It is…the parent willing to nurture a child that will decide our fate. ~ Barack Obama, in his inauguration speech.
For many of us, too many choices can be overwhelming. For the anxious perfectionists among us, the thought of making the wrong choice from an overwhelming array of possibilities can be paralysing, especially if the first step feels like a leap of faith.
As a parent, I’ve often found it hard to deal with the anxiety that comes with such a huge responsibility. Turbulent times and global financial crises haven’t helped. I’ve had to learn to trust more, to take things less personally and to balance letting go with being more present and engaged. Constantly trying to evolve as a coach has helped me become a wiser parent, a more grateful wife and a less judgemental daughter. Coaching is a career journey that has finally enabled me to blend all that I am with all that I’ve learned and believe in.
Last night, after a long, leisurely family meal, my husband and I sat at the table with our teenage daughter, discussing her passions and dreams, her talents and skills. In a few days’ time, she has to choose the high school subjects she’ll be taking to exam level.
My kids attend a small state school with a good reputation for its nurturing environment and committed teachers. The downside of its size, however, is that the students’ curriculum choices are restricted by staff numbers and timetabling. Every year, I hear harrowing tales of young teenagers, with distinctive clusters of interests and talents, having to abandon subjects they love because they clash with others in a timetable geared towards offering a broad education.
It’s a week I’ve been dreading ever since she started school.
What if we ask the wrong questions? Guide her too much? Give the wrong advice? Give her too much freedom?
My daughter’s teachers haven’t placed any restrictions on her choice of individual subjects as long as there are no timetable clashes; she does well academically in all of her classes and represents both the school and the county in sporting events.
But what of her gifts? Her passions? The passions that make her feel unique, special and good about herself? The things she’d do all day from morning till night if we let her? The interests she talks about endlessly, those that make her lose track of time when she’s engrossed? Her love of reading, creative writing, film, music and drama, passions that have driven her to teach herself the technology she needs to write ebooks and publish them online, to make films, design CD covers and websites, to record her own songs and learn to play three musical instruments by ear?
As her mum, I know where her heart lies, but I also know the difficulties of earning a living in many of the fields associated with her gifts.
It came as no surprise to us when she mentioned how many of her friends, after similar discussions with their parents, have suddenly decided to become architects, lawyers, doctors or physiotherapists, careers they’d never mentioned an interest in before.
To encourage her to empathise with all sorts of paradigms, I pointed out that some careers – like those her friends are considering – often lead to financial security and good job prospects, something which many parents want for their children. I almost cried when she said, “But maybe they won’t be happy. I want to do something I love. I want to do something I love so much I’d do it for free! I don’t need to have one job, one career; I can have half a dozen!” The smile in my heart reminded me why I got into coaching in the first place.
I love championing people, acknowledging their achievements, helping them explore and expand their talents and discovering alongside them how they’re destined to use their greatness to benefit the world.
It doesn’t surprise me then, on a day filled with TV and radio coverage of Barack Obama’s inauguration, that if I could ask him three questions, it would be these:
- What did it take for you to get where you are today?
- How will this personal achievement benefit your family, your community and the whole world?
- What would your mum and grandma say to you now if they could?
For as I sit at our kitchen table typing, tears streaming down my face while Martin Luther King’s most famous lines ring out from the radio, I find myself thinking about Barack Obama’s grandma and his mother and how they didn’t live to see this momentous day.
I can imagine the pride in their eyes as they ruffled the young Obama’s tousled brown curls, watching him doing his homework while the birds outside sang to the breaking dawn.
I don’t know if his mother, standing making peanut butter sandwiches, ever said to him “I know you’re sleepy, son, but finish your homework, do it well and someday you could grow up to be President.”
I don’t know if, as a small boy, he woke up one day and decided he wanted to be the President of the United States.
But from where I sit, at the kitchen table of a small house in a quiet little town in Scotland, I know in my heart that somewhere along the line he was coached well. Somewhere along the line, he felt the power of focus, of connecting his own hopes and dreams with a much greater purpose, one that has driven and led him ever since.
I belong to an international coaching association, and our newsletter is read by thousands of people all over the world. For every coach who is inspired and delighted by Obama’s presidency, there will be another who doesn’t like his politics or share his vision. But laying aside our own personal beliefs, it’s clear that he has inspired hope in millions of people, people who not only had a dream, but who judged him by the content of his character and took the steps to make that dream come true, for him, for themselves, for others and for future generations.
Millions of people, all over the world, are celebrating his mixed race background and how it has come to symbolise more than the union of two people who came from different backgrounds and cultures to create a child, a new life filled with hope and potential.
No matter what my daughter chooses to do, I’m reminded today that her young life is filled with promise. No matter what she encounters along the way, I know she’ll travel the road she’s meant to take. No matter who she becomes, I believe with all my heart and soul that every day I’m allowed to share her journey is a blessing.