When I was a kid I was taught that hard work was all you needed to succeed in life financially. It was so drilled in my brain and "confirmed" by movies and several examples (see survivor's bias) that it was with me until I was nearly 40 years old. It took me a lot of time to realize and accept that all of that is mostly nonsense.

In reality most of the world does not care for hard work, but results and networking (or "working smart", not hard). Sometimes it would be better to devote 20 hours doing something that looks good instead of spending 40 hours doing something that is hard, but not really appreciated it.

It would have been better for me if I had known this since I was a kid, instead of being drilled the idea of work hard = do good financially.

Now I am on the fence of what to teach my kids. I am currently telling them the same I was told as a kid "you have to get good grades to go to a good school or to get a good job".

How do I / should I teach my kids about the real world?

Extra information: I have high functioning autism (HFA), which in my case translates to being very awkward in social situations (such as in interviews and in meetings with colleagues/bosses). I am very very good at my job, but bad at social stuff (which I had always thought was a minor detail). I have been told that this cost me many jobs offers (in confidence, by friends in places I applied), and that the hiring person preferred to hire someone that was just ok but with better social skills. After accepting this (harder than it seems), I was able to work on it and am currently doing quite well. However, had I known before, I would be in a better position. One of my kids (7 years old) also has HFA and has much trouble with social situations. He is very smart (identified as gifted) and thinks that being very good at a job is all you need.

EDIT (additional information):
One of the "problems" I am trying to solve is that my kid wants to do science and math 24/7 (which he loves). He does work on his therapy to improve social skills when I tell him to, but he thinks it is pointless. He needs to spend many hours on therapy, but he wants to do science and math instead. His paradigm is that if he is the best at something, he will get a job. Sometimes I just want to tell him that people will not hire him if he does not improve his social skills, no matter how good he is.

  • 1
    This is a very good question, probably without a definitive answer. I'll see what I can come up with in terms of a detailed response, but for now I'll just say - it's ALL important: working hard, working smart, connecting with people, being consistent and reliable, and easy to get along with. For a lot of people, learning the internal rewards of hard (and consistent and reliable) work is the hardest part, so people focus on teaching that. But if that comes naturally to a kid, acknowledge that strength but also explicitly help them develop in areas with which they have more difficulty.
    – MAA
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 4:02
  • Maybe you could give a little detail on what his issue is socially. Does he want to avoid engaging? Is he wanting to engage but not finding it easy to be welcomed? Is he able to read social cues well enough to know when someone is just kidding and when someone is actually being rude?
    – threetimes
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 15:48
  • He wants to engage but has trouble. He cannot read social cues easily. For instance, he doesn't know when someone is joking or being serious. When he jokes he can sound serious and vice versa. He can say truths even if it hurts people (he told his friends easter rabbit/angels/magic/santa do not exist and that their parents lied to them (he does not understand why it is ok to lie in that case, but not in others). He only wants to talk about science math, and do science math (24/7). He feels that he does not need to work on his social skills because he will be the best at science and math.
    – Roger
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 16:09
  • Hard to answer, but I'd say do your best to be as honest as possible without letting them get stressed. Don't lie or you will face a credibility "crisis" when they get older. If you hide it, they will be shocked and unprepared. If you lie, you will not be trusted. If you encourage them not to fall back on their labels, and instead push through barriers and try try and try again I think they will be much more prepared and less disappointed.
    – Craig
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 21:25
  • Intelligence, skill set / education, and work ethic are different things.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 23:53

6 Answers 6


In reality most of the world does not care for hard work

I very much doubt that's true. Just like not everyone is beautiful, and not everyone is socially adept, not everyone is capable of being a hard worker. But for a large number of jobs, you actually need people who know things, and people who work; just knowing the right people won't be enough to do the job.

Now, beauty isn't something we can influence much, and social adeptness, including the ability to make friends easily, and build a large network of acquaintances, is also to a large degree up to an individual's disposition, not primarily his/her will. But we can each of us decide to work hard for something, and so that's something that we should try and teach our children.

His paradigm is that if he is the best at something, he will get a job. Sometimes I just want to tell him that people will not hire him if he does not improve his social skills, no matter how good he is (cited from your comment)

This isn't quite what you stated in the beginning - that you want to teach your children that in the real world, hard work isn't important compared to other skills such as networking and producing results. I'd emphasize the use of social skills in addition to being capable and enduring.

