My wife and I left our first child at college this weekend. We’re not alone – thousands of parents will do the same thing in the coming months, and millions more have done it before us – but it feels like we’re alone. It especially felt like that on the eight-hour drive back.
Eighteen and a half years ago, we brought a newborn home from the hospital. We felt alone then too. Though we had months to prepare, it was like we were called to the stage to deliver an important speech, and we had nothing to say. Diapers, bottles, teething – sometimes my wife and I would look at each other with helpless stares, hoping the other had a magic solution. It was too chaotic to ponder the future back then. Our biggest goal was a good night’s sleep.
As the days and years passed, we enjoyed guiding this little brown-haired boy toward his destiny – whatever that was. We were still young and trying to find our own destinies, but we had so much hope for his. Like all parents, we wanted to open up his world, and to help him find and develop his strengths. We weren’t trained for this stage any better than we were trained for the sleepless nights, but we learned on the job and made many mistakes along the way.
There were days when our home was closer to a bad MTV reality show than The Waltons or some other idyllic family-based drama, but those days were few and far between. We emphasized love and appreciation for each other, and you can kill a lot of demons that way. We just had to remember love and appreciation when frustration and anger became overwhelming. Again, most days, we were successful. Even if we lost a day, we were usually able to recover the next.
As he found his path, we slowly circled behind him and started pushing more than pulling him along that path. Eventually, pushing turned into gentle prodding, and before long, we hardly needed to do that any more. He knew where he was going and had a general idea of how to get there. That’s when bittersweet reality set in – we had worked ourselves out of our most cherished and rewarding job. I wasn’t ready to turn in my keys on that job, but I had no choice. It was time to go.
As Laramie faded in my rearview mirror, I thought about that trip home with a newborn back in 1998. None of us slept a wink that night, and we felt completely incompetent as parents. I wasn’t sure if I could do 18 days back then, let alone 18 years. We’ve come a long way since then, but now, just as I start to feel like I have a pretty good grip on parenthood, I must learn something new.
I have to learn to parent at a distance and only when needed. I have to learn to focus on the tremendous opportunities and bright future that I believe lies ahead for him, rather than the loneliness of the empty spot at the dinner table. I have to learn to stifle my urge to pry and prod, and instead rely on my faith that God is watching over him and that he’s prepared for life’s challenges.
None of this feels natural now, just like it didn’t feel natural to hold a screaming newborn 18 years ago, but I learned how to adapt then, and I’ll do the same now.
I cut a lot of firewood when I was a kid. Well, I didn’t actually do the cutting. Because I was too young and clumsy to handle the chainsaw, my job was to carry logs to the truck. These logs ranged in weight from those I could carry with one hand and toss into the truck from a few feet away to those that I rolled to the truck and tried to coax in without smashing my toes. None of them were labeled with their weight, so I didn’t always know if I was strong enough to move the log in front of me, but I always had to try. A scowling father with a revved-up chainsaw cast a pretty large shadow over any self-pity I could muster.
I don’t move logs any more. I move weights around the gym, and they are all marked, so I can stay in my comfort zone. While clearly marked weights are obviously a necessity in the gym, I’ve recently noticed that the convenience of knowing the weight also makes complacency very convenient too. I know what I can lift, so I lift that. When I was lifting logs, I didn’t know what I could lift without trying. In the woodlots, I pushed myself out of necessity. In the gym, I don’t have to push myself, unless I really want to.
I discovered this on a machine designed to work upper back muscles. Someone left the machine without unloading their weights, which is a huge pet peeve of mine, unless, of course, they leave the machine with the exact weight I want. Usually, that doesn’t happen though, and it didn’t happen the other day on that machine. Whoever was there before me left ten more pounds than I wanted on each side. After swearing at the unidentified offender under my breath, I started to take off the extra weight, but then caught myself. Maybe it was time for me to challenge myself with a little extra weight. Maybe God had put on his strength coach hat and wanted me to push myself.
I left the extra weight on the machine and predictably struggled through my sets. Whereas I could regularly hit my rep goals of 10-10-8-8 with my old weight, I struggled to reach half of those reps with each of the four sets. I had invited defeat into my workout, and it was uncomfortable – uncomfortable but not unproductive. Sooner or later, if I keep pushing myself, I expect to handle the extra weight.
