Book Recommendation – The Awakened Family

I’ve written before about transitions in parenting. And still, as my boys are turning a corner from kids to young adults, it’s been fascinating watching them develop their own interests and desires. All of a sudden they are making their own meals, decisions, and developing habits outside my direct control.

Their growth is so rapid that I worry sometimes that I’m not growing and adapting quickly enough to continue to meet their needs and give them space to contribute to the family as a whole.

As the boys grow and change, the entire family will turn a corner. All of a sudden we have four opinionated, confident, divergent, and independent people living together. It makes me wonder why we put labels on periods in our lives like “kid” and “young adult.” Will their ideas about our family carry less weight over the next ten years because their parents pay the bills? I’m not sure I want to live with two people for the next ten years who contribute to the family out of a sense of compliance. I don’t want to come home to “employees” either.

So that corner I mentioned will either be dangerously sharp with multiple switchbacks or intentionally smooth with a few bumps over the next decade. It’s coming either way.

I may be rambling, and that’s because I read an exceptional book recently that sparked much thought in how I want to be intentional and be sure I’m growing as a person as much as the boys are these next ten years. And even more important, that as a family we are growing into an ensemble rather than expecting the boys to conform to repeating our experiences and expectations.

I can’t recommend The Awakened Family by Dr. Shefali Tsabari enough for families with young people moving from single to double digits. It will make you think about the role you play in your children’s behavior. It’s humbling to read at times, but if you can remove your ego for a moment, it helps you realize the control you truly own. The punchline though is that the control lies only with your reactions. We can’t change our kids. We can change our own reactions to what they do or say, but that is the end of our locus of control. After reading this book, I believe understanding that limit will give the kids more space to evolve rather than spending their time trying to predict my reactions to their actions. It will be a work in practice.

Family life is beautiful and complex, and I would love to hear other ideas in the comments from folks on making that transition from living with truly dependent young children, to living with young people who need agency and partnership.

Thanks for reading.

70/20/10 & 70/20/10

Over the last few years, I’ve been sharing a 70/20/10 mentality around professional learning. The idea is well-known throughout the training & development industry and hypothesizes that 70% of employee learning occurs through on-the-job experience, 20% comes from direct conversations with co-workers, and only 10% comes from formal learning workshops.

Just recently I had the opportunity to hear an additional take on the 70/20/10 concept that looks at who should hold decision-making control of professional learning. Who knows best where our areas of need lie and who should be deciding how we spend the precious moments we dedicate toward our journey as life-long learners?

At an organization I had the privilege to visit recently, individual employees are expected to drive 70% of their own learning, their leaders determine 20%, and the remaining 10% is the mundane compliance-type training we all get to sit through. The organization provides a vast array of professional learning experiences for its staff, however, 70% of the responsibility for self-awareness and decision making is owned by the individual, not her leader. Goals and expectations of performance are set together, but the individual charts the path and seeks help where they feel it’s needed.

I’m incorporating more of both 70/20/10 frameworks into my decision making as a leader of leaders in my large suburban public school district.

Adopting this mindset requires resetting expectations for both the learner and the teacher, the team member and the team leader. Clarity in where agency lies will be key in navigating from an environment which creates passive learners who are waiting to be told what to do, to an environment where learners are trusted to be self-aware and trusted to take action.

And it’s more than moving more trust toward the learner. It’s recognizing that her decisions are better. Even if I don’t agree with the path, if she and I agree on the outcome then I should not be charting the path. 

“But what about the new or struggling team member who does not yet have the experience to know what they don’t know?” you might ask. Don’t we as leaders need to prescribe a list of technical skills for the novice to learn or a catalog of workshops to attend over the next year?

Just remember that if we are honest with ourselves as leaders about how adults really learn at work, then as the leader we have roughly 20% decision making power regarding time and direction and roughly 15% power regarding the overall impact on someone else’s learning. Think about how you learn. Sure, you may give someone else credit for molding your thoughts and helping your grow – I certainly do. But, it was your decision to listen to that person and embrace their philosophy. Growth is not driven by compliance.

If we are dictating 70% of their time, then I’ll argue our teams may be learning surface-level technical content, but are not engaging in the level of learning necessary to make lasting adaptive improvement. Give even your newest team members the respect to own their learning.

