Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”
This helps to explain why, even though I had the practice of taking our oldest son to college, I was no better at it this time with our middle son. I guess I was expecting to be an experienced pro this time. I stepped in this river before; I can certainly do it again. But I learned this week that even the experience of taking a child to college does not adequately prepare you for when you have to do it again. Sure, there is some sense of comfort, knowing that the oldest is doing well and has survived his transition to college. But this crazy mix of emotions – happiness, excitement, worry, anxiety, concern, sadness – makes it impossible to fully prepare to step in this river again.
Two years ago, I quoted Michael Gerson of the Washington Post in my blog post, A Wonderful Life Ahead. Gerson perfectly captured the odd mix of emotions that come from this experience of taking your child to college – “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.” This is still true today; I know that my life will not be better without him close.
Encouraging our children to pursue their dreams is a tremendously unselfish act. It requires pain and suffering on our part, but it is done for their happiness and their future. Many times, a similar unselfishness is also required of us as leaders. We must act unselfishly to help others achieve their goals and dreams. Leaders who do this develop willing and passionate followers. And as leaders, anything is possible when our teams support us willingly and passionately.
Sadly, I must step in this river again in two more years. And I am dreading it. For I know now that not even the practice of doing this twice will prepare me for a third time. I can only hope that this lesson in unselfishness helps me to be a better, more compassionate leader for those on my team.
Thanks for reading,