The day started off badly. The first meeting (Midlands town) kicked off at 7:30 am, so I had to get up in the middle of the night to be there! A challenging sessions followed around a ‘change management’ problem that had ignited. We’d flagged a potential problem in advance with the client but hadn’t pushed it. I didn’t anticipate the strength of the staff reaction. Whoosh! While I was 100% confident that we could rescue the situation – I was annoyed at myself for allowing it to bubble up. Being a fireman is interesting – but the consulting trick is to anticipate fires by ‘thinking ahead’. Guilty as charged.
Below Par: That dark early shadow cast its spell over the rest of the day. It was hard to shake off the feeling that I was performing below par. By 18:00 hours and two meetings later, I was dog tired and facing a battle against rush hour traffic to get across town to attend a graduation ceremony for my son Cillian in Belvedere College. He’d finished his Transition Year. Big deal. What was there to celebrate – other than the fact that I hadn’t strangled him (or visa versa) during the year? It seemed like an unwelcome chore.
Student MC: The first thing that struck me was that the MC for the event was a Transition Year student, Mark Sheridan. Obviously the college had chosen a confident student (Mark was great) but it was still an interesting risk for any college to take. I was awake! The 2nd striking thing was the short speech from the Headmaster. He underscored the point that we tend to measure academic progress in terms of the Leaving Certificate points race. But Transition Year was a broader educational concept – allowing students to explore their full capabilities. A year where they could reflect on what they had achieved to date – very much in the Jesuit tradition of taking time out and regrouping. Not just living your life at a hectic pace, bumping along from one problem to the next as if you were playing the lead role in ‘The 5 Sorrowful Mysteries’. I understood the sentiment. In fact, when I worked in NCI I’d made the same point many times – but somehow had misplaced this wisdom when it came to one of my own kids. Sometimes, ‘the Cobblers children are the worst shod’.
Personal Transition: As we sat there I had time to reflect on Cillian’s journey over the past year. Ok, more than once it had seemed like he was on the doss – definitely not occupied all the time (his problem, rather than the school’s). But as I thought more about it, it wasn’t such a bad deal. He’d started the year as a difficult, teenage boy; somehow, out of all the madness, a young man was emerging. Still a bit unpolished. But maybe, perhaps, a diamond in the rough? And there was plenty to reflect on in terms of how I was living my own life, a management consulting version of Red Adair.
Adults Learn by Doing: Learning comes in funny lumps and not always in formal settings. The Chinese saying: I hear and forget, I see and remember, I do and understand – captures the point that we learn by experience (and therefore learning cannot be externally imposed). Cillian was learning by doing, just as we all did when we were that age. My job was to help him along the journey, not to act like Statler and Waldorf – the 2 old guys on the balcony in the Muppets – shouting down abuse. The world market for positive reinforcement is not saturated. Somewhere buried under all of the busyness, I had forgotten that simple point. I drove home in a more thoughtful frame of mind. Definitely less cranky.
The Lesson: Take time to reflect on what’s working in your life, rather than solely on what’s broken. Perhaps that the real recipe for happiness. A brand new idea? Hardly. But sometimes we just need to be reminded of stuff.
PS Ok, this blog is a bit too serious. It’s time for a great joke.
Q: What is the epitaph for a blues singer?
A: I didn’t wake up this morning! (it’s the only clean joke I know).