So, how do we allocate our 20% as leaders to help our staff members make the best decision with their 70%? My plan is to make sure the readings, workshops, and learning experiences I require of my team focus on self-awareness, understanding one another, and how their work contributes to the success of our students. 

I’m working through this idea as I write so I’m sure my thinking on this will continue to evolve. What are your thoughts? I would love to start a dialogue around this idea. Share your thoughts in the comments. 

Re-Reading on the Road

Wrote this several months ago, but forgot to post it. Hope you like it.


The first time I read Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato I was sitting on the roof-top terrace of the Rex Hotel in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

It was dark, I was 22, sipping a gin and tonic, and listening to the common night-time sounds of an incredible city in Southeast Asia.

This time I’m 40, on a business trip, sitting in a hotel bar in Houston, TX. I’m still sipping on a gin and tonic and this time listening to the common sounds of hotel bars across North America.

It’s amazing though how taste, words, and sounds tie a life together. I’ve re-read several books lately from my younger days and can’t recommend it enough. Rather than chasing the latest writer, revisit the favorites of your youth.

  • The same story means something different to your 40-year-old self than your 20-year-old self. That realization has hit me over and over. It’s a completely different experience.
  • The re-reading takes your mind back to that time and place. Midway through the first chapter of Going After Cacciato, I was back in Vietnam, back on Semester at Sea. I could smell Southeast Asia. I felt the night heat, the enthusiasm of my 20s. Careful…it’s a slippery slope. Trust me.
  • It makes me wonder where I will be, what I will remember, when I read it again as a 60-year-old. Which character in the story will I identify with then?

It’s also important to read when we travel because the stories serve as quick passages to our earlier selves. These time capsules allow us to continually check in with ourselves. They allow us to take a step back from our current self and realize how we have grown and changed.

I read several Paul Theroux novels while traveling through Europe on my honeymoon and now when I pick up Saint Jack, I can taste the bread and wine Kelley and I enjoyed on the Col Du Tourmalet watching Tour De France riders suffer up that mountain.

While living in Sosua, DR for several months I read much of John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee saga and recently rereading A Deadly Shade of a Gold, I not only checked in with Trav, and Meyer, but checked in with myself and remembered my thoughts during that point in life and how it felt to run on that sandy beach each morning.

Time is finite, and as many of us do, I often fall into chasing the latest title or gadget to make sure I don’t miss something exceptional. That affliction though often results in lukewarm and generic experiences.

By our 40s shouldn’t we know what quality means to us? I think so. The hard part is owning it and recognizing that now we go deeper into that quality. Not putting total blinders on to newness, but rather becoming better versions of our 20-year-old selves.

Whether reading Going After Cacciato on the roof of the Rex Hotel in Vietnam or at a cheesy hotel bar in Houston, our goal is the same as the protagonist in that story – self-acceptance. So maybe it’s not total blinders to newness, but the filter to get past our defenses must be strong. Stand watch, just like Private First Class Paul Berlin.

Let the Reading Path Circle Back

I rediscovered Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance recently due to a triangulation of events. I turned 40 which is the age of the father in the story, at work I had to pick a T-shirt with my favorite book on the front, and finally, in the last few years, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about Zen Buddhism.

Firstly though, I felt I better re-read the book because even though I read it in my early 20s, if I was going to wear it on a shirt to work I better refresh in case anyone asked questions or made any references.

Secondly, I was reminded that there are books we need to re-read during each decade of our lives. The titles are different for each of us, but there are 5-10 that resonate to a point in our early years that we need to revisit them as we move through the decades. I remembered a convoluted story about a father and son on a motorcycle trip, some other character called a Phaedrus, and the narrator going on and on about “Quality.” But revisiting the story, it became a powerful dive into values and personal freedom. This “re-read” provided much more meaning than trying to keep up with the most recent “must-read.”

We may start with a couple books from our 20s, a few from our 30s, and so it goes.

I’m continuing with these:

What am I missing? What’s on your list? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Celebrate the Past Or Learn From It

It was January 16, 2002, I was 23, recently married, full-time sports editor for my hometown weekly newspaper and part-time line-cook/bartender at my town’s best bar. Yeah…sweet life.

I was reminded recently of that 23-year-old when a Google search surfaced my final of more than 250 weekly column/diary entries chronicling my formative years writing Going the Distance for the Big Bear Grizzly.

