Recently I had a “senior moment.” I know what you are thinking: Al, you are far too young to have senior moments. (First, thank you – and you’re right.) Secondly, this moment was about my son and the beginning of his senior year of high school.
Let me start by saying that, while much of the parenting advice we received in 1999 (when our son was born) was right, one was far too true: Time flies. It seems like just yesterday that my wife and I watched our 4-year-old son come running up the middle of our street completely naked. When he got to our house, we asked, “Where are your clothes?” He looked at us and said, “Jack’s house.” And why? “They’re wet.” Oh, the simplicity, honesty and sheer carefree innocence. So refreshing and SO funny.
Having kids has been the most wonderful and challenging experience of my life. I have learned a lot about myself, my wife, our relationship and the wonder of learning and growing. When my son graduated from 8th grade, I talked to him a lot about his upcoming freshman year. We discussed having fun, taking risks and making an impact. I said, “Before you know, it you will be a senior. You do not want to get to senior year and have regrets.”
Last week, as my son got ready for his first day, I sat in my kitchen and thought about his last 3 years. As I reflected, I could not help but see a tie-in to leadership. Not me leading my son, but my son taking ownership and leading his life, having no regrets. As I pondered how he has led his life, I captured some lessons learned for myself.
Themes to lead by, not just live by
- Setting and resetting direction. My son set goals every year and stuck them on his bulletin board. The goals changed as he grew and matured, but they were always front and center, driving his action and energy.
- Building and learning from diversification. His goals were multi-faceted and focused around academics, athletics, community and social activities. This allowed him to meet different people and experience different perspectives. It also required him to learn how to balance, one of life’s most important lessons, and one that only gets more challenging as we get older.
- Encountering and responding to setbacks. Not all of his goals were achieved. Both uncontrollable setbacks and new pursuits impacted his ability to achieve goals; for example, the demands of freshman Honors Spanish, running for class president, contracting mononucleosis, whether to play junior varsity or varsity. But through it all, he never let it get to him. He just kept on moving, learning how to push through and be resilient. Learning how to go after what he wanted, without worrying about not “winning.” And most importantly, understanding what it feels like to fail and how to pull yourself back up.
- Finding and building relationships. Along the way, he met a lot of people. He explored and began to solidify his interests and attractions. He came to appreciate the time and investment it takes to maintain relationships and the value of true friendship. He came to appreciate the honesty, love, and support that comes with well-built relationships.
Life shapes leadership
My son learned to build the skills of a leader without holding power or title. Lessons of leadership are everywhere. Too often, we don’t take the time to reflect, and therefore we may not notice how the experiences of life shape leadership. As I look out the door, watching my son heading to his first day of senior year, I am thankful. I am thankful that he is not naked and that he is driving himself to school. As a parent, I have no regrets. Well that’s not entirely true. Maybe just one – I do not want him to leave. I have learned so much being with him on his journey. Thanks, buddy. Have a great day!