Do this if you want your children to figure out their life goals early

Ensuring that tomorrow’s leaders boast a healthy amount of entrepreneurial spirit is a tricky task. After all, no one can be forced to become an entrepreneur. An individual is either driven to create their own successful business/endeavor, or they’re not. 

Not everyone is going to be interested in being an entrepreneur, but at the same time, entrepreneurship is a hallmark of a healthy society. It behooves educators, policymakers, and parents alike to instill some entrepreneurial spirit in the youth of today. 

But, what’s the best way to do that? An international research project investigated this topic and came to a few surprising conclusions. In short, don’t bombard adolescents and young adults with pro-entrepreneurial education. Instead, help students figure out what they want in life – whatever that may be.

Researchers report that young adults make more well-rounded decisions for or against entrepreneurship once they have a better handle on their life’s ambitions and goals.

Right now, most schools and institutions try to promote entrepreneurship among students by offering educational courses and subjects specifically focused on entrepreneurship as a legitimate career option. Most of these initiatives are centered on showing young people that becoming a successful entrepreneur is an attainable goal, and there are plenty of societal/environmental resources available to them that can help make that happen (loans/mentors/etc). It’s all about instilling some entrepreneurial self-confidence. 

To the research team’s surprise, however, these pro-entrepreneur courses rarely move the needle in terms of fostering more ambitious, entrepreneurial members of society. Similarly, such courses don’t help pupils get a better understanding of their life goals and motivations either.

“Students make more pronounced decisions for or against entrepreneurship when they are highly aware of what they want in life”, the study reads. “Unfortunately, entrepreneurship courses included in the study, on average, did not help students better understand their life goals.”

These findings are the result of an extensive international collaboration coordinated across numerous universities located in nine different countries. The study was led by scientists from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and Abu Dhabi University.

If an adolescent isn’t sure what they want to accomplish in life, being hit with a whole lot of information about why it’s so great to be an entrepreneur can backfire. People are naturally averse to being told what to do, especially adolescents. It’s a better idea to encourage students to take a hard, introspective look at what they want to accomplish in life, and then allow them to decide what they want to pursue from there. 

Undoubtedly, a significant portion of students in any one given location will end up choosing entrepreneurship anyway, regardless of whether or not a spotlight is placed on it as a life option. Plenty of people are born with a natural inclination toward entrepreneurship, and at the end of the day, those individuals were probably always going to choose a self-made career path.

Study authors add that when educators and administrators encourage a better understanding of one’s life goals, whatever those may be, it greatly helps the individual’s “sorting effect.” This refers to the process by which an adolescent determines what areas of life are right or wrong for them.

So, it seems the fundamental flaw of entrepreneurial-centric education is that it assumes everyone should or will be interested in such a life path. Based on these findings, a better approach is to help students figure out their goals for themselves, and then let the chips fall where they may. 

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Business Venturing.