Never forget the child within you
A few years ago, in a shoe box full of junk, I came upon a picture of myself when I was about 4 years old. It was in a blue plastic frame with a magnet glued to the back. So I stuck it on the refrigerator thinking that I would replace the old photo of myself with a picture of one of my children. As the months went along, I realized that I had looked at that photo many times. I had actually taken it off of the refrigerator, out of its plastic case and looked at it up close.
I was enthralled by the round face, the flawless skin, the glisten in my eyes and my contemplative expression. My fingers and teeth were so small. The Dean Martin dimple in my chin was barely noticeable at that tender age. I don’t remember being that young, but somehow I could relate to myself at that age. Much of what I see in the mirror today is changed. But somehow or another, there is a faint trace of the boy in that photo. I enjoy the way Frederick Bucchner puts it in his book Telling secrets.
Starting with the rather too pretty young woman and the charming but rather unstable young man, who together know no more about being parents than they do the far side of the moon, the world sets in to making us what the world would like us to be, and because we have to survive after all, we try to make ourselves into something we hope the world will like better than it apparently did the selves we originally were. That is the story of all our lives, needless to say, and in the process of living out that story, the original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us hardly end up living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the word’s weather.
Since I found that photograph of myself, I’ve thought a great deal about that little boy. He’s been through a lot in the 47 years of life he’s experienced. There were many years of school, service in the Army, marriage, divorce, surviving cancer, single parenthood remarriage and many other joys and heart breaks. When I look at my face in the mirror today, it’s easy to deny that there is anything left of that boy in that picture. Truth be told, that’s me! The outsides are broken-in pretty well, I’m stronger in some ways, weaker in others, but that’s me.
Never forget that we are much the same cognitive and emotional beings we were at that tender young age. You needed the care of your family, teachers and friends to grow into the adult that you have become. But your growing is not complete and you need care from others today as much as you did in the past. As we depart adolescence, we tend to look less toward our parents for approval and validation. As adults, we look to our spouse, our peers, our bosses and our friends for the validation that we need.
In my teaching I often emphasize that the single greatest mistake that managers make is that they assume that employees “check their emotional bags” at the front door. Many people seem to believe that, since we are all grown up, we can set aside our own cognitive and emotional needs and be “professionals”. The lesson I have learned is that we cannot do this. We bring with us everything about our “selves” to the work place. Our needs, wants, desires, and yes, our ASPIRATIONS come to work with us every day. Rather than deny this truth, we should embrace it!
If we see people as “grownups”, if we assume that they are capable of neglecting their emotional needs at work “for the good of the organization and its goals” we are nearly certain to provide the wrong environment for motivational potential. What motivational potential involves is laying out the environment where ASPIRE can grow, flourish and transform us into what we believe we were always meant to be. For the corporation, work is for maximizing profitability. For the individual, work is a place to live out aspirations. The best way to encourage those aspirations is to recognize that every person has latent (present but not visible, apparent, or actualized; existing as potential) desires to be something significant, something valuable, and something great. It is only then that you have the proper view of the individual to help them unleash the ASPIRE that is longing to emerge!
It is never too late to be who you might have been.