Inspired by the book, by Dion McInnis
Living the dream: the past doesn’t forecast the future
January 27, 2020Posted by on
My phone vibrated. This text message from my youngest son awaited me with a heart-warming update. “…to give a presentation to hundreds of Bass Pro and Cabela’s employees at their national conference. Funny to think I went from a high school kid that failed public speaking class to staying up with you all night practicing a five-minute presentation (he used that presentation in his job interview for the company he now works for) to now a two-hour speech in front of 500 people. When does this elevator stop?” As it turned out, the event organizers ended up breaking the audience into smaller groups so he did several presentations instead of one.
Our texting dialog continued for a few minutes. I couldn’t stop smiling. Following your kids’ life in adulthood is just another of the beauties of daddin’. Throughout the journey, remember that a crystal ball is not part of parenting; you can’t see into the future.
Don’t read too much into your child’s early “performance.”
When I was a kid, I was so shy that I would hang onto my mom and hide behind her when talking to strangers. Over the past 40 years, public speaking has been part of my jobs and avocations. One of the turning points was when I had a role in a school skit in middle school. I had joke lines and recognized to pause delivering my lines so the laughter could subside. That afternoon, my mom told me how good it was that I didn’t talk over the laughter. Speaking has never been a problem since. I was motivated and hooked.
Look at my son’s comment above. One’s record does not set the tune for the future; it might, but it might not, too. Instead of thinking “I can’t do this” based on past experience, he grew in steps, largely because he was motivated to do so. Don’t let a person’s lack of motivation in school (it is not always their fault) become an expectation of ambivalence in the future. Inspiration is always more powerful than coercion for motivating sustained action.
My middle son didn’t do great in high school either. He graduated from college in five years – faster than his brothers or I did – and had a stint on the dean’s list while majoring in environmental science and minoring in biology with certifications in GIS and scuba diving. There, too, an example of the difference motivation can make when not allowing oneself to be burdened or dragged down by the past.
My oldest son absorbs knowledge like a sponge. He was just a few points short of National Merit Honor status based on the SAT test he took while on morphine for having separated his shoulder and coping with it for hours before having it reset the afternoon before the test. He didn’t apply himself much in the early college years. His motivations were elsewhere. He taught himself computer coding for a business he developed. He’s a software developer at a university now.
Never give up on them finding the air that fires up the yet-unfound embers within them.
Everyone has embers inside them, made through experiences, innate interests, curiosities and the such. Over a lifetime, the embers may glow like hot coals or dwindle down to something barely more than white-ashed glowing clumps. With a bit of air blowing over the embers, they can ignite a flame that burns hot and powerful within.
Be that air to your kids. Empower them; enable them; encourage them. Sometimes the assistance can be simple, like an encouraging word after a disappointment, and sometimes it can be more sacrificial like rising at four in the morning to get your child to practice. Tending the ember is more their responsibility than yours, but you can participate in the tending and remind them to do so, too, with focus and intentionality.
Help however you can. It’s their life, not yours.
As you saw in the note above, my son and I worked on a short presentation he had to make for his job interview. I don’t believe either one of us knew how far his successful presentation would carry him in his new job, promotions and experiences in less than three years. He is living the dream on an upward moving elevator, using tools similar to his dad’s, but not trying to be like him. I don’t want him to be me; I want him to be him.
My sons have been around photography all their lives because it has been integral to my life since Santa Claus brought me a camera when I was a young kid. While the boys have had age-appropriate cameras throughout their lives, it is my practice to provide a semi-advanced camera to them at the birth of their first child. For my oldest son, that gift set him on a path of photographing two things that are most precious to him: his family and the Student Bonfire at Texas A&M. I’ve provided some guidance when he has questions, but he took to the art quickly with great visual instincts. His style is his own, not a continuation of his old man’s, as it should be. Who would have known the outcome from that gift; likewise, I hope Santa realizes how transformational that Kodak Fiesta camera was for me almost six decades ago. A few months ago, he, his 9-year old daughter and I photographed together as student volunteers worked in preparation for the bonfire.
My middle son recently became the president and CEO of TEXSAR, Texas Search and Rescue. Their cause and his sense of purpose are perfectly aligned. New to him is the art-and-science of fundraising. It is there that I can, and have, and will continue to, provide input, guidance and answers. I don’t want him to be the kind of fundraiser I am; he needs to be his own. There are many insights and experiences that I can share that he can use as the materials to build his own program.
I believe in letting the examples of our lives serve as part of the inspiration for our kids’ lives, not as the instructions. If I had followed directly my dad’s footsteps, I would have been a boxer as a young man (and likely be destroyed in the ring, weighing in at 130 at five feet ten inches) and an accountant as an adult (which likely would have prompted me to jump off a building in frustration). Instead, I followed his inspiring example to never surrender, be scrappy and love your family. Inspire more than direct.
It’s cool to be excited. Them and you.
My sons are my heroes, along with my dad. When I wrote the book Daddin’: The Verb of Being a Dad, I had three binders of notes and writings to use as content. My middle son remarked, “It’s cool that you think our lives were interesting.”
Be excited by your kids’ lives and show it. Celebrate when they show it. Enjoy together both life and living.
Don’t wake ‘em up if they’re living the dream.
Life comprises highs and lows, victories and defeats, accomplishments and setbacks, loves gained and lost…there is enough in the natural flow of living to remind people that some days we’re the bug and some days the windshield. Don’t diminish or destroy the dreams of our kids; when they’re living the dream, don’t feed them unnecessary doses of reality to pinch them awake from the dream. Remember, one of the best ways to empower our kids’ dreams is to remember our own.