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Q: More than 25 years ago, I heard you tell the story about how as a child your mother dropped you off miles from home and had you find your way back. It has been with me ever since.

I am now a mother myself, and my question is this: How can I help my son Jules, who went to school for business, marketing and management, leave our family real estate business? It’s a very profitable enterprise, but I know that his heart is not in having a career here. I want Jules to be happy. He wants to move away to a large city to pursue his dreams, but it is difficult for him. His fear of separation, and mine as well, is keeping him close to home.

How does a parent let go? — Lori Loesch

A: As a father, I know how hard it can be to let children go off on their own and make critical life decisions. But you must realize that letting go is not about separation—it’s about independence.

Through all her 90 years, my mother, Eve, has maintained a great sense of adventure, and she has always recognized the importance of independence. She continuously set new challenges before me when I was growing up so that I (and she) could learn to trust in my ability to make good decisions.

The story you refer to goes like this: When I was a small child, Mum stopped the car in the middle of nowhere about three miles from our home, let me out and told me to find my own way back. I made it home safe and sound, but that wasn’t the only time Mum put me to the test. When I was 12, she had me cycle 50 miles to a relative’s house all by myself. Also, encouraged by Mum, I once jumped into a river in order to win a bet (this was before I had learnt how to swim!). Going through with these feats was anything but easy, but it forced me to experience the world on my own. Looking back, childhood was a rather elaborate triathlon!

When it comes down to it, letting go is about trusting your son to make the right decisions for himself.

It sounds like you have raised a fine young man—now it’s time to push him to go out on his own and give him the freedom to live the life he desires.

We are all products of our environments. In my case, I undoubtedly inherited Mum’s spirit for adventure and her business acumen. She was a dancer in London’s West End, a wartime glider pilot and a long-haul air hostess; Mum was basically an entrepreneur before that word had even been coined.

Unlike my mother, however, my father, Ted, didn’t pursue his dream of becoming an archaeologist. Instead, he reluctantly followed the family tradition of practising law. For the rest of his life, he built a collection of ancient artifacts and fossils, which he called “The Museum". Maybe because he regretted not chasing his dream, Dad was always encouraging me and my sisters, and he pushed us to follow our own goals no matter how far-fetched they may have seemed.

Lori, if Jules does not get out in the world and do what he loves, he will regret it. And you must realize that when he follows his own path in life, he will make many mistakes—we all do. But these mistakes are essential experiences. If you are afraid of making a wrong turn, you’ll never recognize the right one when it comes along.

It is important to remember that life is not a dress rehearsal, and that none of us should waste our time on doing things that don’t spark fires within us.

My golden rule for business and life is: We should all enjoy what we do and do what we enjoy.

You mentioned that your son has worked in the family real estate business, and while it sounds like you have instilled a great work ethic in him, the time has come to inspire him. Let Jules know that you believe in him, and he will find the confidence he needs to gain the independence he deserves.

My own children, Holly and Sam, have both blazed their own paths in life. Had they been mollycoddled when they were younger, perhaps they would not have been able to branch out on their own.

Holly studied to become a doctor, while Sam runs his own documentary production agency, Sundog, which tackles issues ranging from climate change to the war on drugs. These days, it’s a huge pleasure for me—and a benefit to our businesses—that they both devote time and effort to our not-for-profit foundation, Virgin Unite. Additionally, they helped to organize this summer’s Virgin Strive Challenge—an epic triathlon that starts in London next month and ends at Switzerland’s Matterhorn mountain.

Leaving home and moving to a big city to start afresh may sound scary, but that is a huge step towards developing as a leader and as a future manager. And while working for the family business might be a great opportunity, it is simply not something that Jules is passionate about. Support him by learning more about his interests in administration, marketing and management so you can help him make informed, sensible decisions about which path to take in business. Doing this will also make you feel more comfortable about the potential for positive change, rather than just worry about the negatives.

Young people are often told what they cannot achieve, rather than encouraged to discover what they can. You can help Jules transition towards independence, but in the end he has got to find his own way.

Trust in him, and he will trust in himself.

By NYT Syndicate

©2014/Richard Branson

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at

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