Maybe you could try looking at his argument a bit more closely. Tell him there are in fact jobs where skill is all you need. One good example would be historic - maybe you've seen "The Imitation Game", a movie which fairly accurately traces the life of Alan Turing. It's not fit for a seven-year-old, but the story itself might make a good example - it's about an excellent mathematician who does get an important job despite his inability to cope well socially (the present-day equivalent would be the NSA hiring mathematical talent). I also have good memories of "Searching for Bobby Fisher", which is about a boy who is excellent at chess - and it asks whether chess is really enough for a person to be happy.

Once you acknowledge that there may actually be jobs that don't need much in the way of social skills for him, you could point out that

  • jobs where mathematical ability is paramount will obviously attract very good mathematicians, so he will have to compete against people who are at least as good as him, if not better
  • mathematical capabilities being equal, those who have other skills such as decent people skills will probably get hired before him
  • many of the examples of geniuses who do excellent work far beyond everyone else are also examples of people who are profoundly unhappy - often because if you leave everyone behind you intellectually, you'll find it's very lonely up there all by yourself.

Note that using this approach, it isn't necessary to point out that hard work is bad, or that the world won't honor it.

Focusing on job opportunities may be counterproductive

I'd also point out to him that we all need to compromise. We all need to do things we don't like, even if it's just to get along with other people. My kids need to tidy their rooms even though they hate doing it. He could regard social skills as something like that - something he has to learn doing in order to get along with people - not necessarily his co-workers but with his family, the other children at his school, his teachers etc. That's a lot more immediate than his future co-workers, and, frankly, I find this more important in the long run, because he might actually be right in his assessment that very good math and science skills will get him a job, but he's most likely wrong when he doesn't value social skills - not for the job opportunities he might miss, but because he'll miss out on opportunities with people around him. You have children, so you know there are things that are more important than being good at a job, things that involve people, and I'd try to explain to your children that you're not worried about them not being fit for a job - you want them to have a shot at things that are much more important than a job (but of course you can only tell them that if you actually believe it).

edit: changed substantial parts of the answer to account for Roger's comment.

  • One of the "problems" I am trying to solve is that my kid wants to do science and math 24/7 (which he loves). He does work on his therapy to improve social skills when I tell him to, but he thinks it is pointless. He needs to spend many hours on therapy, but he wants to do science and math instead. His paradigm is that if he is the best at something, he will get a job. Sometimes I just want to tell him that people will not hire him if he does not improve his social skills, no matter how good he is.
    – Roger
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:59
  • Okay, that's good to know. I think I'll edit my answer a bit to better take that into account. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 15:48

It may also be a matter of what you perceive "work hard" to mean. You can work hard at anything, including social skills, and they are skills, so they have a value. By your description, it sounds as though you haven't grasped the value in social skills and that they are ranked up with there with other abilities a person has. You say you thought it was a minor issue & that places have

"preferred to hire someone that was just ok but with better social skills"


I have no idea your line of work, but I have done hiring. In my position, the ability of a person to interact socially would be right up there with their education, perhaps in certain jobs higher than the education. Education may or may not actually have taught you what you need to know for this job, you will likely still need training & to familiarize yourself with the job, the company, etc. That level of teaching an employee is expected.

People skills, on the other hand, are not easily taught to a prospective employee (believe me I have tried). They make things within business run smoother, they can have major impact on customer relations (even if the employee doesn't typically interact directly), etc. People skills are hard work to cultivate & refine. I used to spend a tremendous amount of time on my job using people skills to finesses situations. It is how I managed to keep getting promoted. I was able to often get people to work to their best output, get over conflicts they were having with other employees, with vendors, with difficult clients.

So as a parent, I to teach my kids that you have to work hard to get somewhere, because other than rare exception you do. I also teach them that all work will not be equal in results. They can decide to go into the back yard & do back breaking digging for 16hrs a day every day & that level of hard work is foolish. No one asked them to do it, they have no direction in mind when doing so & they will never be paid for that. So you are right that hard work alone is no way to hit dreams.

