I learned this week that nothing can prepare you for sending your child off to college. No amount of experience, training, professional development, or expertise can prepare you for that day when you leave your son or daughter at their college residence hall for the very first time. The experience leaves you with a feeling of emptiness, a constant void that, apparently, will get better with time.
As you know from reading my blog, I’m a positive guy. My glass is usually half full. But I must admit, it’s hard to find the positive in this. Sure, there are positive things for my son like starting a new phase in life, learning new and exciting things, meeting new friends, and the freedom of independence. But where exactly is the silver lining for me? Michael Gerson of the Washington Post perfectly captured the odd mix of emotions that come from this experience – “part pride, part resignation, part self-pity, even a bit of something that feels like grief.” He continued, “But with due respect to my son’s feelings, I have the worse of it. I know something he doesn’t – not quite a secret, but incomprehensible to the young. He is experiencing the adjustments that come with beginnings. His life is starting for real. I have begun the long letting go. Put another way: He has a wonderful future in which my part naturally diminishes. I have no possible future that is better without him close.”
So what are the lessons we as leaders can take from this experience? Gerson identifies a few, as he writes, “Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility. The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else’s story. And it is enough.” Effective leaders are patient; they are humble and this humility allows them to sacrifice for others. Parenthood and leadership are very similar in this regard.
In addition to patience, sacrifice, and humility, there are lessons of selflessness, perseverance, and caring in this experience. Selfless, humble leaders do what they do because they have the chance to make others’ lives better. Great leaders persevere through tough times. They may get knocked down, but they always get back up. Successful leaders care deeply about the people on their teams. These leaders are more concerned about their team members’ success than their own.
I know during the course of the next few weeks, I will need to call on these leadership lessons. Patience will help me when I haven’t heard from my son and really just want to know that he is okay. Sacrifice and humility will help me to remember that although I may suffer temporarily, he has a wonderful opportunity to go to college. Selflessness will help me get through the feelings of self-pity and realize that it’s really not about my feelings, but his. Perseverance will give me the toughness, the faith, and the courage to know that in the long-run this is the best course for both of us. And caring will help me to see that his success and happiness (along with that of my two other sons) is the most important thing in life.
I realize, as Gerson wrote, that “I have no possible future that is better without him close.” And while it may not be better, it can still be wonderful. It will be wonderful if my sons are happy, content, fulfilled, loved, and their wishes come true. What more could a parent ask for his or her family? What more could a leader ask for his or her team?
Thanks for reading,
P.S. – Check out my website at http://www.jvearle.com and keep me in mind if you hear of any opportunities to share my thoughts on leadership.