As often happens as I daydream between sets, I started thinking about how we face similar challenges in everyday life. Maybe a client or boss expects more effort than we anticipated, yet we proceed stubbornly in our comfort zone, predictably falling short of our potential. Maybe we have the opportunity to volunteer for something new, but decline because we’re not sure if we’re capable of the effort. Maybe a friend or family member needs our time, and we fall short because we don’t want to add any more responsibility to our schedule. When we limit ourselves to our comfort zone, we limit our potential.
I tried to stay in my comfort zone at the beginning of my first sales job, and had predictably poor results. I only wanted to call on prospects who I was fairly certain would buy from me, and I insisted on exhaustive research before I called them. I also wanted to be an expert on my product, so I could dazzle my prospects with my product acumen. Research and product knowledge are important in sales, but not as important as persistence and risk-taking to a new sales rep in a new industry. When you are trying to build your clientele, you want to make as many contacts as you possibly can, establish a rapport and solve their problems with your products.
By researching prospects who never bought from me and spending selling time studying my product, I didn’t make as many contacts as I needed, and I earned many meetings in the sales manager’s office where he would tell me exactly that. Meanwhile I watched colleagues with a tenuous at best knowledge of their prospects and our products hit their goals and cash fat commission checks. Finally, the light went off, and I switched from weight-room mode to woodlot mode, and started lifting logs that could smash my feet. Before long, I was closing deals that I never would have found if I stayed in my comfort zone.
Back in the weight room, I had grown complacent, using my age and physical condition to excuse my sub-par effort. Now, when I encounter an extra, but not unreasonable amount of weight on a machine, I accept the challenge. This means I fail a lot more, but I know that I’ll benefit from the challenge, if I don’t give up.
Try that the next time your comfort zone is challenged. Lift that log, even if it might smash your toes. It’s the only way you’ll grow.
“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Back when I was a kid in the 70s, parents who wanted to share their child’s success clipped something from the local paper and stuck it on the fridge or they took a picture and put it in a scrapbook. The well-prepared mother might keep pictures and mementos in her purse and produce them when she cornered a seemingly interested party. Social media changed all of that.
Now, we have digital images and videos, and access to media that we can quickly share on Facebook or Twitter, and I think it’s great. Success is my favorite thing to find on social media. It’s especially fulfilling to see young people experience and build on success.
Success is uplifting and should be celebrated, but can sharing success on social media go too far? I found myself contemplating that recently when a stranger accused me of just such an extreme.
He wrote in response to my latest blog post about overcoming self-doubt. The setting for that post was my son’s challenging wrestling season and sudden success in the state tournament, during which my son beat his son. In less than polite words, he asked that I remain humble and suggested that I should share about failures too, which were a big part of the post. Failure, it seemed, was his way humbling me.
Initially, I was angry, but I believe that God puts certain people in our lives to challenge us and our thinking, so I thought about his concern. To do that, I put myself in his shoes. How would I feel about him sharing his son’s success, which included two victories over my son? Unless he was critical or demeaning toward my son, it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. I would be happy that his son was successful.
The world needs more successful people and more celebrations of success, because success motivates success. Success is almost always the product of hard work and sacrifice, and seeing success should create hope and motivate work and sacrifice, not inspire resentment and jealousy.
Unfortunately, resentment and jealousy too often suppress success sharing, because we allow it to silence us. I recently had a conversation with a mother who was hesitant to share an honor her daughter received, because she didn’t want to be perceived as boastful. It’s a concern that most of us have, but why should we hide success, especially on social media, which is too often dominated by the negative?
Social media gives us a unique platform to share success – unique, because it’s passive. Unlike active methods, like calling or e-mailing, sharing success online gives your audience an option to opt out. Kind of like putting that fridge covered in clippings in the middle of town square, people can choose to look at it or walk past it.
Whether active or passive, sharing success is only bragging when your intent is to make others feel inferior. You can avoid that with a couple of easy techniques:
- Don’t use subjective language, like “My daughter is the smartest kid in her class,” or “it was the best performance of the night.” When you interject your opinion, no matter how valid you think that opinion might be, you can be perceived as boastful. It’s much more fulfilling to leave room for others to form their own opinions, and they will appreciate that opportunity.
- Acknowledge your blessings. Most success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Give credit to everyone involved, especially the supporters and believers, e.g. “He’s fortunate to be on a great team with great coaches and great parents.”