I tell them that you have to know where you want to go. That matters first. What are you aiming for? Then you have to reverse engineer that path, in your mind, back to where you are now, and outline what steps would be needed to get there. And then you sort out how to start taking those steps. I do tell them that being liked does matter because it does. That is not the same as pressure to be popular or amazing It very much does matter at times in life if you are liked though. I also teach them to reverse engineer social matters. If you want to have a better relationship with someone, ask yourself what that image looks like to you. Imagine it. Then you ask your self what steps might you need to take in order to build the relationship you want with them. So imagine you are fighting often with a sibling, but want it repaired. You then have to ask yourself what level of relationship do you want with them. What do they need to have from you to get along like that? Are you willing to give whatever you think they need? Then you ask yourself what olive branch you can offer that might start you both toward that relationship goal.

I can give you some examples. If you are known within your office for being kind, interesting, funny, etc, and that people enjoy you being around, all other things being equal, people will opt to work with you over other people because people enjoy pleasant interactions. You are more likely to be selected to participate in things where there are options of who to choose. I absolutely worked on that, very very hard. I also try my best to teach my children these skills. It really is something you can work on, study, refine.

There are books you can read on this type of thinking. One that comes to mind is Dale Carnegie. He wrote "How to win friends & influence people" in the 30s & it is a book that is still heavily read today - particularly in sales teams. Based on my experience of running a sales team, if I could assess that someone had amazing people skills, seemed to be a person that was reliable based on work history & seemed willing to learn, I honestly cared very little about the rest because I can teach the rest. I would for sure hire them instantly, because they made my life easier when they could manage to avoid conflicts, smooth issues over with clients without my involvement, smooth things over with other employees without m involvement, etc. If you truly like someone, you will be more likely to desire interacting with them again, you are more likely to cut them some slack if they make a mistake or misstep, you are more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. These things do in fact matter & they can serve to make your life easier or harder depending on where you fall on the array of being liked.

So I am careful when teaching this to my children. There is a nuance in there where I do not want them to focus on their social popularity. That isn't really anything to be worried about. I focus on that they do want other parents to like them, authority figures, etc. I coach them on what those people would want to see out of them to make that possible. When we go to places like a restaurant, I start as early as I can to have them place their own order, while making eye contact, and speaking loudly & clearly, etc. When we are at the grocery store, I ask them to run ahead & hold a door for someone that looks to need help. I try to teach them to see people, observe them, figure out what that person might need or enjoy & then if it's not too hard, do that. I had a boss I constantly brought coffee to. I had people make snide comments about it as it was way below m pay grade according to them & they also thought it was an attempt to brown nose. It honestly was neither thing. The boss owned the company. He had very bad knee pain. He really didn't want an assistant (thought he should have had one) and so when I would grab my coffee, I'd offer to grab him a cup, not to win favor, or to kiss up, but merely because by the time I was in that job, it was second nature. I started offering almost immediately after I was hired & observed his ambulatory issues. Later he told me, "I knew I was going to like you right off when you offered to grab me a cup of coffee". And the same people who were telling me it was beneath me to do that, ended up working for me before I left that company, and I was still getting his coffee when I grabbed a cup for myself.

I will also say there are no jobs where interpersonal skills are not helpful. None. There are jobs however, where they matter more for certain. Public office holders, for instance, really must have them. Ideally teachers have them. Sales people have to, to be effective. Other jobs are not so reliant on your interactions. I have worked with some incredibly brilliant engineers that lack social skills. The major hold back in my industry was that those with both, the ability to engineer and to interact smoothly, were able to better be project managers & hit their target dates, etc and might even move upward as a result or be promoted to doing sales/engineering where they made better money, had a better job, etc. In a larger company where an engineer never needs to project manage, that may be of less value.

The great news is, there is lots of info out on there on improving & honing these skills. It definitely is something you can work on learning & always improve. I would highly highly recommend Dale Carnegie as the beginning jump off point if you are wishing to do self directed learning on improving your social interactions & how to better read people. "How to Win Friends & Influence People" is for sure something my kids will all read before graduation, along with several other of his books. I expect my kids (I homeschool) to work as hard at learning how to handle social interactions as I do any other subject they learn.


Teach your kids what you have learned works. That's the job of a parent.

I would teach your kids both to work smart and work hard. They aren't mutually exclusive. For example, say I need to cut the grass on a large yard. I could get out a pair of scissors and cut the grass that way. I could work really hard and get a nice, trimmed lawn. Or I could get out a lawn mower and use that. Same result, both took work, one just took less work (but that doesn't diminish the value of the hard work that was put in).

