A Wonderful Life Ahead

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.

Ways to follow Dr. Jim Earle:
Twitter – @jvearle
Blog – http://www.jvearle.wordpress.com
Facebook – JVEarleConsulting
Website – http://www.jvearle.com



8 thoughts on “A Wonderful Life Ahead

  1. Jim, I enjoy reading your posts and this one in particular. You expressed the true feelings we experienced when sending our three children (now young adults) off to college. And as they continue to grow it may feel like they become distant, but they eventually grow to understand what a parent goes through in raising a child.

  2. Life flows on like a river. Change and growth are around every bend. Having sent three talented daughters off to college and beyond, I cherish their successes, share in their adventures, and rejoice at the days when they begin to teach the old man new ideas and theories.
    As a leader, we want our team to grow and improve. As you well know, a good leader hopes his team members advance to new and better positions as their talents expand and improve. Rejoice in your sons success and journey. Don’t consider it your loss, but the beginning of a new branch in the river drifting you both to new unseen adventures in life

  3. Jim, thanks for the cogent and timely blog. It captured the feelings that almost all parents go through when sending their children off to college. I took the opportunity and sent it to all of the parents of our swimming and diving team members here!
    Thanks again!

  4. As someone in the same shoes as Andrew in the midst at one one of the biggest changes in my life this was a very elegant way of expressing how all parents must feel right now. For the first time ever we get to venture out and write our own charter for the future. As exciting and exhilarating as this is it is equally daunting and filled with uncertainty. You asked yourself where exactly is the silver lining in sending a part of you away to college. As I’ve learned in these past three weeks I can personally tell you that you are just as much a part of him as he is with you. Everything that my parents have taught me since I was brought home from the hospital is what I’ve relied upon now that it’s me against the world. And surprisingly even though it may not have seemed like it I was actually listening. It’s not just my parents either, it’s people just like yourself that have given us the tools that we need to make it in the world. And now that I am putting them to use I need to just say thank you for taking the time to lead and teach myself and everyone else these past years. So in part i say this to you as well as my dad, you’ve done your jobs better than you might think. Even though we may grow apart and the role you play in our lives diminishes you will always be someone that we cherish and look up to.

    • Derek,
      Thanks so much for taking time to write. It was such a joy to read your comment.
      Coaching you and the other young men on our team was one of the highlights of my life and I am so glad to have had the opportunity. You all played an important role in my life as well.
      I hope you are doing well at college.
      Keep in touch,
      Coach Earle

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