No. Not now.
Not until… Not before…
No unless… Just f$%^&ing wait for it.
Well, they say in Hollywood, and sometimes in Venture Capital, giving good “no” is a crucial skill. You might add parenting to the list of groups who need that one. This might be my first real post on being a dad, which after five years is probably long overdue, or my last on abngel investing depending on how it is received… I’ll admit there are very few skills from Hollywood or Sand Hill that translate into parenting, but one that seems to make the jump is, as the Italians say, “Piano piano si va lontano”.
Here is what I’m talking about.
…we hear, relentlessly, from children, things like… I want it now. I’ll pay for it later. Or you’ll pay for it. I was told I was a special snowflake, and I am always given what I want… If not instantly, then after a fit of crying and whining until my over worked, over stressed, under parenting parents just give in.
Tim Urban covers that syndrome oh so well, in his blog Wait but Why. But how do we deal with this one, and what may be the result if we don’t? Well, the result is easy enough to see, and scary enough for me, at least, to try to prevent.
Consider this paradox: emerging adults (I won’t call them X’s, Y’s, or Millennials, but they’re well represented here) may be hooked on instant gratification. Probably a mix of our endless choices, always-on digital lives, and access to easy ways to pay for whatever the urge of the moment happens to be… and it ain’t so great actually. What really works, and actually builds character, is delayed gratification. Working for it. Planning for it. Doing the work and making it the best experience possible. And yes, this actually has a name and real research behind it: the Marshmallow Theory.
(wiki) The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards (i.e., a larger later reward) if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. (The reward was sometimes a marshmallow, but often a cookie or a pretzel.) In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.
Here’s a great example: Cooking at home or Seamless Web . Look, I’m all for the convenience of ordering takeout food efficiently. Sometimes. But I cook as well, and often. And nothing beats the feeling of shopping the markets and thinking about what your guests (or just your kids) might actually appreciate, or by what is freshest in the season. Nothing is more rewarding (to me) than the process of cleaning, prepping and setting out the mis en place to do your service. Heating plates so dishes stay warm. Having a veggie option in case someone doesn’t do chicken. The sublime master off all this, and a mentor of mine (thanks PBS!) is Jacques Pepin, who shops, gathers, preps, cooks and does menus like no one on this planet. And he does it with love. I imagine people are honored to be invited to his table, and talk of it for days afterwards. Of course, in contrast, one can order from seamless web, based on one photo-shopped picture, binge-eat it from the plastic container it arrived in (in twenty minutes or less!), and feel somehow empty and full, but totally like shit, afterward.
But let’s not stop with food. I think relationships are another example of how instant gratification gradually but certainly corrupts. You can know yourself and what you want going in, perhaps ask friends to do your bidding, take your time and invest energy in actually working at a relationship … or you can hit tinder and do anyone within a few zip codes. Exchanging panty shots and cheating those in your presence would give a sudden rush of dopamine, but I’m thinking it’s followed by the same empty feeling as the sushi ordered at 10:30 from Seamless; feeling somehow empty and full, but totally like shit, afterward.
So, I think, I know, that my kids will have all these options and more when they come of age. And they will have more and faster ways to create choices than I ever did. I just hope I can teach some values that allow them to make better choices.
And swipe left on the first marshmallow.