[Life Back West] November 2011 – “My New Life”

Sometimes you see your future from a distance and approach it step by step as you would the Rockies from the plains below; you know the route, and how to travel it.

Jerry Mathers and Paul Sullivan
Leave it to Beaver – Image via Wikipedia

Other times, though, you realize that like that unfriendly cat who has suddenly decided to be friendly, it’s in your lap; what you’re staring at is your future that’s become your present.

There were no great how-to models for two-dad families (Father Knows Best, the Partridge Family, Leave it to Beaver? ) when I was growing up. And any busy parent will tell you there’s no time for TV once your kid(s) arrives so I’ve missed out on something like Modern Family that shows a fuller spectrum of families.

And when I combined the parenting part of the world with the “let’s start my own consulting practice so I actually might be actively involved in raising my son” – something that seemed to be a far cry from many dads I worked with in the corporate world – it was enough to cause me most days to feel good about keeping one foot following the other.

When you’re trailblazing the way, even if it’s your own trail, things can be mighty unfamiliar.

Tony Schwartz has written about the importance of rituals – things you do on a routine basis in your work and life  – that form a foundation for productivity. Their advantage? When things are a ritual you’re on autopilot and you can either give your brain a rest or direct it toward other things that need attention. You become highly productive – the mundane is mindless and the important stays front and center.

But if everything is new, or even more challenging, there are no models and every day feels like a “figure it out again” day, you’re not so productive. At times you don’t even feel so competent.

When I worked as an HR exec in the corporate world there was a web of general predictability; things might not always be so great but they were reliable and you knew your place, even if you didn’t always relish it, in the business social order. And as a DINK I pretty much knew the ins and outs of every day life like the back of my hand.

Along with being a first-time parent, where every developmental stage is something new and not-so-predictable, my consulting practice coaching execs, startup and leadership teams managed to find that intersection of a great first two years and then the deepest economic recession in over 90 years. Timing is everything it’s been said; if you can keep your business afloat during the toughest of tests generally much brighter days are ahead. Predicability in a recession? Not so likely.

Sense of character, particularly perseverance, is what kept me chugging through the downturn. Great work coaching execs and working with teams aside, it’s hard to build a business when no one is buying anything. What the researchers like Angela Duckworth will tell you is that it’s this sort of grit that separates the people who do well from the people who don’t succeed.

That same sense of perseverance is probably valuable in parenting as well; being optimistic, being steady, and knowing that when things are bumpy – even with a great kid like my son – tomorrow is a whole new day. And (no surprise to some), parenting has improved and informed my work with clients in ways that have been profound in terms of both approach and effectiveness. I’m both more patient and firmer, something that I learned from on the job parenting school.

Last week as I ran through my “typical” day mixing work (a meeting with a new client, finalizing a yearly consulting retainer with a current  client, writing a blog post, pulling together a design for an upcoming team building session), family (grocery shopping, getting in the repair guy for a faulty ice maker, picking up my son from the bus stop, overseeing his homework, and getting dinner going for the three of us) and me (a quick work-out at the Noe Valley no-frills gym) I realized that my future was now my present.

Right there, staring back at me.

Next week I’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with my spouse, our son, my mother-in-law, my sister and brother-in-law.

I’ll give thanks for my new life; with a little tailwind at my back it’s pretty terrific. Just like that now-friendly cat in your lap.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.


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