Stanley Zhong isn’t your typical 18-year-old. He’s not your typical Google software engineer, either.

Zhong graduated from Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California, earlier this year with a 4.42 weighted GPA, a 1590 SAT score and an e-signature startup called RabbitSign. He was also rejected or waitlisted from 16 out of the 18 colleges he applied for, including MIT and Stanford.

In stepped Google, which offered Zhong a job as an L4 software engineer, one rung above entry level. It’s a temporary role — Zhong plans to spend a year there, before attending the University of Texas.

And while the offer may have been surprising, especially considering the job title, one person says he wasn’t shocked: Stanley’s father, Nan Zhong.

“I’ve seen him writing code since he was age 10,” Nan tells CNBC Make It. “And along the way, he gave me enough shocks that I was no longer shocked [when he got the Google job]. He’s been great his whole life.”

Nan, who also works at Google — as a software engineering manager — says he never had to force Stanley to practice coding, or push him to do well in school.

His No. 1 rule while raising his high-achieving son, he says: Take a hands-off approach.

Provide resources, not roadmaps

Being a hands-off parent doesn’t mean disconnecting from your child’s life, or failing to set responsibilities or rules. For Nan, it means allowing his son to explore his passions freely, he says.

“If there’s anything Stanley wants to explore, we are there to provide help. If he wants to go on this particular path, we will help light the path,” says Nan. “But in terms of how far he wants to go, how fast he wants to move on the path or whether he wants to change his course and go to another path, that’s completely up to him.”

As an example, Nan cites Stanley’s experiences with chess, which began at age 4. At age 6, Stanley won the Washington State Championship for his age group, and placed 9th in an ensuing national championship, says Nan.

Stanley and Nan Zhong.

Nan Zhong

Nan hired a coach for Stanley, who showed enough promise to contend for the next year’s national title. “But to everybody’s surprise, he said to his coach, ‘I’m retiring from chess,'” Nan says.

Nan didn’t understand why his child wanted to give up the sport he’d spent years mastering, but says he was completely on board anyway.

“We respect him,” says Nan. “And he decided to do something else. Whatever he wants to pursue, we provide the resources he needs to advance quickly. But other than that, he is on his own.”

Help set your child up to be lucky

Nan says he didn’t pull any strings to land his son a job at his employer. “I have absolutely no way to get into their process,” he says, adding: “That’s all very, very strongly protected.”

Rather, Stanley’s journey to Google began five years ago, when he launched RabbitSign. The startup caught the attention of a Google recruiter, but Stanley was too young to be considered for any type of role, says Nan.

As Stanley approached his high school graduation, he received a note from an Amazon Web Services recruiter, and was reminded of the Google recruiter from years ago. He reached back out, prompting a new interview process.

“Stanley is lucky in the sense that what he did caught the attention of Amazon AWS. And that led to his Google job,” Nan says.

Stanley Zhong graduating from Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California.

Nan Zhong

Part of Nan’s job as a father, then, was to help his son prepare for those moments of luck — so that when they came around, Stanley would be able to capitalize.

You can help just about anyone do this by encouraging them to do four things, according to Richard Wiseman, author of “The Luck Factor” and a psychology professor at the University of Hertfordshire:

  • Jump at new opportunities
  • Trust their gut
  • Maintain an optimistic mindset
  • Be resilient

Raise ‘healthy strivers’

Nan’s strategies align with research from toxic-parenting expert Jennifer Breheny Wallace, who says the children most likely to succeed as adults are raised to be “healthy strivers.”

Healthy strivers are self-motivated to succeed, and don’t believe that their accomplishments define their worth as humans. You can foster those traits by helping kids feel like they’re valued for who they are — rather than their grades, or the awards they win — and their communities count on them, Wallace told Make It last month.

In other words, kids need to know they matter.

“Mattering acts like a protective shield that buffers against stress and anxiety and depression,” said Wallace. “It wasn’t that these healthy strivers that I met didn’t have setbacks or failures. But mattering acted like a buoy. It lifted them up [and] made them more resilient.” 

By supporting your child while they experience hardships, you reassure them that they can bounce back from setbacks, Wallace said. When Stanley was rejected from so many schools, for example, Nan started advocating for more transparency from universities on their admissions decisions.

“We’re just saying, ‘Hey, please tell us more. What’s missing? What can be done better?'” Nan says. “Because right now, I think the most frustrating part is that parents feel like they’ve failed, and the kids feel like they’re left in the dark.”

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