RLL #14: 10 Lessons from 2017 (in no particular order)

Real Life Leading #14:

Ten Lessons from 2017 (in no particular order)

By all accounts, 2017 has been an interesting year for many reasons. Here, I share with you ten of the lessons I learned, as well as a number of recommendations for related reading. I hope you are inspired and encouraged by this post, and I look forward to continuing to try to inspire and encourage you even more in 2018. Thanks for reading and taking this journey with me!

1. Parenting a teen is both harder and more rewarding than I expected it to be.

A week or so before Christmas, I went into a local bookstore to find a gift for someone, and as I came around the end of an aisle, I saw a person about ten feet away, looking at Harry Potter items on a shelf. I recognized blonde messy-bun hairdo, and so I immediately began to make a noise that was a cross between a regular throat-clearing and the noise that Gollum often made in LOTR. When the person finally turned around, she had a look of both amused annoyance and happiness on her face: it was my older daughter! She and her mom were there, also Christmas shopping, and when she saw me (after she chuckled at my entirely Dad-like greeting), she came over and hugged me and then took my hand as we walked down the row of books to where her mom was standing. I can’t tell you how amazing a feeling it is to have my teenage daughter voluntarily hug me and take my hand in public.

I am a high school teacher and soccer coach, and I have been for over a decade. I’ve worked with over a thousand teenagers during that time, and so I like to think I have gained some insight into how to work with them, how they function, and thus how I would need to go about parenting my own children when they became teenagers. Thankfully, that proved to be correct...to a point! My elder daughter turned 13 right around the end of last school year, and so we’ve had a teenager in the family for six months now, and it has been both great and sometimes difficult. On the one hand, she is a teenager and thus exhibits some of the traits common to that age range: sometimes moody, almost always hungry, steadily stumbling her way toward greater independence. But, and for this I’m eternally grateful, she is also still the same wonderful daughter she’s always been: soft-hearted, willing to help others (even if she may have to be asked to do so more often than in the past), and genuinely a TON of fun to be around! If anything, the fact that she is now growing more independent makes moments like that in the bookstore even more special.

2. Losing a state championship soccer game (for the second straight year) hurts both more and less than the first one.

In May, my high school girls’ team made a second straight trip to the state championship game, and we again fell short. On one hand, I already knew this feeling, and so this time the pain was not quite as acute. The other team was simply better than we were, they outplayed us, and we gave it everything we had, so we were able to leave the field defeated yet unbowed. It hurt more because we were so close (again) to winning a state championship. On the other hand, if it’s possible, this trip to the final was even more unexpected than the first, since we graduated seven players from the first team that went. So from that perspective, we were thrilled to have performed as well as we did. I’m thinking of writing a book about the different lessons learned from each of the past two seasons. First book title: “Why going 24-1 was better than a perfect season.” Second book title: “Overcoming odds: making it back was even harder than making it the first time.”

3. Coaching sports with my kids’ stepdad is a lot of fun, and it’s a great learning experience.

In the fall, my daughters’ step dad (Kyle) and I coached our younger daughter’s soccer team together. Soccer is my main sport, so I was the head coach and Kyle assisted me. We had a great season in terms of improvement, we spent a lot of time working with good kids, and we even learned some great lessons about leadership in how we handled different situations with parents who were sometimes less than happy. Now, we’ve spent the last month coaching basketball together, and since Kyle is MUCH more knowledgeable about that, he’s the head coach, and I am assisting him. So far, it’s been more of the same: a lot of fun, lots of learning, and it’s also become normal for my daughter to talk about us to her teammates. “This is my dad. This is my stepdad.” No bitterness, no anger, and it’s not even weird. I’m very grateful to my wife, my ex-wife, and to Kyle for this strange, unusual, yet ultimately positive situation in which we can function as a two-household family for these girls (and also for the girls’ younger brother). I give much credit also to a book we read a few years back, and I STRONGLY recommend it to anyone in a divorce/remarriage situation: ‘The Smart Stepfamily’ by Ron L. Deal. Grab a copy, read it, and then read it again!

4. My pride almost cost me our new dog. Thankfully, my wife came to the rescue (as is often the case in our world).

Back in September, my family adopted our second shelter dog, a bulldog/boxer mix named Bruiser (if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see pictures of Bruiser pretty regularly). Our first dog, Butterscotch, is very quiet, low-maintenance, and friendly, and so we expected Bruiser to be the same. Boy, was I wrong about that! And as Bruiser proved more and more difficult, I became less and less patient with him. After numerous conversations, my wife and I considered giving him away because of how much more difficult our lives had become due to his presence. As an almost last resort, we signed up for obedience classes, despite my resistance and hesitancy. I believed I knew how to train a dog (though what evidence I was basing that on is a mystery even to me), but we went anyway, and WOW it has made a difference! Bruiser is more well-behaved, easier to walk, more apt to listen, and he and Butterscotch get along much better, making everyone’s lives easier. I’m grateful to my wife for convincing me to sign up for classes, and I’m sorry that it took me so long to acknowledge that I didn’t know what I was doing in terms of training him.

