why Our Kids Should Take Risks

A Dad's Point of View by Bruce SallanYes, we should encourage our kids to take risks. Of course I don’t mean foolish or dangerous risks, but those that will help them succeed in life. In our contemporary world, it’s the risk-takers who will succeed. Too many kids feel entitled, have been pampered or helicoptered, and the idea of taking a risk is completely foreign to them. Thomas Edison is a perfect example of a man who not only took risks, but also didn’t allow failures to deter his determination.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work ~ Thomas A. Edison

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time ~ Thomas A. Edison

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up ~ Thomas A. Edison

In essence, I’m equating success with taking risks. And, I’ll back it up with several examples in my own life. I would define my life as a combination of passion, perseverance, and risk-taking. Within that definition, there were plenty of misses and failures. If I allowed those failures to either define or discourage me, I’d not be writing this column right now.

Let’s be clear on what I am calling a risk. I do not mean jumping out of a plane with a parachute, skiing over a cliff that appears not to have a landing clearly in sight, or bungee jumping a deep cavern or high bridge. Those certainly have their place, and in fact, I’ve taken my share of that kind of physical risk though I think with care, thought, and preparation. The risks I’m referencing are those that involve putting yourself out there, taking a chance on rejection whether personal or professional, and maybe venturing outside your comfort zone.

My favorite family example is what my older son, Arnie, did when he was sixteen. It has become – in so many ways – the defining moment of his life, so far.

My son found his passion in music. I did everything in my power to steer him toward sports but upon giving him an electric guitar when he graduated elementary school, it was clear where his future was heading. He took to it like the proverbial bee to honey. I recognized that passion as the same I had for tennis, which was my first big life passion. And, wisely, I let go of my hopes for a future NBA or baseball hall-of-famer.

Naturally, his music tastes ventured all over the music landscape. But, a singular hero for him was Chris Cornell, who was part of two major rock ‘n’ roll groups, AudioSlave and Soundgarden. He is a premier rock guitarist and vocalist. . My son literally knew how to play every song of his. I supported my son’s love of music by first taking him to concerts of the greats of rock such as Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen. As his own tastes developed, he would “take” me to his favorites such as Green Day and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Over time, we attended dozens of concerts including twice going to the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco. I came along both times and I was the old man on the festival grounds. He also got to see his idol, Chris Cornell, a couple of times at smaller music events.

When he learned that Chris Cornell was going to give an acoustic performance for a charity, he begged to attend. It was expensive, but I knew it would mean the world to him. So, I sprung for two tickets. He was now just sixteen, with a girlfriend, and this was clearly a time that dad was not needed or wanted as a chaperone. I was simply the driver.

That day, at school, he exclaimed to all his friends that he was going to jam with Chris Cornell at this show, where it was a small venue and he expressed this with unwavering conviction. His friends indulged his claim with good humor and considerable skepticism, as did I.

Given that it was an acoustic concert at The Roxy, where attendance was limited to 300 or so standing-room only fans, Arnie was able to get a prime position near the stage. Cornell was performing with an acoustic guitar and a cello as his only back up.

Much as Eric Claption did in his first unplugged concert, Cornell did his heavy rock music in a passionate but slower style. Also, given the nature of this concert, there were short, quiet breaks between songs. During one of those breaks, as recounted to me, the following dialogue took place between Arnie, Cornell, and the audience:

Arnie: Hey Chris, can I ask you a question?

Note: At the time, Arnie had very long red-hair and stood 6’2”.

Cornell (looking a bit confused): Yeah kid, what is it?

Arnie: It’s been my lifetime dream to jam with you!

Cornell (more confused): Oh, what instrument do you play?

Arnie: I’ve played guitar since 6th grade!

Audience (getting into it): Let him. Let him!

Arnie’s Girlfriend: He can do it!

Cornell: What song would you like to play?

Arnie: Fell on Black Days

Cornell: Heck, that’s our next song.

Audience (louder now): Let him. LET HIM!

Cornell (looking around, a bit bewildered): Okay, what the heck.

Audience (shouting): YEAH!

Arnie heads to the stage where Cornell helps him up. He whispers in Arnie’s ear, “What’s your name kid,” to which Arnie answers. Cornell takes off his guitar from around his neck and hands it to Arnie. Cornell pulls a chair up and motions to Arnie to sit in it while asking someone backstage to bring him another guitar. An electric guitar is brought out. Cornell checks the tuning, looks at Arnie and they exchange that Are-You-Ready look between musicians and then Cornell launches into the nearly seven-minutes song.

Arnie matches Cornell note-for-note, including the somewhat complicated solo, which you can see in the YouTube video that we fortunately got from another spectator. The audience is whooping it up and some are shouting to Arnie’s girlfriend, “This was a set-up, wasn’t it?” because they played so well together.

When the song ends, Cornell gives Arnie a bemused expressed and says in the mike something to the effect, “Not bad. Not bad at all.”

Throughout the song, the expression on Arnie’s face was one of unmitigated joy – an expression I hadn’t really seen since he’d become a teen.

The YouTube (http://ow.ly/jKPGw) of that performance, in my opinion, was one of the factors that contributed to Arnie’s acceptance at The Berklee College of Music in Boston, given he had poor grades and didn’t even take the SAT. By then, Arnie’s primary instrument was drums so he had auditioned at Berklee on drums.

How many young kids would take that risk? And, really, what did he have to lose?

I had a 25-year career in showbiz that was defined by taking such risks. I brought a baby black-spotted leopard to a series pitch about a wild animal vet. I brought two WWF famous-at-the-time wrestlers to another series pitch that involved the participation of wrestlers. They came in full regalia. In recent times, I walked up to Guy Kawasaki at a conference and asked him to be a guest on #DadChat after he’d just given a keynote speech. He said, “Yes” (Note: He’s coming back to #DadChat on April 25).

Had I held back out of fear or embarrassment, where would my life be? Had Arnie not gone for it at that concert, where would his life be now as he’s finishing his freshman year at Berklee?

Taking risks can be a good thing. Teach your kids to go for it. Teach them the when and when-it’s-not boundaries and perhaps model some risk-taking yourself since our kids learn so much from what we parents do. Mostly, don’t be afraid. Don’t let them be afraid. the end

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