Genuine humility and appreciation are easy to recognize and hard to criticize, but as seen with my negative poster, they don’t always overcome the very powerful emotion of jealousy. Fortunately, I believe that only a very small segment of the population is affected this way, and I’m certain that it’s not significant enough that it should influence us to hide success.
Parents, post away!
“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”
― Vincent Van Gogh
No matter how successful we become, doubt will occasionally crawl into our minds and refuse to leave, like a song you don’t like but can’t quit hearing. It will haunt us in quiet times and in inopportune times, and it often seems that the harder we try to rid ourselves of doubt, the stronger it takes hold.
When doubt is confirmed by its partner failure, it starts to attach itself to our souls and can be as debilitating as the strongest virus. At those times, it takes a Herculean effort to destroy it – like it takes a Herculean effort to escape the almost-certain pin of a very strong opponent. That’s what happened on the mat a few weeks ago, with my son in his final state wrestling tournament.
Two years earlier, as a sophomore in his first year of varsity wrestling, he had stepped off the championship platform at the state wrestling tournament with a third-place medal around his neck. Standing above him were a senior and a junior, and with five consecutive pins to close out the season, the future looked bright. The very next day, we were in the gym, trying to climb two steps on that platform in 364 days.
Eight months later, he suffered a knee injury in the final football game of his junior year, causing him to miss a crucial season of development. Twenty-one months passed between wrestling matches. Still, he had never lost to anyone in his weight class in the state, and thought that he could have an undefeated season. That, and a state championship, became the goal. Sadly, the goal of an undefeated season didn’t make it past the first tournament of his senior year.
After three first-period pins, he lost the championship match in overtime to a wrestler from another state. Still, it was only one loss, and it was to a wrestler he wouldn’t face for the rest of the season. Then, the next tournament happened. He came down with a pretty bad cold and wrestled like it. Three more losses – all to wrestlers rated 1 or 2 in their respective classes. Though he avenged one of those losses later in the season, because all three opponents were either in different classes or from different states, they wouldn’t be obstacles in his quest for a state championship. He just couldn’t lose to anyone in his class. That happened three times in the next month.
Several times throughout the season, he reset his goal to “no more losses,” and each time, a loss followed. All told, he entered the pinnacle tournament of the season with ten losses, never winning a tournament until the district tournament in the week prior to the state tournament. With each loss, doubt became louder and stronger. We didn’t want to talk about it, but it was there, and he was going to need that Herculean effort to silence it.
When the state championship tournament came around, the no-more-losses goal intertwined with the state championship goal. You can’t lose in the state tournament and win a state championship. That wasn’t going to be easy. Two wrestlers in the tournament had pinned him earlier in the season. If he made it to the semi-finals, he would likely face a wrestler who had pinned him twice in the past six weeks. We didn’t want to have doubt, but logic wasn’t on our side. We were going to have to depend on faith instead.
Faith was rewarded in the semi-finals, when Patrick pinned the wrestler who had pinned him in their two earlier meetings. On the very next mat, almost simultaneously, the wrestler who had pinned Patrick in their only meeting was qualifying for the finals with a pin of his own. The semi-final pin helped to quiet the doubt, but with a talented wrestler who had already pinned him waiting in the finals, logic wasn’t on our side.
When Patrick was flipped to his back in the second period of the championship match, it looked pretty grim. Even the television commentators said that it was all but over. Somehow, in that moment however, he finally killed the doubt that had been haunting him all season, completing an improbable move and winning the state championship he had worked so hard to earn over the course of six years.
Unlike his dad, Patrick doesn’t often cry, especially out of happiness. This time, though, the emotion got the best of him, and the tears flowed almost immediately. Doubt literally had him on his back, but he didn’t allow it to win. The realization that he had beaten doubt and won a state championship had him bawling like a baby in front of 15,000 in the arena and many, many more on television.
We’ve talked about it several times in the days since, as the exhilaration of victory has faded into appreciation for the experience. Looking back, we’re able to see that three things helped him win that championship: 1. faith in the process, 2. not accepting less than his goal, and 3. never quitting. If he had waivered even a small bit in any of those areas, he surely would have been beaten.
Wrestling is now behind him, but its final lesson was a powerful one that we can all learn from: don’t EVER give up on your goals. Doubt is merely an obstacle, and it is only as powerful as you allow it to be.
