I Want My Children to Go Cold and Hungry

By: Chris Tell

Maybe I’m peculiar, which is entirely possible, but I cherish the memories of adventures I had and times spent in awkward situations; the times spent pushing my own personal limits, times when I’ve often been very, very uncomfortable.

It’s rare to remember a 5-star hotel no matter how nice it is, but I will always remember that night spent sleeping in a public bathroom when a storm blew our tent away and drenched our belongings.

I will not forget spending the night freezing my tail of in 12 inches of snow, in a tent, deep in the mountains of Eastern Europe after I’d train hopped and jumped off at the wrong location.

I vividly remember sleeping huddled to a backpack on an Indian train… huddled because if I let it go it would be stolen in the blink of an eye.

I’ll always remember positioning myself in front of my wife when being held up by pirates on the Mekong. It doesn’t matter where we’ve been, or where we’re going but what we’ve learned that matters most. What we take away from our experiences and what we do with that.

We don’t become educated by having it easy and we don’t learn perseverance and dedication by sitting on the sofa.

There is a reason I cart my children to all sorts of countries and expose them to different cultures. There is a reason my wife and I home schooled our children for many years.

We expose our children to everything from drug addicts, to world business leaders, to prostitutes, orphans and everything in between. Always in a controlled environment, but ensuring that the world is in front of them, the good, the bad and the ugly.

A parent recently argued with me that I was damaging my kids by exposing them to poverty when taking them to a Burmese refugee village in Northern Thailand. This parent lets her kids watch gratuitous violence on television and play graphic video games, which make me want to vomit, and does it without a thought.

The television, iPad, Xbox,… these have replaced the real world as parenting “tools”. Is it not better that we see the effects of violence together with the humanity in it, rather than on a screen where the connection is lost, completely misused and the message given a far more dangerous one? In my view you can’t intelligently grapple with the world’s complexities if you’ve little to no connection to them.

This sort of exposure provides an education not easily achieved elsewhere. Kids are not shy and will question everything. This is as it should be, and is an attribute sadly lost on many grown adults.

It has always been my policy to invite questions and answer them as honestly as possible. This is how we learn.

As a grown adult, a professional investor, entrepreneur and owner of multiple businesses, it’s always been my job to ask questions. The more the better. There are no dumb or wrong questions. Kids know this, yet adults often forget it. Pride gets in the way. Fear of looking stupid, being thought ignorant.

Our brains need to be stress-tested regularly. A brain is a muscle and it atrophies just like any other muscle if left to vacuous use. Did you know that it takes just two weeks for a muscle to atrophy. Two weeks! Poof…flat like a car tire.

When you’re pushing yourself to explore new ideas, new environments and new cultures you’re much more likely to be uncomfortable. It is when we’re uncomfortable that we are forced to exercise our brain. Ideas and skills bring wealth.

Wealth is not money. Only poor, ignorant people think wealth is money. I need my kids to be using their brains vigorously, to be generating ideas, to be problem solving consistently and to be collecting a body of knowledge to be tapped at every turn. I need my kids to be uncomfortable.

This was one reason I bought my son a second hand piece of furniture. It is why I’m not going to send my kids direct to University when they finish schooling. There is a difference between education and schooling.

I recall an instance some years ago when living in Phuket, Thailand. For a family outing we had ventured down to Patong beach to shop for an art piece. A large oil painting that now hangs on our wall. Now, Patong is littered with hookers and men too eager to be hooked. Unsurprisingly, drug use is common. If I had to sleep with some of the creatures that grace these places I’d probably take drugs, too!

Patong Lady Boys 1
Witnessing a particular tourist in the street, who was clearly stoned out of his mind, my daughter questioned me:

“Why has that guy got bleeding feet daddy?”
“Because he’s stepping on broken glass honey and has no shoes on.”
“I know, but he seems weird, he doesn’t seem bothered by it and he’s got a weird sort of smile on his face.”
“Yes, honey he’s on drugs and the drugs mess with his brain telling him not to worry about the glass.”
“That’s dumb Dad.”
“Yes, it is.”

You see you don’t need to threaten kids with finger raised to stay away from drugs. I believe it’s better to let them come to that conclusion all on their own, with a safe, steering hand. This is why I expose my kids to all manner of things many would consider crazy.

Kids are like onions, occasionally smelly, they actually don’t snap and break like carrots all that easily and there are many layers to them. You can’t appreciate how many layers there are unless you begin peeling. Sometimes when you peel the layers back you weep.

We recently spent a few days camping. No big deal. It rained and we could have packed up, hiked out to the car and driven home to a hot shower and warm bed. But what does that teach you?

Instead we targeted the “problem”, coming up with ideas on how to solve the problem of not bringing enough warm gear and experiencing rain. Needless to say we had an awesome time. In the pouring rain, while we were cold and wet, missed sleep and could have easily given in, we had a very close bonding and memorable experience where many of our “problems” were tackled.

It is my dream for my children that they do something cool, possibly life-changing, and certainly inspiring, if only for themselves. That is where fulfillment comes.

Getting there, however, is never, ever a walk in the park. It will take perseverance, possibly ridicule, missing out on more “fun” things, it will take time, something we all wake up every morning with the same amount of. How we spend that time defines who we are. It cannot and should not be taken lightly.

I’ve had the incredible fortune of having built multiple businesses myself, made and lost money, made and occasionally lost friends, and always been educated by the experiences.

I’ve also been in the enviable position of being exposed to literally hundreds of businesses, many of them start-ups or small businesses. Watching and learning along with founders and management teams has been an invaluable education for me. I’ve watched founders grow, accomplish, become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams I’ve also watched founders blow up, destroy their relationships, burn out and collapse in a smoking wreck on the footpath.

It is one reason that we invest in people before we invest in businesses. What I’ve come to know, and most of us know this internally, is that it’s truly rare to achieve something valuable without going hungry, sweating, and working hard at it.

How do you build that resiliency in a growing child? How do you show them the way the world really works? How do you do all this without breaking them, all the while installing a sense of passion, awe for our incredible world, a sense of limitless opportunities and a desire and belief that they can and indeed should build a life and world which is better for having them in it?

This is why I want my children to go cold and hungry. Is this going to make them more resilient, more entrepreneurial, more appreciative or just more grounded? I don’t know. Ask me in 10-20 years.

- Chris

“The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” – Tom Bodett