Grant Achatz, the artist (and make no mistake, that’s what he is) behind Chicago restaurant Alinea, told a story about his father. He was 14 and his dad asked him what kind of car he wanted to drive in two years. Grant told his dad he wanted the coolest car in town. And his dad asked, how do you plan to get it? Grant, in typical teenage fashion, suggested that maybe his dad would just buy it for him. And that’s kind of what happened, in a roundabout way. His dad bought Grant a clunker. Good bones, but ugly and in need of work. And he told Grant, now you get to figure out how to make this the coolest car in town. And he taught Grant the skills to do it. Car remodeling 101. By the time he turned 16, Grant Achatz did have the best car in town–sporty, sleek, fire-engine red. And with it, he says, he got perhaps the most profound lesson of his life.
I learned a lot from both of my parents, much of it from observing not necessarily from direct instruction.
From my mom, I learned that you don’t have to seek out credit for doing your job…even if you do your job really well and even if the job you end up doing could have or should have been done by someone else. My mom once said she seeks out jobs she doesn’t want to do because if she doesn’t want to do them, chances are no one else does, either. And the work needs to get done.
My mom taught me the value of pausing to reflect. She’d go off alone to think or to write a birthday card or to jot down some observations. That space and time always produced some incredible insights. My mom rarely blurted something out before first considering what it was she wanted to communicate.
From my dad, I learned how to put my head down and just work while everyone else is talking about working. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish just doing that.
Another lesson: make a plan and commit to it, even if that plan isn’t perfect. My dad goes with his gut and he inspires confidence in others. I’m quieter about it than he is, but that confidence rubbed off.
Both my parents modeled what prioritizing family is all about. Not just putting my needs ahead of their own, but also opening their home to other families, to friends and strangers in need. I believe they have been anchors for whoever happens to be around, whether one person or 50.
All that made me think about what kinds of lessons I want to teach Declan, keeping in mind that most of it will be through what I do, not what I say.
I’d certainly love for him to absorb all the lessons above, but I’ve been thinking most about a trait he already has. One that I think is more important than ever these days. In a world whose people seem increasingly skeptical and suspicious of anyone and anything, my son is the opposite: a promoter of almost everything. If you’ve been around him, you’ve seen it. His energy is infectious. An anecdote to pessimism. So what’s my job? Figure out a way to keep it going. Instruct. Redirect. Discipline when necessary. But don’t curb his enthusiasm. It’s too valuable.