Passing On Life Lessons

Life is crazy busy right now and I’m treading water, trying not to drown!

In the coming weeks I will have experienced three graduations, one wedding, my only daughter moving 800 miles away to be with her future husband and in August moving my twin boys to college.  Most parents can spread out these events – and expenses – over several years. No such luck for me!

I’ll manage all of these changes; will my three kids? Have I prepared them to become successful, well-rounded young adults who can have a positive impact on people they meet, neighborhoods they live in and organizations they work for? Are they individuals of strong character and integrity?

In his 2014 commencement address to the University of Texas, Admiral William McRaven’s had a simple message for the graduating class:  If you want to change the world, start by making your bed, every morning! (1) Best-selling author and thinker, Jordan Peterson suggests something along these lines in his new book 12 Rules for Life: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. (Rule # 6).  I also like his 5th rule: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them. (2)

So what is the foundation that I’ve tried to lay for my three children and also role model for them through my own life?  As the son of immigrant parents (German) I realize that many of my values today originate from my father. They include:

Duty:  You might not enjoy doing something or even see the immediate value in carrying out the act, but get over it and do it anyways.  As a kid these were things like getting out of bed in time for school; taking out the garbage; mowing the lawn; shoveling the driveway; doing my homework and giving my best to get good grades. And yes, making my bed in the mornings!

When I left home and went off to college I felt my duty was to get up, go to classes and try to get good grades. Funny how those behaviors stayed with me. As my parents were paying for my education I felt responsible for keeping my expenses down so I worked through out the year and during semester breaks. I owned an old bicycle and had no car. Note: Getting by without a car was a bit easier as I was living in Europe and could get everywhere with public transportation.

Your physician might tell you that you have to stop smoking, reduce your alcohol consumption or lose weight. This is a must-do because your health depends on it.  So you follow his/her instructions whether you like it or not.

Discipline:  Duty is forcing yourself to do things you might not want to do. Discipline is making free-will decisions that have longer-term payoffs. It is the opposite of instant gratification.  Sure, you could sleep in on Saturday or Sunday morning because you “earned” it. Or, you could set your alarm, get your rear end out of bed and do something that adds value to your or someone else’s life. You could stay up late, enjoy a few drinks and watch some second rate movie. Or, you could turn off the TV, read a good book or get to bed a bit earlier than usual.  Discipline is all about developing good habits. Habits are activities that compounded over time, will lead to personal and professional growth rather than decline.

Discipline is living below your means, maxing out on your 401k savings plan and getting the full-company matching.

Discipline is sticking to your diet and working out every day because you want to improve your health.

Discipline is making your bed every morning even though you don’t have a drill sergeant (or mom) making you.

Desire:   Once you’ve incorporated duty and discipline into your life, desire becomes a wonderful byproduct.  You will find real joy coming home from work to find a bed that has been made earlier in the day.  Getting up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning won’t seem like a chore because you’ve experienced many cool things on past weekend mornings.

The work you’ve put in to improving your health, the habits that you have broken, will show tangible results. You will sleep better, have more energy, better concentration and less anxiety. Once you’ve experience this difference, you won’t want to go back.

You will notice that the duty you have exercised and discipline you have followed will lead to real personal and professional growth and you won’t want to have it any other way.  Your desire for more time for family, friends, hobbies, learning, will actually be available because the duty and discipline behaviors you have incorporated into your life free up this time.

Letting go of my kids won’t be easy but I can’t wait to see where the journey takes them. I think they have the tools in their toolbox they need to be successful.