Going the Distance, January 16, 2002

I loved everything about writing that column. It gave me a weekly deadline to download my thoughts. It forced me to journal…in public. And then I stopped.

I don’t remember why I stopped writing when the readers went away. But it makes me wonder where I would be as a writer today if I put more value in the process of writing each week than on the praise I received from those who read my words. Notice and wonder.

Looking back I may agree the life I had at 23-years old was ideal – for who I was at that time. And, honestly a few years ago I was looking back. I was thinking about how things might have played out with different decisions, different choices. Telling myself stories.

Looking back that way leads to dark and unproductive places. It leads to regret. We tell ourselves stylized stories of what might have been. We blame others, and ourselves. Nothing good comes from it.

Hitendra Wadhwa recently reminded me that we only look at our past to celebrate it or learn from it.

So I want to celebrate this choice I made as a young man in a different place and a different time to enter public education. It led me here to a meaningful life with a partner I love, two incredible boys, and a career filled with value and joy. Today I want to give my 23-year-old self a high five.

We either celebrate our past or we learn from it.

Nothing else.

I look at this column I wrote so many years ago, celebrate the life I have now and learn that I should have never stopped writing because the audience went away.

Honestly, I’ve now learned that I get a rush when someone shares, likes, or comments on something I write here the same way someone came into the bar and commented on my weekly musings. I embrace my hubris. But then and now that hit of adrenaline, while important, burns hot and fades quickly.

520px-Yin_yang.svg

The meaning I get from the process of articulating these thoughts resonates much longer. It’s a deeper burn, but I don’t get to the sustainable peace without the duality of the Yin Yang of the process and the praise.

I don’t get that same 1-2 benefit from a private journal.

 

So for my next 70 years, you can find me here at ryansmith.blog. Please subscribe, share, and comment to help me out.

Thank you for listening.

Making Peace and Moving on

“I’ll make peace with the fact you couldn’t hear the video and move on…O.K. moving on,” said Hitendra Wadhwa recently working with the inaugural districts of The Holdsworth Center. His time with us focused on personal leadership, not around presentation skills, but that statement resonated with me as much as anything else.

How often are we thrown off course by some unforeseen hiccup or unavoidable obstacle? To set the scene, there was an audio issue with a video which was part of his presentation. Who hasn’t been there?

Upon realizing that a portion of us couldn’t hear the video and quickly realizing that replaying it would interrupt his flow, he verbally made peace with it and moved on. He didn’t apologize to the audience, he forgave himself. And we won because he was his most-present self for the rest of the workshop. There was no looking back. No lamenting on some technical snafu.

Authenticity and presence are so rare that we talk about it long after the encounter.

Here’s a video to learn more from Dr. Wadwha:

Everything else he shared was incredible, but that honest moment of self-awareness and self-forgiveness resonated with me the most.

Thanks for listening.

We Are Who We Are When We Are

I said goodbye to a neighbor recently.

He was a complex man. Air Force veteran, Austin Police Department legend, father, husband, and stroke survivor. I never knew him before the stroke. But I often heard stories from his former partners, friends and others who talked about the man he was before.

The same conversations took place at his memorial service and I wish I would have stepped up that afternoon to share my thoughts on the man he was when I knew him. It would have gone like this:

I didn’t know him before his stroke. I never knew him as an active police officer. But I knew my neighbor. I knew the man who often walked with my toddlers to the mailbox and hung out with them and their mom when she was staying at home and playing out front of the house during those monotonous days of child rearing. I knew the man who would always walk across the street and offer to help if he saw me working in my yard. He may not have been able to physically help, but he always offered. I knew the man who continued to contribute to society well passed when others might have given up. The reach of his influence may have contracted, but he still added great value to the those he interacted with on a daily basis and for that, I want to thank him and thank his family. And my only regret is I never took him up his offer to “break him out” and take him to the Hoffbrau for a steak – and he asked often.

I don’t know why I didn’t share my thoughts at the service and can work through that in another post. But, the greater point is that everyone has an impact. I don’t believe his family knows the impact he had on my family during that period of our lives. And my impression was that they believed his value to society was diminished when he suffered the stroke because they were comparing him to the person they knew before that event.

Let’s move past comparisons. We are who we are when we are. Not who we might become because of our “potential.” We are never a “shell of our former selves.” Let’s give grace and acceptance.

We are who we are when we are.

Thanks for listening.