Yes, he can focus on surf boards all day for the rest of his life.

I often speak on developing kids passions and strengths. As an author of a book on discovering student strengths and the founder of a 21st century high school program called The Global Strengths Program, I hear all kinds of push back on the idea of following a child’s passions.

And it baffles me every time.

Recently, a parent raised his hand at a talk and said in a irritated voice: “What if my kid only likes to surf all day, am I supposed to encourage THAT?!” I’m not sure he liked my answer, but I told him, yes. I was clear that even if he didn’t encourage this, the child would still be drawn to this activity. The advice I gave was for him to help the child figure out exactly what it is he loves about surfing and find ways to reapply that passion into other areas. Furthermore, I told him that in the meantime, he should encourage his son’s research on the design and development of a unique and quality surfboard. (I think there’s money in that,) Or identify some problem in the sport: be it with the gear, the clothing, the beaches, the public image– and work to solve that problem with a new invention or forming a plan to solve the problem. I went on for a long time pointing out how this passion could transformed into a lifelong gig. Isn’t that how most things begin?

Follow the child, follow the strengths, ignite the passion, build a life.

Jenifer Fox is an internationally published author, educational keynote speaker and leading innovator on 21st Century Learning. Her groundbreaking book, Your Child’s Strengths, a Guide for Teachers and Parents (Viking/Penguin) is widely accepted as the definitive guide to developing success through a focus on strengths for children. Jenifer authored The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists (Wiley) and has created Differentiated Instruction, an online professional course for teachers.
  1. Bruce Haines Reply

    As the father of a passionate, talented and exceedingly smart college-age son with profound learning issues I could not agree more. Strengths are like an outboard motor. They pull him along even when he needs to work on the weaknesses that he needs to address to make his dreams real! The worst is this semester when it’s all academic work and no art (strengths). No motor pulling and he is almost dead in the water. I could not agree more with what Jenifer has said, despite all the easy parental energy in favor of safer, more traditional routes.

  2. Mark Moran Reply

    Brilliant advice, Jenifer. I’ve hired dozens of college graduates in the past 10 years. There are hundreds of thousands of students graduating every year from good schools with good grades. How do I separate them? I scour their resumes for passion. If the resume doesn’t suggest to me a single thing about which they are passionate, it goes into the recycle bin.

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