I vividly remember watching my son wrestle for the first time five years ago (pictured above). He was a seventh-grader, and I had no idea what to expect. Would he struggle mightily to win a handful of matches, as I had in my brief, unremarkable wrestling career, or would he find success on the mat? Would I watch one season of wrestling or spend the next several winters running around to meets?
Later this week, he’ll wrestle in his final state tournament. The last time we were at the state tournament, at the end of his sophomore season, he stepped off the championship platform with a third-place medal. A junior and a senior occupied the two higher spots, and he beamed with confidence and anticipation of the two seasons ahead of him.
After a football injury forced him to sit out his junior year, we hoped he could pick up where he left off. The first and second place guys had graduated, and he had never lost to anyone in his class. We hoped it would be a year of relatively easy victories, but that’s rarely how wrestling works. We know that now.
We also know that wrestling not only develops athletes, it teaches their parents some pretty remarkable things as well – things I wish I had learned much earlier.
- We are there for support. Unless you have experience as a coach, leave the coaching to the coaches. Instead, focus on keeping your wrestler healthy and motivated. Remind him to sleep right and eat right. Give him the fuel he needs to compete. Kids will often default to convenience and impulse. Make sure that his pre-competition meals don’t look like movie theatre snacks and that his sleep routine has him rested and alert for competition and practice.
- We are there for encouragement. Because of the physical nature of wrestling, we tend to focus on our wrestlers’ physical health, and often neglect their emotional health. It’s important that parents encourage their wrestlers through the dark days when their egos are as bruised as their bodies. A friendly, accepting face can be invaluable after a brutal practice or heart-breaking loss. Lastly, above all else, it’s important that we encourage effort, because effort is all he can control. He might face superior talent, but no one has to face superior effort.
- Remember that there is a parent on the other side of the equation in every match. They experience the same struggles that you do. Treat them and their sons like you want your son to be treated. Talk to them in the stands. Your shared experiences will often make the conversation easy. I’ve had great conversations with parents whose sons my son has beaten, as well as the other way around. We’ve even sat side-by-side while our sons were on the same mat.
- Enjoy the moment. This is perhaps the toughest one, because it’s easy to get wrapped up in the anxiety of competition. Wrestling is an intense microcosm of life. Hundreds of hours of sacrifice and dedication are tested by relatively few moments on the mat. As a wrestling fan, you have the privilege of watching the drama unfold. Don’t waste that privilege by focusing on your bleacher butt and complaining about the length of the tournament. Even when things don’t go well and your son walks off the mat in defeat, be thankful that he was able to compete and learn from the experience.
- As the parent of a senior in his last month of the sport, I’m down to his last two tournaments, and they are big ones – the state tournament and the state dual tournament. His team is undefeated and in a good position to win the title. He is not undefeated, but could still win an individual championship, though it won’t be easy. Nothing in wrestling is easy, and that’s what makes is so special.
Patrick won that first match six years ago. I have no idea if he’ll win his last match, but I’m glad that I was along for the ride.
Patrick in 2017
Traditionally, I start the new year off with a New Year’s resolution column, but I didn’t do it this year. Not that I don’t think resolutions aren’t important – it was a resolution that started this blog – it’s that very few people seem interested in those columns. Those that I’ve written rank near the bottom in page views by my readership. It seems that not many want to think about resolutions. Why’s that?
Resolutions reflect change, and that makes most of us very uncomfortable. Even though we know that we have room for growth, and most of want to grow, nearly all of us want to avoid the discomfort of change. This makes it difficult for us to even start the process of living up to our New Year’s resolutions. It’s like we’re standing at the base of a beautiful mountain that we’ve always wanted to climb, but fear of the journey keeps us from taking the first step.
I’ve found that the best way to motivate positive change is to project a year or so ahead. To follow the mountain analogy, picture yourself either at the top or nearing the top of the mountain. Then, picture yourself looking down at your former self who still hasn’t moved. While you might be sore and a little tired from the journey, your former self is in even worse condition – filled with envy and regret – seeing where he could have been if only he had started the journey.
Take that thought to your professional situation. Are you where you were last year, standing at the bottom of the mountain? Is it where you want to be? Is it where you want to be next year? For most of us, the answers to those questions are yes, no and no, but that reality is not easy to admit.