Working smart means doing things in a more efficient, easier way. (You normally wouldn't want to make some task unnecessarily hard, would you?) Working hard is putting in the effort to get something done, even (or especially) when it is difficult. Both skills are useful. And both will serve them well.


When I was in college, we had a workshop with a guest speaker, and I will never forget the words that he started with: "what we're all doing here is trying to achieve perfection in our fields. We've been taught that if we do that, we will be successful in life. But the truth is that perfection is the bare minimum requirement. If you reach a certain point in your careers, all of your competition will also be perfect at their jobs. What you need is to have something unique to offer."

Creating that bare-minimum perfection to me starts with hard work. If you don't have the foundation to back yourself up, it doesn't matter how hard you try to sell it (even if you succeed, you won't last long afterwards). Often hard work requires some inspiration to be sustained, and it sounds like your son is very inspired by math and physics.

The next part of perfection is making your developed skills available to be used (if no one has access to the benefit of what you can do, no one will care). This means 1) offering your skills in relevant situations - whether it's helping move furniture or solving a difficult engineering problem; 2) saying yes when you are asked to contribute your specialized skills (and frankly saying yes if the request is something you're able to do, even if it doesn't specifically require your expertise); 3) following through, which means doing what you say you'll do by your deadlines, and showing up on time (or early) whenever you're expected to show up. In my experience, this set of skills poses some challenges for people on the autism spectrum: obviously it can be hard to volunteer yourself if you have social anxiety, but more than that, there can be strong resistance to the idea of maybe sacrificing some of the desired perfection in the product being created in order to have something that is good enough by the deadline. Also, it's hard to think ahead far enough when planning to be on time for things to organize all of the details (such as where are my shoes/keys/phone, did I eat breakfast, do I have a map, did I lock all the doors etc) which need to be taken care of in order to leave the house on time, and this show up on time. I'm not sure how best to coach your son on these things, but you are probably better equipped than most to be able to figure something out.

The last part is being able to get your skills successfully implemented on a larger scale by being able to 1) accurately communicate your ideas to others (which I would imagine your son is probably rather good at); 2) enroll the listener in the positive potential of the idea (which definitely takes practice for everyone - we often feel like the merits of our ideas should speak for themselves); 3) be able to work with people so that your idea can benefit from the hard work of others, rather than just yourself.

This last part is where most of those social skills come in which were so thoroughly addressed in a previous response, but I'll summarize here: at the very least, it will be problematic if you appear unapproachable or are constantly making people feel uncomfortable. So it's good to have an easy-going and forgiving attitude. At the same time, you don't want that to compromise the quality of the work, but if you are focused and stay on task (which again is probably a strength of your son's), that goes a long way to ensuring everyone else does too.

Dealing with conflict is hard for all people, but maybe more so for those on the autism spectrum. I would say first that it takes practice, and then add a few pointers to keep in mind: 1) calm is always the superior reaction to conflict. If you can't be calm, excuse yourself for a few minutes and then try again (this has been a very hard one for a couple of friends of mine on the autism spectrum). 2) listen, and verbally acknowledge understanding, even if you don't agree (this is hard too). 3) before moving on to resolving the situation, ask if there's anything that anyone still feels they need to say (it's better to air things all at once when a conflict shows up rather than leaving some things to fester for later). 4) during the solution phase, ask for suggestions, and listen to them (even if you ultimately reject them). 5) if there is still disagreement about how to handle the situation, remember that in a work setting there is a hierarchy, and whoever is at the top gets to make the final call, and it is the responsibility of everyone else to accept that decision, whatever it is.

Following these guidelines will help everyone feel like they are respected, which will make them more willing and able to work together, and will make them feel safe in the work environment - but they are not fool proof! Everyone has to at least implicitly agree to interact in a practical and civilized way, or it doesn't work. Just make sure the person refusing to participate isn't you :)

As far as pointers specific to autism... 1) it is ok to ask for clarification ("I don't know if that was a joke or not") 2) people expect specific physical behaviors in conversation - examples are not standing too close together, and that the listener looks at the speaker the whole time they are talking, but the speaker lets their eyes wander (otherwise the listener comes across as inattentive, and the speaker as overtly authoritarian). 3) any time you feel you are in a situation you can't handle, it is ok to say "I need to step out for a minute, but I will be right back" (and it is important to come back and get through the situation in a timely manner).

