Skill Development At Its Foundation

Discipline as well as its parent, respect, cannot be taught. They can only be learned.

April 22, 2020

A subscriber on GaryNorth.com queried for potential solutions to an immediate skill development problem for his young-adult son:

My unmarried sister has gifted my 17 year old son $1500 in a Schwab account of which I am custodian. I’d like this to be a learning experience for him but I’m in the dark as to how to proceed. My son has inherited from me a lack of self-discipline in financial matters as well as propensity for poor judgements regarding the future. He understands that he is not to touch the money for 5 years, so there’s a little time to work with. I’m not so much concerned with great returns as maximizing the growth of his character & life skills. Any suggestions will be appreciated. Thanks.

From https://www.garynorth.com/members/forum/openthread.cfm?forum=1&ThreadID=280337#280337 (Website subscription required.)

There are several pertinent skill development and character-building questions raised by the subscriber’s comments:

I’d like this to be a learning experience for him…

Just to be clear, if not already understood, a “learning experience” is all about him experiencing [whatever] so that he learns from it. That is to say, it’s all “on him;” and tools and resources such as books and courses, and “teaching” by someone do not equate to learning experiences. (Although they may be supportive.)

In addition, as long as he is breathing, he is learning; so first, foremost, and always one only gets to shape the [learning] environment indirectly and therefore that which he may learn. To wit…

Discipline as well as its parent, respect, cannot be taught. They can only be learned. (And not with any formal course work.) So in the context of the [implied, yet unstated] goal, all one can possibly do is to set up the [learning] environment and “shape” his course on his voyage of discovery; his discovery of discipline in itself, for itself; and his self-building of his character and accumulation of “life skills.”

…I’m in the dark as to how to proceed

Assuming the foregoing, start with the end in mind.

That is, develop and publish for review, a mental model of the behaviors and character traits one wants him to exhibit at [whatever] end point one selects. (E.g., quantitative: one, three, five years out; or qualitative: linked to some event.) Because one cannot be in his head, one cannot change anything in his head; but one can cause him to change behavior and to present a different set of character traits. That is to say that unlike thoughts in someone’s head, behaviors are external and can be directly addressed.

…has inherited from me a lack of self-discipline in…as well as propensity for poor judgements

Self-discipline, as a character trait is not capable of “lacking.” (Notwithstanding general usage of the phrase.) The most self-disciplined people I ever encountered were those that were judged to be “lacking in self-discipline.” I encountered them in high school, the Air Force, in the technical ranks of business, in management, in the Army, and in government. They were everywhere because no one else had the self-discipline to cause them to change behaviors.

It takes a hellofva lot of [self-]discipline to resist all those influences trying to force one to do something one has decided not to do. That is, to tolerate the stick, and ignore the carrot.

Perhaps a more accurate word to use in the context of discipline would be focus; as in where is the focus of his self-discipline? What carrot is he focused upon?

…maximizing the growth of his character & life skills.

“Maximizing.”

Just a suggestion, but to be effective, one must lose the relativity if he is to become disciplined. That is to say, if one wants him to learn discipline, stay away from the touchy-feely, ethereal non-quantitative, “your-definition-is-as-good-as-mine” relational vernacular; and get and stay specific.  To do so, one must be disciplined. (That is, one must “lead from the front.”)

In terms of the [implied, yet unstated] goal, quantify (where applicable) and qualify (where applicable) the skills one wants him to learn and the behaviors one wants him to exhibit. Both skills and behaviors can and are definable and measurable, and therefore may be “shaped” via his learning; “character” is neither, and cannot be shaped.

One can and may shape his behaviors; but character is up to him.