Tears flow as my 10-year-old daughter struggles to find the keys on my wife’s computer. It is 11:00 PM and the report is due in the morning. She had three weeks of Christmas break to work on it, but many of the final touches are taking longer than she ever anticipated. My wife stands close-by with smoke coming out her ears and “I told you so!” written all over her face. We discuss the best parenting options: Do we step in and save the day, tell her to go to bed and turn it in late, let her take the reduction in her grade, or do we go to bed and let her struggle alone? We calculate the options: She is our emotional child, she stresses about stuff, she looks like she learned the lesson already, our own 2012 Christmas cards have yet to be mailed and… we love her. We think more: Are we bad parents because we didn’t push her more or help her sooner? What is the big lesson we want her to learn? Should we let her fail on her own? AHHHH!
I think all parents with kids over 8 years old have faced this situation. I can recall 31 years ago, when my mom and I did my “7th grade Leaf Project” the night before it was due. (For the record, we/I got an A+). That night we learned that if you put leaves between books, on wax paper and above the fireplace, they dry in one night and look the same as if you dried them over the recommended four weeks. Pulling the all-nighter, cramming before the test, getting creative to dry 25 different variety of leaves in one night, knowing my Mom was on my team and we would find a way to get it done, and not letting the results suffer because of my faulty process, are lessons I learned in those late night, last minute, tear filled sessions. Those accidental lessons have proven to be some of the most valuable of my life, possibly above learning how to get things done without pressure, with all the information and with plenty of time to spare.
I have watched great CEOs of huge companies cramming together their keynote, reviewing final slide changes, and jotting notes on the palm of their hand literally minutes before walking on stage. I have been in the “war room” as we call it, during multi-day company meetings and felt the buzz of efficiency and last minute production changes being gracefully handled. Cool under pressure, calm with unexpected challenges, and able to stay up all night to produce the highest quality work for my client to enjoy, is probably my brand above anything and most critical to our 20 years of Odyssey success. I wonder if I had done the leaf project early and allowed a comfortable few days before it was due for any changes, would I be able to thrive under the pressures of real business and the reality of changing products, reduced budgets, new team members and endless time management decisions?
This morning I was thinking, can we just stop beating ourselves up for not getting it all done ahead of time? That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to get it done or that anything short of great work is acceptable, but guilt and regret is a heavy burden to carry in the final minutes of the game and never helps bring out our best. Hmmm… I wonder what the most important lesson she/we needed to learn last night?
Let me know if you have an opinion on what you think I did or what I should have done.