Let me begin this letter by saying Happy Birthday! On this day, I wanted to take a few moments to recognize and acknowledge what I think makes you so wonderful and to also give you an exciting challenge for the future.
Of course, it is hard to summarize what it is about you that makes you so special to me but let me try. First, I want to honor your loving spirit. From the day you were born, you have always been a loving boy. Cuddling with mom and dad and always getting “cozy”. You are always the first one to hop in bed and snuggle up next to me. Those moments are always cherished as I can feel the deep love in your heart especially when we are close.
Second, I want to honor your wisdom. Your wise soul has lived for longer than you. You have been imbued with an understanding of things that often catches me off guard. Sometimes it is reflected in small decisions that you make–sharing something with your little brother because you see how much more it means to him–and other times it is in things you say. I can still remember you telling me that it didn’t make sense to be angry at someone because it just means that they control you. Those little lessons are such important ones and the fact that you understand them so early reflects the wisdom that is blossoming in you.
Finally, I want to honor your persistence. As a middle child just like me, you are often competing against competition that is older, faster and stronger than you and yet that has never once slowed your drive or energy to participate. Even when you would lose to Andrew in some game again and again, you would keep playing and getting better and better rather than giving up. That will to participate–combined with your enthusiasm for being the best person YOU can be without needing to “win”–is an amazing quality that will serve you through thick and thin.
Calvin Coolidge once said: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” In other words, it is people like you–with persistence and determination–that will change the world. You will change the world. You have certainly already changed mine.
So now I want to present you with a challenge and opportunity. I have seen so many reflections of your creative spirit but I feel that you are capable of even more. You are full of bright light and on this birthday I want to challenge you to further develop that creative spirit. To take time each week to draw, write or create something that is uniquely you. You need not show anyone if you do not want but find that space to express who you are and embrace it. It is in moments of self-expression and unstructured creativity that your true genius will shine for all to see.
I am so proud of you son and I am honored I was given the privilege of being your dad.
Today on your 11th birthday I wanted to share a few thoughts with you on why you are so special and my vision for your future. I can still recall on this day 11 years ago when you were born. It had been a long wait and we were all anxious for your arrival. As mom was making the final pushes, I could see your head emerge and I immediately got the chills. I had known you were coming (of course) but somehow it was in that moment–in that small span of time–that the weight of the moment struck me. Your first cries were like music to my ears. For you see it told me that you were breathing and had healthy lungs (and boy were those lungs healthy! hehe). I was so happy and even happier when they swaddled you up and placed you in my arms.
As soon as I looked down into your eyes, I was overwhelmed with the love that burst from my heart. It was love at first sight. In that moment, you also stopped crying for the first time. You see we were made to be together and the love that binds us is the kind that cannot be broken. It is the love that never stops. No matter what you do, where you go, and what you say, I will always love you. You are loved and lovable. Remember that for that is the greatest gift that I can give.
As you have gotten older, my love has deepened to include your many amazing qualities not the least of those are your sense of humor, your energy and your heart. Your humor is one of your greatest gifts and not because you can make others laugh–but because you are able to laugh so easily yourself. Laughter is a great gift to the universe. Even as a little boy you laughed easily. I can still remember when you were three and I had found a toy that made you laugh. You would laugh so hard that you would literally tip over. And so would I because your laugh was so infectious that I could not help myself. Laughter like yours brings joy to others and will serve you well.
I also love your energy. From the very beginning you would bring boundless energy you would bring to everything that you did–whether it was learning to walk, learning to talk (lots of energy in this area! haha), learning to ride a bike…you attacked it and made it your own. This energy is your fuel and as you learn to harness it you will find that ANYTHING is possible. Yes, my son, nothing is out of your reach if you want it.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, I love your heart. I can remember the look on your face when your brother Aidan (and later Carter) was born. It was the same look of love at first sight that I had on my face when you were born. You couldn’t wait to hold your brother and were so proud to be in his life. It is that same love that you give when you teach your brothers new things, when you comfort them after a fall or when you read them a book before bed. You see it is through your heart–and not your mind–that the leader in you is born.
With all of these gifts, though, also comes responsibility. One of the most important responsibility of someone with all your amazing talents is to use them to serve others. As John Hope Bryant once said, “In a world obsessed with only one question, which is ‘what do I get,’ your question to yourself and to the world today should be, ‘what do I have to give?’ It is through this act of giving of yourself that you will become the man that I already see in you. Those acts of giving will not only enrich those around you, it will enrich your life as well. The path to happiness and joy is paved with acts of service. And it is in those acts of giving to others that your full potential will be realized.
