Following Their Lead

Published in The Ferndale Record, March 14, 2012

One of the most astonishing things about being a parent is how I learn from my children. I always thought I’d be the one dishing up the inspiration: They would assemble at my feet, riveted in starry-eyed wonder while I imparted the wisdom of years and experience.

What actually happens is we sit at the dining room table during a family celebration, or lounge around in our jammies tossing out ideas and family stories. We chat. We share. And unlike my fantasy, I’m almost never the center of attention—in fact, I learn more when I’m not.

I watch, hear and ask questions. I’m the one zeroed in with rapt attention, realizing at every turn in the conversation how lucky I am to be associated with such a diverse crew. Each one has authentic style, and I catch myself listening on purpose. Here are a few nuggets from the past couple of years:

*An employer just wants you to get the job done. Be clear about what’s expected and ask questions. Then, pull the trigger. No rambling excuses, no drama. Be exceptionally good at what you do.

*Own who you are. Do whatever it takes to be comfortable in your own skin. What others think isn’t important. What matters is to dream big, work hard and get out of your own way. Help others on the same path.

*Live with gusto. Jump out of that plane! Spend money on that trip you’ve always wanted to take! Swing from that chandelier! Stay up all night talking and playing games. Lose sleep over living your life. You can sleep when you’re dead.

*People matter. Do what it takes to let them know they’re important to you, even if it causes scary pangs of discomfort—especially if it does. Anguish for acts left undone will come back to you if you don’t deal with them.

*Let passion reign. Being cool all the time is overrated. If you love something, you know it immediately. If you don’t, it will disappear from your radar. There’s something honest and clean about the transparency of wearing feelings out loud. It shows others, without question, where you stand.

In one of my favorite photographs, I’m a young mother in skinny bellbottom jeans, and a red, white and blue striped t-shirt, seated on the ground at Cornwall Park in Bellingham, Washington on a summer afternoon. My children and I had just spent the day picnicking with friends, and it was time to go home.

I’m tying shoes onto the tiny, wet feet of my three-year-old daughter. She’s dressed in a sun suit that ties at the shoulders, her wavy hair in pigtails.

I love this picture on several levels—both my daughter and I are quite adorable, we don’t know the photo is being taken, and my little one is studying me, watching closely, learning how adults are in the world. Every time I look at this image, I see the reversal of roles, how these days I’m often the one looking up to her and our growing family.

Finding valuable insights is easy. Websites are littered with them; self-help books are downloaded in seconds. But how utterly spectacular is it to learn good stuff from the people you love most?