Once upon a time, there was a farmer who had three sons. He was not a rich man, and the only assets he had were three pieces of wood. He was going on a pilgrimage for a year, and decided to give one piece of wood to each son before he left. He told them that upon his return, he would see what each one of them had done with the wood.
Carving different destinies
The first son was not happy. A single piece of wood was worth nothing. Other fathers gave their sons gold and land. He immediately went to the market and sold the piece of wood for a few rupees to the very first buyer, since he didn’t want to wait around in the hot sun for a better price. He then went and spent the money on some alcohol in an attempt to forget his miserly father. The second son went to the market too. The first buyer’s offer price seemed too low, so he went around looking for a better deal. After three days he sold the piece of wood for three times the sum the first son had received. Soon he started worrying about being robbed, so he went to the local banker and kept all his money safely in the bank.
The third son was grateful to his father for giving him such an opportunity and considered this simple piece of wood a blessing. He spent one week visiting different markets and shops to find out what was the best thing he could do with his piece of wood. After 10 days, he saw a handcrafted wooden elephant selling for an exorbitant price. He went inside the shop and saw a few craftsmen working on pieces of wood and creating carved elephants out of them. He liked what he saw and met the owner, offering to work there for a month for free. In return, he wanted to be trained in the art of carving. For one month he faced a lot of hardships, as he didn’t have any money. But he soon learned the art of converting pieces of wood into exquisite handcrafted elephants. He went back to the piece of wood his father had given him, and worked on it to carve an elephant, which he then sold for 40 times the original cost of the wood in the market.
Equal opportunity, unequal success
After a year, the boys’ father came back and was surprised at what he found. His first son had become an alcoholic, who wouldn’t work. His second son was working hard as a farmer, while his money grew slowly with the local banker. He valued safety and security and was unwilling to take calculated risks, so even though he had not lost money like the first son, his investment hadn’t grown a lot. The father was pleasantly surprised to see that his third son was now the owner of a huge shop that employed several wood carvers. The third son had gone on to buy more pieces of wood with the money he had made and had hired people to work for him. He had become one of the richest people in the village by using the same inheritance of one piece of wood.
Invest in knowledge
I request all parents to share the above story with their children and loved ones. Read it over and over again, and you will realise the wonderful lesson behind it. We all have the same piece of wood, and it is in our hands to make sure that we use it in the best possible way. The third son might have taken some time to get started, and had to face more hardships in the beginning compared to his brothers, but he didn’t quit because he believed in what he was doing.
A simple piece of wood with the right knowledge applied to it has the power to do wonders. Remember, no matter how little or how much wealth you have today, it is not a guarantee for what you will have tomorrow. You could be born with a silver spoon and could end up losing it all, or be born with a wooden spoon and end up manufacturing silver spoons for others. The only thing that remains is knowledge. So let us all invest in knowledge, and use that knowledge in every aspect of our lives. You need to be like a sponge, which absorbs as much knowledge as possible. And while learning, be in a playful mood. Smile. Laugh. Learn. You will absorb knowledge much easily when you are not taking yourself too seriously. It will no longer be a task, but a pleasurable experience.
How I used my piece of wood
My father told the same story to me when I was a little boy. Like all little boys, I loved playing with toys—cars, robots, soldiers and other such things that little children like. Mine was a middle-class family and in those days, India was still a closed economy. All these toys were imported from Dubai or Singapore and cost quite a lot in India.
Since my childhood days, I was encouraged to dream big and not let anything stop me from getting what I desired. My parents would frequently travel abroad for work and business and during these trips, they would usually buy lots of toys for me. I would enjoy playing with these and once I was done with them, I would sell them to other kids around me at a decent profit. Kids would buy these toys, because these weren’t available anywhere else—they were rare and desirable.
I was five years old at that time. Buying toys abroad, playing with them and selling them was fun and set the basis for everything else I did and learnt in life about not just saving money, but even investing it and selling my investments at a profit.
Unfortunately children are not taught about money, business, saving and investing in our education system. In life these are the most important skills. Ensure that you teach your children to think positively about life and that they believe nothing is impossible for them—because truly nothing is impossible for them!
Encourage your child’s entrepreneurial spirit
For teaching children about money, you should thrust them into the world of business. Let them start their own businesses, let them sell products, give them freedom rather than preaching to them. Had my family told me, “Don’t sell used toys to other kids, it is not good”, I would never have learnt about money and business.
Parents make the mistake of forcing kids to do things that everyone else is doing, telling them to become MBAs and engineers, even though their kids might be interested in something else. I remember parents telling their kids to spend time studying, rather than giving them the freedom to read and explore this wonderful world. I am happy and thank my parents for giving me so much freedom and at the same time helping me discover my own path.
And above all, the best way to encourage children is to think like a child. Being childlike is the best quality all of us can have, being like a child helps us learn faster, we let go of preconceived notions, we let go of our ego and we are open to new ideas.
Tips for teaching children about money
- Never hesitate to discuss money, business and ideas about the way money works at the dinner table. Children are the quickest learners; help them become friends with wealth!
- Encourage your kids to start small businesses and explore their creative instincts. If your child likes to draw—encourage him to start a business where he sells paintings to people in the neighbourhood.
- Don’t over-burden them with tuitions and extra classes. As a kid, I never took tuitions; I enjoyed studying on my own. In my free time, I read about the world in general, it helped me understand finance, business and life better. Children who are happy will fare better in the world of business and finance.
- Teach your children to fear nothing as God is within them. Encourage them to ask questions, no matter how crazy these questions are. People who ask questions turn out to be the best investors and businessmen. I started investing when I was 16—because of asking questions.
- Encourage them to make more friends, meet more people and play more games. The more people and friends they have, the better it is in the long run. People who are socially connected are more likely to succeed. The best doctors and businessmen are usually the ones who have the best social skills.
And lastly, smile and laugh more, as smiling is the best way to make the most of this wonderful life!