It’s been about a month since our son Sam came home from college. We enjoyed his company for only a few days before he and his friends left for BONNAROO! (Say that in a sing-song voice very loudly as though you’re seven years old and screaming “PRESENTS!” on Xmas morning!).

He came back happy, dirty and running a fever, no doubt thanks to nearly a week with little sleep and God knows what else (I’m not even going to think about it…). I think my husband and I showed an appropriate amount of concern and, with his health apparently restored, we raised our expectations a bit. For example, after a few days it seemed reasonable that – despite what might be on his calendar for the day – he shower before 2 p.m. Yes? Perhaps exchange boxers and t-shirt for something resembling clothing?

Ironically, the kid I’m describing is a hard-working, diligent, responsible young adult. So what’s going on? The more I thought about it the more I realized that our son could easily become a victim of inertia.

While he is working this summer, and has the opportunity to do quite well, he’s in a sales position. That means nothing happens unless he does something. He’s selling CUTCO – a great product – but if he doesn’t get on the phone and schedule appointments, then he’s not working.

In the interest of full disclosure, I work for Vector, the company that sells CUTCO. I believe wholeheartedly in the value of this experience, and I know from Sam’s experience selling last summer that he is capable of doing the work. Yet I can only imagine what it must be like for parents who don’t have my background, or my years of watching students transform through this type of work. What would I think if I watched my kid laze around all day when he supposedly has a “job?” Who would I hold responsible – the manager? the company? – if my son or daughter didn’t take the steps necessary to be successful? What would I say when my child complained that “no one” would see him, or “no one” would want to buy? It would be so much easier to say “Look, this is obviously not going to work, find something else…” rather than “How many calls have you actually made? Did ‘no one’ buy, or do you need to work on your presentation?” It’s really hard to keep pushing and often feels like an uphill battle.

The thing about sales, and about direct sales in particular, is that it demands action. It requires you to structure your own time, determine your priorities, delay gratification, and take responsibility for yourself. No one is going to do it for you. As parents, we believe the most helpful thing to do is this: Set high expectations, ignore excuses, and offer as much positive encouragement as we can muster. It’s going to take some time for Sam to get into a routine, but we know he can do it.

I feel a little badly for those students whose parents aren’t helping them fight the inertia that comes home from college with their kids. If the current economic crisis has taught us anything, it’s that the days of going to work, waiting for someone to tell you what to do, doing it and collecting a paycheck, are over. What we need now is a generation of young people who know how to make things happen.