5. My wife helped me rediscover my love for watching baseball, and I realized how much I’ve missed it.

When my mother came to visit us recently, she told my wife a story of how, as a toddler I often fell asleep holding a plastic baseball bat. I have many pictures of myself in various team uniforms (mostly soccer and baseball) at all ages. This year, I again fell in love with watching baseball, mostly because my dad’s team, the Dodgers, were in the World Series for the first time in a many years. My wife and I watched all of the games together, and it brought me a different joy than I’d felt in a long time as well. I used to watch baseball all the time, because I’d grown up watching it with my dad. After he passed away in 2008, I stopped watching it because it hurt. This year, thanks to the Dodgers making the World Series, and the patience of my wife who stayed up late watching the games with me. Also, I read a great book by the amazing former Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser called ‘Out of the Blue’ (it’s the story of the Dodgers’ 1988 World Series Championship season, when Hershiser won the MVP). If you like baseball or sports at all, go grab a copy of this one!

6. Becoming a public speaker and writer is a lot of work...and it’s totally worth it!

In the fall of 2017, I began a complimentary career (I still teach and coach, but I also entered a new world) of public speaking and writing. I’ve spent many hours practicing and giving speeches, writing blog posts and articles, and even outlined and began typing a first draft of a book! It’s been humbling, rewarding, and very educational in many ways. And, it’s been a LOT of work. I expected it to be a lot of work, but I’m not sure I knew just how much work. On the upside, I’ve had great teachers, and so I want to mention them here so that anyone else who is interested can have an idea of where to go for great info on getting started. In terms of speaking, go check out Grant Baldwin (www.thespeakerlab.com and the Booked and Paid to Speak program are amazing resources) for excellent help and info on starting a speaking career. It’s been incredible, and I wouldn’t have even known where to begin without his help. In terms of the craft of public speaking, check out Michael Port’s book ‘Steal the Show’ (http://stealtheshow.com/podcast/ and www.heroicpublicspeaking.com)   or listen to the podcast of the same name. For writing a book (especially if you’re interested in self-publishing but even if you just want info on how to get started writing), go check out Chandler Bolt’s Self-Publishing School (https://self-publishingschool.com/) or Rob Kosburg’s Best-Seller Publishing (http://bestsellerpublishing.org/). Both are incredibly full of information on the writing process, especially for people who don’t think of themselves as writers.

7. Learning history is more important now than ever before.

I’m sure this sounds self-serving since I’m a history teacher, but I believe it is true regardless. Look at the news, follow any major storylines, and you’ll see that people of all political persuasions are taking more liberties with ‘truth’ than ever before. As a result, we need to arm ourselves against those influences by being knowledgeable about the past. And the only way to do that is through learning it. The danger here is that ALL HISTORY that you learn is biased in some way. All of it. Some person wrote it, and therefore the history is influenced by the person who wrote it. We need to remember that is also true of every news article we read, whether about something as huge as politics and tax cuts or something as mundane as a basketball game. The key is: go learn your history, and then you will be better able to see through the biased ‘truth’ being presented by both sides, and you will thus be better able to make an informed judgment about what the truth really is. Start with something simple: sign up for the “This Day In History” email from the History Channel website, and then just read the major headlines each day. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll learn in a few minutes.

8. In a tech-heavy world, the most valuable commodity we have is our time and attention.

This was brought home to me this year as I entered the world of Twitter. Seeing just how much time I wasted scrolling through my news feed (FAR more than on Facebook for some reason) was incredible. Thankfully, one major source brought me back to sanity: the wisdom of Neen James (www.neenjames.com) and her message of “Attention Pays.” Neen is a speaker and consultant that I’d heard interviewed on various podcasts, and her message is simple: if you want to make an impact on people, give them your undivided attention. It lets them know you care, and thus they are also more likely to engage with you again. In a world full of smartphones and screens, we all (especially me!) need to remember to unplug on a regular basis and simply spend undistracted time with the ones we love.

9. Looking to serve other people builds better relationships than just looking to profit from them.

I have always believed in the value of building good relationships, and I learned this year that it’s even more important than I’d realized. Again, I came across this by listening to various podcasts in which Bob Burg (best-selling author of ‘The Go-Giver’ and other books, www.burg.com) emphasized how important it is that we serve other people even when it isn’t going to get us more business or help us make better profits. Simply by looking to serve first we build better relationships. In the long run, these may help us profit more, but the point is: profit ISN’T the point. Relationships are. So, in 2018, let’s commit to building better relationships, regardless of whether those relationships will bring us short-term benefits.

10. “Where there’s life, there’s hope...and need of vittles.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

This year, like all years, I’ve spent much time reading through the works of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and I also began reading works by a man that influenced both of them: G.K. Chesterton. Throughout all of their works, there is a common theme: hope. No matter how bad things are (or seem to be), where there’s life, there’s hope, as Tolkien says. 2017 seemed to be awful for a lot of people in a lot of ways, and unfortunately that means many people are anticipating 2018 to be even worse. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be so. Let’s commit to making our little pocket of the world a better place, full of hope and joy, and together we can make 2018 better than any of us expect! If you don't believe me, that's ok; do me a favor and go read anything by Tolkien (especially 'The Hobbit' or 'The Lord of the Rings') or Lewis (especially 'The Chronicles of Narnia' or 'Mere Christianity') and just enjoy them. You'll also be amazed at how hopeful you feel while reading them.

For a number of years now, I have been reminded of one important truth: we can all be redeemed, none of us is without hope of improvement. I believe that the Bible is true, and it teaches us that all of us are broken sinners; but it also teaches us that we have a hope in Jesus Christ. It teaches us that He will never leave us or forsake us, and it teaches us that, through Him, no matter who we are or what we’ve done, His grace is sufficient for us. Therefore, there is ALWAYS hope. Let’s look forward to a hope-filled 2018!

Action Step:

Today, write down five relationships that you want to commit to improving in 2018.