You are a gift and I am so proud that you are my son.
“Violent passions are formed in solitude. In the busy world no object has time to make a deep impression.”
As I continue on my journey, one of the important themes that has come up very often is the concept of space. Space is important for so many reasons as it gives you the flex in life. So how do I incorporate space into my life?
1) Time: One of the habits I got into in corporate life was filling up each minute of my day. I had appointments nearly every hour and often no time between meetings. What happened? I had to cut off productive conversations, I was often late for meetings, and I felt under constant stress. I was also less able to react to opportunities that presented themselves as I lacked the space to embrace them.
I started consciously leaving space in my schedule–even expressly “scheduling” space– and what happened? My stress went down, the quality of my interactions improved and best of all– serendipity and opportunity had a place to visit. Suddenly I was able to capitalize on new ideas in a way that had never been possible before.
2) Stomach. We often think about space in terms of time but consider food. One of the biggest issues with obesity in the United States is based on the fact that most people eat too much. They eat until they feel full. But our bodies do not require that much food. What would happen if when we sat down to eat, we stopped short of being full? According to some accounts, even eating a mere 200-300 calories less a day would make a critical impact on our obesity problem.
Next time you are eating, try to leave space on your plate and a little space in your stomach. Your body will thank you.
3) Relationships. It is natural to establish long-term friendships and a rich life is often measured by the quality of your friends. But as we get older, we have a tendency to maintain friendships to the detriment of new ones that could emerge. Indeed, it is often new friends and perspectives that cause us to grow the most. Leaving space for new friends to enter your life creates an opportunity for you to attract the people you need the most. Perhaps ones that are now a better reflection of who you are and what is important.
How do I hold this space? Each week I leave one night open for someone or something new. This is space I hold for the unknown. Not only does this help me meet new people but it becomes an evening I look forward to with great excitement. Who will I attract this week?
4) Finances: One of the areas that create some of the greatest stress in our lives is in finances. The recent mortgage and banking crisis was yet another example of the narrow–some would say non-existent–space that we afford ourselves in the financial realm. We all have a tendency to spend what we make and live to the edge of our means. When a single things falls, the rest of our finances fall like dominoes. There is no space to stop the damage and we end up in bankruptcy.
While I am always an advocate for saving, I prefer to think of holding financial space as an investment in me. I am investing in my mental health and my flexibility. It is one of the best investments you can make. Next time you are going to make a financial commitment think to yourself: is this taking away space that I need?
So how do you keep space free in your life?
I am in Vancouver, B.C. this week working with one of my favorite start-up clients. One of the reasons for my visit was to brainstorm ideas for leveraging social media to maximize both adoption and utilization of some new payment technology that we are rolling out in the next few weeks. Exciting stuff.
I arrived in their offices with great enthusiasm. This team is filled with very sharp and knowledgeable individuals so the sky was the limit. Once the session got started, however, I realized we had a big problem. You see the Chief Technology Officer was “facilitating” but rather than simply being open to new ideas, he was critiquing ideas as soon as they were being uttered. He explained why this idea wouldn’t work, had sharp questions about others, and basically intimated anyone from coming up with an idea that didn’t fit his model of the world.
Of course anyone that has facilitated a brainstorming session knows that this is the wrong approach (I will be facilitating them in the future) but it was a powerful metaphor for what we do to ourselves every day.
In my case, the CTO is a very powerful rational voice in my head. My attorney mind. The pragmatist that can break every new idea into a million parts. The voice that discards ideas as “unrealistic” and “silly” as soon as they pop up. It ends, in other words, the discourse in my own head around what I can do, who I can be, and, in my business, which ideas will stick.
Much like the CTO in yesterday’s brainstorming session, the little voice is very smart. It makes great points. It is really good at putting thoughts and ideas into little boxes. But sometimes the only way to get to that amazing place that is truly yours, you have to start with seemingly unrealistic ideas and then go from there. Sometimes ridiculous thoughts are the stepping stones to magnificent outcomes.
So today I challenge myself and I challenge you to let ridiculous thoughts go. Let possibilities emerge and rather than measuring or judging, play with them. Let them flow and see where the stream of possibility takes you. And in the process you may be surprised to realize that you arrived at a place that neither you, nor your CTO, ever rationally imagined.