It is apparently never too late to learn something new. And crucial. And I just learned something, which I recognize is critical.

Although it should not have come as a surprise to me, I was recently surprised when I heard how difficult and incredibly debilitating it was to be the son of a famous or successful person.

My thinking always has been built around the idea that it is good and desirable to expose my sons to my work, and provide them with a behavioral model. So I took them to my lectures and even to my consulting assignments.

What a mistake.

Apparently every son wants (in many instances needs) to be better than his father.  And if the father is famous and very successful it sets the bar very, very high for the children. And if they feel incapable of reaching, let alone surpassing, that particular bar, it is debilitating.

Where did I learn this?

I was recently at an event talking to the son of a person leading the event, a very famous person, who I think it is better if I protect his identity for the sake of the son.  His son was telling me and my son, who was visiting with me, how difficult it is to be the son of this famous person.

First, he does not have a father like anyone else. He has to share this father with more than one hundred thousand people, and in turn receives only a few crumbs of attention.  Furthermore, he often feels like a failure because he cannot approach anywhere near what his father has achieved. Moreover, the father apparently is successful because he holds high standards at work and has very high expectations. When these are applied to the son, he is constantly under the microscope being evaluated and usually criticized.

The son did not say this to me in so many words, but that feeling and sentiment were clearly communicated.

I was listening, and then I turned to my son and hesitantly asked him if this made sense to him. I expected kudos for taking him on my assignments and giving him such great exposure, and that our case was different.  Instead, I got a surprise.

He looked at me very puzzled. “What? Don’t you understand how difficult it is to be YOUR son?”

I probably should have known better. But the truth be told I had no idea he had it tough being my son. I travel a lot and am frequently not at home. True, I have carved out a life and a career that could be defined as successful.  Hundreds of people come to my lectures.  I was proud that my son observed it all and knew of my success. That was the idea. To give him a model to emulate.

And now, suddenly, I recognized that I was wrong. Trying to give him a behavioral model in this way was not the right thing to do. Unknowingly, I was setting the bar too high for him. Furthermore, he said that I am never satisfied with his achievements and constantly criticize. Whoa, that is true. I am never happy enough with my achievements and always strive for better and more. That is one of the reasons for my success, but when applied to my son, it is very hard on him.

My insight:  The more famous you are, the more humble a life you should lead….at least as far as your children are concerned.  And criticize yourself as much as you want but leave those close to you alone. Close one eye…..keep your success to yourself and do not act at home the way you do at work.

I do not know how children of movie stars manage. But now I understand that some have to be famous stars themselves or they are miserable.  Someone told me Gandhi’s son committed suicide.  I wonder what happened to Einstein’s son?

And I wonder if daughters have the same problem with their mothers? Or at least similar ones.  And think about it, what about spouses with a very successful “other,” how does it impact them in their marriage?

Just thinking.

Ichak Kalderon Adizes