Break out of the in-crowd circles

11 September 2013 - 03:21 By David Shapiro

I have been asked to address school-leavers about challenges they might face as they make the transition to adulthood.

It's a daunting task for me, an ageing stockbroker, to talk to youngsters whose aspirations are probably more allied to playing rugby alongside Bryan Habana, writing hit songs for Katy Perry or creating computer games for Electronic Arts than administering a preservation fund for a group of retired accountants.

In any case, considering the gathering I'm speaking to, the kids undoubtedly have trust funds that could swamp most unit trusts. Perhaps that's a good starting point.

Warren Buffett, for example, has never supported plutocracy - that the progeny of the wealthy should rule society simply because of the luck of the womb. He advocates that parents should give children enough to do what they want, but not enough to do nothing.

Buffett, who enjoyed a middle-class upbringing, believes every child should be offered the same opportunities to develop their talents to the fullest.

Studies show that rich kids perform better in school and have higher college graduation rates largely because, among other things, they enter kindergarten better prepared to succeed.

For that reason Buffett donated the majority of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and is encouraging other super-wealthy individuals to fund charitable institutions.

Pondering during Rosh Hashanah what message to deliver to my adolescent audience, my friend Rabbi Eitan Ash warned that one big issue facing young people today is the persistent need to keep up with the in-crowd.

To illustrate the harmful nature of peer pressure, he cited the example of the pine processionary caterpillars.

In the early 19th century, French entomologist, Jean-Henri Fabre, as part of a research programme, arranged the caterpillars to form a continuous loop around the edge of a pot filled with nutritious leaves. For seven days, in search of food, each caterpillar instinctively followed the silken thread of the caterpillar in front until they all died of starvation.

Breaking out of the circle begins with choosing what you want to do in life and not what your mother, father or family considers would be in your best interests.

Children should write their own and not their parents' biographies. If it becomes clear their initial selection is mistaken, there is no shame in changing paths.

Equally important is choosing the right partner. There is an old Chinese proverb that advises: "Happy wife, happy life."

The stresses and worries that accompany the climb up the success ladder can drain your potency. Without a stable and secure family base, the ascent becomes more difficult. The opposite also applies. Taking home your frustration and unhappiness at the office destroys relationships and isolates the children.

In the long run, money and possessions won't compensate for bad behaviour.

When graduates enter the job market no one is going to trumpet their arrival; they're more competition for existing workers . The only way for them to beat off rivalry is to further their education and become smarter than the rest by reading extensively and developing alertness to what is happening around them.

Finally, they should live within their means and avoid the temptation to imitate colleagues. Comrades Marathon icon Bruce Fordyce told me he ran his races according to a meticulously planned strategy. He won by running his race, indifferent to where his competitors were.

My last bit of advice to the scholars will come from Barnett Helzberg, who sold his diamond business to Berkshire Hathaway and is now heavily involved in education: "Kids, it's one thing getting into a fancy college; it's another thing getting out."