The other night while riding home from baking class, my seven year old daughter Olivia told me about her future hopes and dreams. She said that she plans to have a husband and 7 kids, (5 girls, 2 boys), and her husband will make breakfast and lunches like I do and drop off the kids and maybe even stay home with the baby while she travels around the world building her baking business and selling her pastries (she wants to be a pastry chef). When I asked her if she really thinks that this will all come true, will she be able to handle all this, the answer was an emphatic YES. Of course it would be for a seven year old, but still, imagine the clarity of vision and the confidence in her ability to reach it. I wonder where she gets that from… I see so much of myself in this one. I just hope that I can help her learn an important lesson about the pursuit of success while she’s still young. We’re terrible at predicting the future, yet there’s something in all of us that makes us want to try. I’m convinced that’s a good thing. We just need some perspective along the way.
I recently began reading the book, How to Raise Successful People, which I love- including the title. It’s not just about how to get your children to behave or how to even raise successful children, but instead it speaks to the future. Think of the type of people you want your children to become as adults (character they possess, values they live by), and aim for that. In the book she lays out a compelling case for raising your children with trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness in mind, because if they embody these characteristics as adults they will be more likely to succeed. Oh, and by the way she doesn’t just limit her advice to parents. This content seems to be for anyone hoping to influence the growth and development of other people, regardless of age. As the saying goes, you’re never too old to learn something new right?
So, why did I pick up this book a few days shy of my 37th birthday? You could say that perhaps I’ve been having an existential crisis of sorts lately (certainly my wife my argue so!). I was recently in Nashville and had lunch with a good friend from college, we’ve sort of grown up together over the past 20 years, going through marriage, kids, adulthood, etc. We were reminiscing about life back in our dorm freshmen year (he lived on the 1st floor, I lived on the 2nd), and we both coincidently met our wives in the same dorm room that year (they ended up being roommates, best friends, bridesmaids, etc). Man, everything just seemed easier then, and, as you tend to believe when you’re only 20 years old…we had everything figured out. We knew how life would work out according to our neat little plans. We weren’t that far off, but we also weren’t close either in predicting the future!
Here we’re sitting at Central BBQ in downtown Nashville and now, what we’re talking about is what can only be described as mid-life problems. Both of our parents are encountering health challenges and we’re getting ready to shift into that sandwich phase of both raising young adults and taking care of our parents. For example, my father was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, following in the footsteps of my grandfather and uncle. So naturally my brother and I besides being terrified for my dad, are also more acutely aware of our own mortality. In addition, both of our wives have transitioned back to work full time and schedules have become hectic at home. We jokingly griped about all the daddy duties involved with being the primary shuttle driver for kids with schedules that seem busier than our own.
Then the conversation shifted to our dreams, though specifically our dreams for our children. His oldest daughter is about to age out of their private school and they’re actively looking for the next right fit. They’re also engaging her in the process, visiting places, asking her opinion, thinking about her strengths and passions, etc. We both talked about wanting our kids to have experiences that would foster independence and trust (dammit we’re going to let them ride their bikes outside by themselves!). I didn’t realize we both had a desire to live abroad with our families for a period of time. I spent most of my first 6 years of life abroad growing up and I think this experience alone transformed how I view the world and the people around me even to this day as an adult. As we got lost in thought daydreaming about what it would be like to make this work (would we have to sell our homes? put our careers on hold? Like most men, we went straight to the tactical!), I couldn’t help but wonder, but what to do in the meantime?
It’s not like either of us are picking up and leaving with our families anytime soon. We’re both planners, so there’s little chance of doing something without a plan (even though both of our wives have been very game over the years for spontaneous adventures). Besides, that’s not really the answer long term. Really what we’re looking for is a way to weave into the fabric of our everyday lives a way of thinking that encourages us to be bold and intentional in our parenting. It’s the reason why I read books like How to Raise Successful People, or why I have the girls set and track goals for themselves, or why we as a family plan trips each year and volunteer…Samantha and I have an ideal that we’re striving for with them.
But if my recent reflections on my birthday are any indication, the journey definitely matters more than the destination. I’ve been fortunate enough to achieve a lot in pursuit of my dreams in my short lifetime thus far, and I’m not done pursuing. But the real fun has been in the pursuit. I have to keep reminding myself of that. Daily. One other thing Paul and I have in common is that we’ve both picked up a mindfulness habit practice over the past year. He’s more advanced that I am, but with Samantha’s help I’ve been weaving it into my daily routine. It’s helping tremendously for me as a person who tends to live in the future.
What happens when you arrive at your future destination and it doesn’t mirror what you’re expecting? Sometimes disappointment. Every time it’s a reminder of our inability to accurately predict the future. What if instead of pinning all our hopes on expectations, we could somehow acknowledge that perhaps one purpose of the journey is our growth along the way? What I’m most thankful for today is progress that can be measured in growth. My hope for the next phase of my life is that I’m as intentional about growth as I am about achievement.