Getting people to feel like you care about them is harder, and can be worthwhile, but it is always best if this arises from genuine caring, rather than being contrived. If you (your son) does feel genuine caring for people and wants to develop ways of showing it, here are a few suggestions: 1) ask them questions about themselves, like "how are you?" "What did you do this weekend?" "What are some things you like doing?" - and actually listen to the answers :)

Of course, if you're looking to establish an initial rapport (rather than talking to someone you already know), a good approach for your son might be to invite them to play a game and/or ask to join (or watch) a game that is being played.

Also, if someone asks your son a question about himself, or invites him to participate in an activity, it would be good to recognize an attempt by the other person at rapport/friendship building, and to respond positively (accept the invitation/return the question with one of his own).

The bit about having something unique to offer - it seems from my experience that this tends to naturally come from gaining a high level of expertise at something. Once you've mastered all that has already been done, you can't help thinking "but what if..." As long as he's willing to follow that thought through and see what happens, I don't think having a unique contribution will be something your son struggles with.

In summary (because this got SO long), your success in life is primarily based on your ability to demonstrate your value to others, which requires 1) having value, and 2) being able to show it. The first comes from your own hard (and smart) work, the second from your understanding of others and your ability to communicate effectively with them. Being liked etc isn't necessarily necessary, but not being disliked is usually important - but as long as you are a good person (even-keel, reliable, considerate), people are unlikely to dislike you, even if they aren't particularly drawn to you. In general I think that if people are your kind of people, they WILL like you, and if you try to court the others, you're choosing an external locus for your personality, which is ultimately unsustainable (and tends to make you unhappy).

I wish you the very best of luck with this :) ultimately, I think it's pretty hard to motivate a kid to do something if they don't see a reason for it, and you can't always make them see the reason - but I will also say that if he comes to see the reasons later on, he will still be able to draw on any foundations that you lay now, even if it seems like he isn't really taking it in.


At seven years old, and being gifted to boot, your son can be led to reason out for himself why the social skills are more important than the technical skills, and then from there develop his own motivation to pursue paths that will improve his lot in life.

Take his his favorite cartoon on TV. Read the credits. The people in that list spend 8 hours a day in close proximity to each other under extreme pressure to produce a 30 minute episode once per week, for relatively little pay. If any one of them falls down, the entire team looks bad. Each works in his own specialization, but they have to honestly like each other to work together seamlessly in those circumstances.

(Edit) Some context might be helpful here

This precocious seven year old sounds much like me at that age. I learned this lesson late in life, and wish I had learned it earlier. Th right sort of guidance at that time would have saved me a few decades of beating my head against the wall (figuratively).

I have a young man on one of my crews who may be HFA (I haven't asked). He is quite capable, but when he has his off days the tension in the control room ratchets up significantly. In a business setting it would not be tolerated. I accept it because I hope to give him extra time to learn the value of the social skills and the trust of others that is so critical to any endeavor.


A person cannot be great in all facets that make a person, we all have strengths and weaknesses. I myself although not to the same extent as the OP also suffer from a lot of social angst that I have had to overcome in the last couple of years.

I decided that I wanted to become a music teacher, seeing as I come from a family of educators I thought it would be a natural fit, it was not natural at all.

I was made painfully aware of just how much people skills the teaching profession takes to do successfully. I seemed to overcome most of the angst problems to the extent where I now teach in a positive manner, but none of it was easy.

Don't underestimate just how much a good work ethic will mean for your children. Skills that are in demand are in demand because gaining proficiency in them is not common. If you teach your children the work ethic to accel in these professions than they will be halfway to a good career.

If they have the proper work ethic then you can convince them to choose a career that fits in with their personalities. Lack of social graces is a lot less of a detriment to success than laziness, that is something a music teacher of almost 5 years can assure you.

As for how you should approach your own children. Don't let them become hermits. They have to spend time with other children. They have to learn how to operate with people from the opposite sex. That is why I personally like Co-Ed schools.

If they have ambitions then that is great, working in a systematic manner to achieve some sort of goal is an immensely positive thing for a child to do, but the ambition should not be at the expense of a healthy childhood.

A little bit of obsession is good for future successes but taken to the extreme it can be highly anti-social.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .