Reflecting on My Journey
I often ask my clients to journal during executive coaching sessions, and during my course on Emotional Intelligence. These journal entries can be about troubles clients face, but they are often about successes they achieve throughout the day. I also ask them to journal about what they’re grateful for on a daily basis. These are often short entries on growth and gratitude.
I thought I would write out a journal entry of my own this Thanksgiving. Instead of offering a prayer before the traditional meal with my children, I read this passage to them. I then asked a huge favor of each of them when I was finished. Below is the journal passage that I read to my children the weekend before Thanksgiving.
The First Act
As I get older and hopefully more mature, I see things differently. I am recognizing my life in quadrants now and have recently entered into the 4th act. This means that I only have about 20 years left to complete my cycle.
The first quadrant of my life was filled with success in most things I tried, especially in sports. I was consumed with baseball, and in order to play, I also had to get through school. While I did alright in school, I certainly did not excel. I did not put in the necessary effort to learn and grow. I only put in enough effort to maintain a 3.0 GPA, so my dad would pay for my car insurance. This lack of effort carried over into college. At one point I almost lost the game I loved because I did not spend enough time on my classwork.
While I did not take my education as seriously as I should have, there is another area where I wish I would have given more effort. I should have invested more time and energy into my personal relationships. Sure, I had relationships with my teammates, but I did not realize that these relationships were superficial. When the games stopped, most of the relationships did as well.
My second quadrant was filled with the combined efforts of building a career and a family, actually two families. Unlike with my education, I did take my work seriously, perhaps even too seriously. My goal was to always exceed my parents’ expectations. I think I applied that goal to my work and finances much more than I applied it to my family, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought I was a good father, and most of the time I also thought I was a good husband. However, I should have asked my kids and their mothers what they wanted from me as a father and husband. Looking back, while I believe I put in a lot of effort, I missed the mark.
Third Quadrant Growth
I recently completed the third quadrant of my life, which was split into two sections. In the first half, I was getting better at building a business and developing some balance in my personal life. Adding my son Sean to our family during this period did somewhat help my marriage and my family, because I spent more time being a dad. I took the kids to the river, taught them how to launch and drive a boat, and how to catch a football, all while thinking I was an excellent father. Yet looking back, I still hadn’t mastered the skills I needed to be that excellent father. I was an all-knowing, all-seeing, guru telling people how to live and how to be successful. That is not being a great father.
During this period I also took more time for myself. I was much more social, and began playing tennis and making new friends. Very quickly I became obsessed with getting better at tennis. I would spend seven days a week playing the game, and sometimes I even played twice a day. My phone was ringing all the time as people called on me to play in matches or substitute for their partners. I had a group of friends at the club, and I was having a lot of fun. But, when my knees finally gave out and I couldn’t play anymore, the phone stopped ringing. I realized that just as in my youth, my social activity was conditioned by my ability to help others win at their sport of choice. I still had not done a damn thing to build real relationships.
At about this time, I had a vision. I saw something that would change my life. The vision was of an older man sitting on a porch in a rocking chair, with several people gathered near him. Around him were folks of all ages, and I think they were mostly family members. Standing next to the man was a child, a little girl, holding the older man’s hand.
Everyone in this vision seemed content, and even happy. I recognized the reason that they were on that porch together. It was not because the older man was giving them anything. He wasn’t dishing out candy to the kids, or advice or money to the adults. They were there because they wanted to be there. They were there because of how they felt in the presence of the older man and this family. This vision was very far from my reality, but it was clear that I was the old man, and I had a long way to go.
I realized that people were only around me because of what I could do for them, and not because of how they felt about me. I did not know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a long journey. This journey began without me even recognizing it. The first thing that happened was that a friend of mine convinced me to join a group called Entrepreneurs Organization, or EO. EO is made up of successful business people who own their own companies and come together to share their business experiences. Most people who sign up for EO think they will hear how others became successful in their business. They might even gain a few pearls of wisdom they could use to help their businesses grow. For me, EO did much more than that.
Self-Discovery and Change
The second part of my journey began when I joined Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. I did this to support my wife, who struggled with her emotions during a very troubled time in our lives. These groups are for family members of addicts who are looking for answers. Most want to learn what to do, and strive to help their loved ones who are suffering and have created so much havoc within the family.
Another significant event for me at this time was that I decided to go back to school. I found a master’s program in Leadership Development that seemed to fit who I thought I was. A few years back, I had taken an Executive Leadership certificate program that was wonderful, and I wanted to go a step further. Initially, I tried to talk my way right into the doctorate program. However, the school rejected this idea, and forced me to first obtain my master’s degree. I rushed through the program, doing a two-year program in just 11 months. Because I had been a leader all of my life, the work felt easy to me. I ran my own companies, I was our family leader, and I was the captain of most of the baseball teams on which I played. Leadership was easy for me.
New Perspectives on Character Growth and Empathy
So here is the amazing thing. Just as I was beginning the master’s program, I recognized that the Anonymous programs were not just for my wife. They were for me! It turns out that these programs were not designed to teach more tricks on how to help the addict. The programs were there to help me uncover defects in my character. Working these programs with others provided me with the strength to not only look at those defects, but to work on overcoming them.
The EO group also provided me with additional insight during this time. Though I needed it, this insight was not what I was expecting. The process of the EO small group format, called forum, was to open myself to others. The others in the group had similar experiences and struggles while growing their businesses. Quite a few of those struggles centered around a similar theme. I had often wondered, “What is wrong with other people?” I usually felt that I was the smartest guy in the room. If these folks (employees, children, spouses) would just listen to me and do what I said, everything would work out! The anonymous groups worked in a very similar way to what I learned through the EO forum process. Sharing stories, being vulnerable, listening to others with empathy, and practicing humility is where the real power and real growth comes in.
The Next Chapter of my Journey
In the end, I did enroll in the doctorate program after completing my master’s degree. I cannot say for sure why I did it, because I certainly didn’t need another degree for my career. I like to tell people that I went back to school because of a story I told my son when he wanted to quit sports. My message to him was that God does not just give talent away, and if you waste that talent, then that’s a shame. However, I really decided to get my doctorate for another reason. It turns out that I needed to be challenged. I still needed additional lessons in strength, courage, determination, and leadership.
So here I am today, sixty years old, after a great childhood consumed with sports and success. I’ve had a business career that has allowed me to exceed my parents’ expectations. I have a family that for the most part gathers for the holidays, and an education that very few people have been able to attain. And yet, I have not reached the place where the older man of my vision is sitting on the porch. I am so much closer than I was fifty, but there is still quite a distance to go to realize that vision.
A Lesson in Gratitude and Growth
The lessons I have learned in the past ten years have not been easy, but they have added so much to my life. I think I know what is next for me, but I cannot be sure. In the twenty years or so that are left in this journey I hope to attain that original vision, with time to spare to find a new vision. I do know that I need your help to make all of that happen.
Here is one way you can help me. The following page contains an exercise that I asked each of my children to work through. The first part of the exercise is to describe what you would like for our relationship. The second part is to decide what we will need to do to get our relationship to that place. The final step is to determine how you will know when we accomplish this together. Please take this request seriously.
Thankful for the Journey
I know what is important to me for the rest of my life. The first step is to maximize the relationships I have with those I love. At the same time, I want to develop my relationships with others and create true friendships.
I am grateful for so much in my life. I’m thankful for what baseball has done for me, what business has taught me, and the relationships I have today. What Nar-Anon has provided, and even what drove me there, has brought me gratitude. Joining EO, and finding all the people that challenged me there, has been so worth it. I appreciate my educational journey and the people who guided me through that process. Even when I often thought they were wrong.
I’m especially grateful for the convergence of all three at a time when I needed them most. Even the mistakes I’ve made with all of you have brought me gratitude. These mistakes have taught me what does not work, and how to get on a path that will work. I have a lot of work still to do. But, I appreciate the vision and the struggles that have led me on this path.