Every day, as a recruiter, I talk to people who are dishonest about their career satisfaction. Although employment surveys tell us that nearly half of all employees are considering a job change, few will admit to it and even fewer will pursue the change, because they don’t want to invite that discomfort into their lives. It’s a lot easier to stand at the bottom of the mountain and watch someone else put themselves through the discomfort of the climb. If they slip and fall, you can pat yourself on the back for standing still. The problem is: standing gets you nowhere.
We can choose comfort and regret or discomfort and growth in almost all aspects of our lives. For several years, I planned to join Toastmasters to work on my public speaking. Months and years passed with me standing at the bottom of the mountain before I sought out a club near my office. The pain of regret finally overtook the allure of comfort, and I decided to give up one lunch per week and the hours needed to prepare my speeches, in order to achieve the personal growth that I desired. Less than a year in, I was able to look down from that mountain and be thankful that I wasn’t still standing at the bottom.
Try that with something that you have been intending to do. Send a resume to that company you’ve admired for a position you’ve desired. Enroll in a college program that you know is key to your professional goals. Join a gym and start sculpting the body that you’ll be proud to see in the mirror. When next year comes, be standing ON the mountain, not at the bottom.
Note: This entry marks the sixth year of my commitment to writing a monthly blog. For 60 consecutive months, I’ve written at least one column, publishing it on the Monday closest to the 15th. I’ve truly enjoyed the exercise, and the encouragement that I get from readers keeps me banging away at the keyboard. Thanks for the support.
All-state, all-conference, all-district, all-American . . . as sports seasons draw to a close, recognition lists start to appear. The recognition is great for those who receive it, but what about those whose names don’t appear on the lists?
That happened to my son last year. He had a great football season – better than his sophomore season when he received honorable mention, but his name rose no higher during his junior season. Naturally, we looked at the list of honorees, and just as naturally, we felt he belonged. It was frustrating and heart-breaking, but just like all of the other frustrating and heart-breaking experiences of the past couple of years, it taught us a lot.
Most of all, it taught us how to deal positively with disappointment, which is important, because disappointment is part of life. This is especially true if you challenge yourself with risks. The higher you reach, the more you expose yourself to a gut punch like disappointment.
First, you have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. Voters often have limited data when they make their selections, and they rely on what others have said about your performance. That can be your coach, an opposing coach or the media, and they all have biases, even though most try really hard to suppress those biases. Furthermore, inclusion on many of the lists is dependent on your team’s success. The better a team does, the more players are included in post-season honors, but even that has a limit. Voters are reluctant to include too many from a single team or even a single region, so if you are in the shadows of super-stars, it’s hard to shine. This is even more challenging for underclassmen, as seniority seems to figure in the calculations. Sometimes, those factors work in your favor, and sometimes, they work against you.
Second, it probably doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. My son feared that a lack of all-state recognition during his junior season would hurt his college recruiting in the following year. It didn’t. We can’t recall a single instance where it was even mentioned. Recruiters don’t rely on others to do their evaluations, and things turned out just fine for my son when the recruiters had a chance to do their own evaluation of him. Plus, not everyone pays attention to sports news. Everyone who appreciated your performance still appreciates your performance.
You are not alone. Hundreds of athletes felt slighted when they saw the lists, and many were justified in that feeling. Not every deserving athlete will be included. In fact, there are probably better athletes than you who were left off the list.
For the rest of us:
Throughout life, you are going to be evaluated and compared to others. Sometimes, you’re going to get that promotion, and other times, it’s going to go to the guy down the hall. Often, you can’t control that. The one thing you can control is your reaction.
Don’t let rejection get you down. Your peers and key decision-makers are watching your reaction. Be gracious, and then be silent in your resolve to prove that you belong. Now, when the iron is hot, is the time to make your mark.
Do an honest self-evaluation, once the pity and frustration subside. You might not be able to be objective immediately after disappointing news. When you can be objective, look for areas for personal growth. No matter where you are in life, there is always room for growth. Become a master at evaluating yourself. It’s never a good idea to leave evaluation to those who don’t know your potential.
Set goals for yourself. Write them down. Hold yourself accountable and celebrate your successes in reaching them. Goals affirm your progress, and unlike outside evaluations, you have complete control of them.
The mood in our house was markedly better this year when the football post-season awards were announced, but we know that last year’s disappointment won’t be the last. Next time, though, we’ll be better prepared to turn it into a positive. That we can control.