The Blog

cover your tracks
May 27, 2013

When Katie was little we used to go on Sunday walks. That was our church. We took plastic bags with us and filled them with litter from the side of the road, then dumped them in a trash can at a park near our destination downtown. Then we got the newspaper--remember those?--and a treat for Katie after some mighty intense negotiations with Dad.

The walk home was just for fun. Dad posed trivia questions to Kate, with the promise of another treat if she answered enough questions correctly--and yes, she always did. The trivia came from a movie we’d just watched, a trip we’d just taken, whatever.

Good times.

When Katie graduated from high school Saturday she and most of the rest of her friends holed up there afterward for an all-night annual ritual designed to keep the senior class safe until dawn. There was pizza and cotton candy and almost anything else the kids had a hankering for. There was an artist applying temporary tattoos, another artist drawing caricatures, and a hypnotist--as well as karaoke and lots of other at least somewhat fun games and activities. There were prizes--cool prizes, big prizes.

Darrell and I were part of the army of parents on hand to orchestrate the event, and as the evening wore on we were on trash duty.

Yeah, trash duty.

We wheeled around a big can and tossed the debris the kids had left on the floor. Somewhere around the third half-eaten cup of yogurt left in the middle of the gym for someone else to take care of, it hit me.

What, exactly, had these kids learned in eighteen years? Where was all the idealism they'd spewed only a few hours earlier at the big ceremony? We were about to unleash almost two hundred creatures on the world, and it was a little embarrassing. Who, exactly, was going to clean up after them?

I’m generalizing here, of course. Some kids--like Kate--walked their trash the few feet to a receptacle as they went about their evening, picking up things their friends had left behind while they were at it. Darrell and I were taking a break when one gal walked up to toss her trash in the can in front of us--and he made a little ceremony out of thanking her. Which was fine. Which struck me as incredible, that now the way you stand out among the rest of your class is by…not littering.

Older folk have been complaining about the younger generations since time began. And to devote this much space to kids who litter strikes me as a bit cranky. But I think there’s a point worth making. Which is, the people you work with someday are going to care a lot less about your fancy degree from your impressive college than they will about what it’s like to work with you.

Will you be the person who uses up the last bit of coffee and leaves the pot on the burner for someone else to refill? Who takes the last donut from the bakery and doesn’t bother to toss the box? Who brings her kids into work on a Saturday morning and lets them leave a trail of destruction for someone else to deal with Monday?

Who cares how much you intend to change the world if someone else has to follow around behind you, changing it back?
It’s pretty standard, how desperately parents want their kids to be happy. When the kids, not that they’re often asked, would tell you the same right back. What would make them feel great--what would make their hearts sing as they get ready to burst into the world on their own--is knowing their parents will be okay without them.

Kids just want their parents to be happy.

You should’ve seen me scheming with Darrell this morning about our plans for the business. I get inspired all over again just thinking about it. What a gift it’s been, staying interested in my own career--for Katie, and for me. She feels my determination building, to make good on some plans she inspired. She helped me grow up, and now I’m eager to make something really special happen. You know, besides her.

I’ll say it again. Kids just want their parents to be happy. It’s the best present money can’t buy.

So the pressure’s off as far as your graduation gift--eh, Kate?


be unusual
May 21, 2013

“What makes you you?”

When career consultant Bill Jensen asked Aaron Dignan that question, the big-deal tech guy didn’t hesitate. “That one’s easy,” he said. “First grade. I wore a Batman costume to school for six months. My mother was called into the principal’s office and was told, ‘You have to make him stop doing this. He’s disrupting the class.'"

Dignan’s mother was a teacher herself. And she said, “No. He’ll tire of it eventually. This is who he wants to be. Just let it go.”

Dignan credits that moment as “the beginning of his life as an iconoclast, observer, theorist, and performer.” He’s a founding partner of the digital strategy firm Undercurrent, based in New York, where he advises top executives at global brands…

You don’t need me to replicate his resume here.

One thing that might bear repeating? How much good you can do in the world by recognizing how unusual someone is--and not deciding that’s a bad thing.

ache for someone
May 20, 2013

The devastation in Oklahoma is only the latest reminder.

Life is really quite fragile.
I had a nightmare recently I interrupted someone.

When I came to I thought, “That’s my idea of a nightmare?”


May 15, 2013

The other day Darrell and I watched a young man navigate an intersection in town with a little kid. The child was old enough to walk, but barely. And at least three times as the pair made their way across the street, the kid sort of collapsed onto herself the way kids do when they’ve decided they’re not walking anymore. She just sat down on the street, in the crosswalk.

Three times!

I couldn’t believe the man’s reaction. He didn’t scoop the child up in his arms to carry her. He didn’t yank her up to get her going. He helped her up gently, yes--but there was nothing to suggest the guy was in an hurry himself.

I couldn’t get over that.

I could write a book about how we don’t help kids grow up so much as they help us. One of the best things Katie ever taught me was to stop more often to play. This gentleman took that lesson and squared it, I think.

What would it be like to saunter instead of sprint?

Sometimes you have to sprint. Had there been any traffic, I’m sure the guy would’ve inspired more urgency in the kid. And we have a bit of a sprint to the so-called finish line of getting Katie settled into her dorm room at college in a few months.

In between, though, we’ve planned lots of lazy intersections.

I’m going to be as not-in-a-hurry to rush through them as my newest role model, The Man Who Crossed the Street with His Kid. It’s been a week, and I’m still taking in the wonder of that moment.

If only because--you saw this coming, I bet--he wasn’t on a frickin’ phone.
I was on hold the other day. For more than half an hour.

And I got so much accomplished! Darrell had to fetch me a banana because I was tethered to the telephone cord, and my neck got a little sore from cradling the receiver against my shoulder. But I consolidated several to-do lists, outlined an hour of the talk show, and wrote this post.

And yes, the gal who kept giving me updates was amused by my patience. She also seemed relieved when I told her--in an attempt to reward her for her patience--she could stop with the updates.

There was a time when being on hold that long would've driven me crazy. But I was prepared for the delay--and I made it count.

We call it The Magic of Keeping Your Butt in the Chair.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was often quoted as saying, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.”

So please don’t take what I’m about to say as an excuse to put career over family. But one way to bungle your children is to abandon your dreams under the guise of putting family first.

There are probably as many ways to mess up a kid as there are people.

I hope you won’t let this be one of them. Don’t tell your kid he’s the reason you never went after your dreams.

That’s not fair.

And besides, how much credibility will you have with him if you encourage him to follow his heart?

As if he’d have any idea from watching you live.