What is the meaning of success? Some define it in terms of occupational status, income, net worth, power, and even the size and location of one’s home. But these factors are not necessarily the ones held by Amy Chua who wrote an article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, in The Wall Street Journal. Ms. Chua claims, “A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids.” She contends that successful child rearing in the Chinese family focuses on high academic achievement and proficiency in violin and piano. Her two daughters have never been allowed to do much of anything else including “sleepovers, schools plays, watch TV or play computer games.”
If a Chinese child gets a B -which would never happen – there would first be a screaming, hair tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get a dozen, maybe hundreds, of practice tests and work through them with the child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to A.
In the article, Ms. Chua details an episode in which her then 7 year old daughter wanted to give up trying to master a piano piece. . . .A tug of wills then began. “I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army. . . threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no birthday parties. . . . I used every weapon and tactic. We worked . . . into the night and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up not for water, not even to go to the bathroom.”
This tough love method of child rearing seems to be at odds with the studies I have conducted concerning successful adult millionaires. And note that the so-called successful child does not necessarily blossom into the successful adult. In Millionaire Women Next Door, I did ask 233 millionaire women who own and manage their own businesses to describe their home environment while growing up. At least 2 out of 3 of these women told me the following about their parents: 1. gave me much responsibility early in life; 2. encouraged me to earn my own spending money; 3. did not threaten me with harsh punishment if I received bad grades; 4. taught me how to have empathy for the needs of others; 5. provided a home atmosphere filled with love and harmony, and 6. encouraged me to take the initiative.
I also studied another group of successful Americans, senior corporate executives. I cannot say whether these people were proficient in violin and piano. But I can assure you that they were not all A students. As a group their undergraduate GPA was 2.93; SAT 1211 (The Millionaire Mind). Also more than half played competitive team sports in high school and/or college. Could it be that these people were not raised by Chinese mothers and yet they still succeeded in life? Out of the 30 success factors that I asked these executives to rate, where did “graduating at or near the top of my class” rank? It ranked 30th.
There is nothing wrong with aspiring to have straight As and graduating at the top of your class. Most people however will not succeed without being sensitive to the needs of other people. Success is more about group behavior than solo performances.