This one is personal. It’s the letter I wrote yesterday to my 14-year old on her first day of high school. She’s been having those anxiety dreams, the ones where you’re lost, or you forgot your homework, or can’t remember anything you memorized for the test. As I thought about whether it would be too personal to share on this blog, it occurred to me that if it helped even one other person take the time to write their own letter to someone to appreciate them, it would be worth it. Building others up is a great leadership practice. It builds positive energy, engagement, and confidence in the recipient. It connects you as a leader more deeply with them. And you might just discover how great it makes you feel. Here is the letter.
Today is your first day of high school. I am feeling that working mom guilt for not being there for you when you get back from school. As I sit on this long flight, I thought I would write you a long letter. It’s a bit sappy so buckle up your seatbelt.
I know you’re nervous about going to a new school, adjusting to the rigor of a demanding schedule, and making new friends. I want to tell you how proud and confident I am in you – your kind and loving nature, your intelligence and wit, and your sense of responsibility and leadership. I can see how your friends, and even those people younger and older than you, see through to your inner goodness and depth – even though it comes veiled in a sassy, silly, and comical One Direction-crazy package. You bring so much light and lightness to my life and I love you so much.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far that I’d like to share with you as you think about navigating the next year in high school. I’m proud that you’ve set goals for yourself. I’m proud that your goals for yourself are ambitious. It’s always great to shoot for the stars. Know that there are some goals that you will reach. Take the time to celebrate those achievements and feel the gratitude for your strengths and for those who have helped you get there. There will be some goals that you will not meet. Celebrate them anyway. I know you’ll be disappointed – but a failure to meet a goal is never a failure of you. Feel gratitude for the fact that you went for it. Feel gratitude for how you pushed yourself and what you learned in the process. Failure helps you become stronger and more resilient if you choose to let it. So if you fail, try again. The only failure is the failure of not trying your best and learning from the experience.
I am glad that you put “make friends” at the top of your goals. Friends are one of the greatest riches we have in life. When I was your age “make friends” wouldn’t have been on the top of my list. You see, I was focused and driven and sometimes saw time with friends as non-productive time. I robbed myself of the riches of that experience and I’m glad you’re wiser than me.
I know we’ve talked about your taking short-cuts when you’re doing your homework. I know you’re not into the details. You find them tedious and boring. So do I, and yes I look for the short-cuts too. It’s a fine skill to have when applied judiciously (that would be a 9th grade word, look it up). I do hope though that through these years of high school you will take the time to explore in depth the subjects that interest you and those that don’t. Sometimes the in-depth exploration creates its own interest. I hope you will savor the learning for the sake of how it enriches your being versus just helping you achieve a goal or get to an “A”. Whether it’s a piece of poetry, an elegant solution to a tough math problem, or creating something new, take the time to savor the experience. Lingering enriches our soul like no rushing through a goal will. So linger and fully experience the experience of high school (and no that doesn’t mean linger in high school).
High school can also be a tough experience, particularly when you have a bunch of kids with tiger moms all trying to compete. I know you are a hard worker and you will do well. Your high school gives you the opportunity to explore your passions through independent study programs. Feed your curiosity. Find what interests you and move toward that. Colleges want to have kids who are self-aware and tuned in to who they are and where they can best contribute to the world as adults. Well, okay they are also interested in students who will best contribute to the college when they become alumni, so keep that in mind too. Colleges want kids who are curious about life and not afraid to take risks to learn and to explore. Don’t go for the easy “A”. Go explore what you want to learn about.
Kids in high school can be cruel or hurtful sometimes. You’ll get hurt. Try not to take what they say or do too personally. Most people’s actions have nothing to do with you – only about what they feel about themselves. Choose to be the bigger person and forgive them. It will make you feel better than holding on to a grudge. Remember you can always choose to be who you are and let them be who they are. No one can hurt or anger you without your consent (yes, I know what your answer to that is – sometimes it just feels good to give them your consent!).
I love the fact that you like to share your day with me – which teacher was really annoying and what happened during your favorite period (that would be lunch). My hope is that we can create a sharing ritual where we talk about our day and maybe take a walk while we do that. All of a sudden, I find myself waking up to the fact that you’ll be gone in four years. I find myself regretting the many years I was preoccupied with my work and not fully present to you. I remember you reminding me to at least look up from my computer when I’m half-listening to you. Keep reminding me to do that. I’ll eventually learn. Keep sharing what you have to share even if you think I’m only half-listening. I’ll try my best to be more present.
I can’t tell you how proud I am of the young lady you have become. I’m proud of your strengths and also proud of your being open and honest when you’re uncertain, angry, or hurt. I love you and will be there for you regardless (just don’t plan on committing any felonies or misdemeanors, okay?).
Mom used to tell me that I could do and be whatever I set my mind to. I know that so can you.”
So now just take a few minutes to put this leadership practice into action. Write a letter to someone you appreciate. Be specific about what you appreciate. Not just what they do, but who they are. Tell them you have their back. I promise you, it will help bring greater engagement to your teams, your family and your community.
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This article was written by Henna Inam, CEO of Transformational Leadership Inc. Her company works with organizations to help women realize their potential to be authentic, transformational leaders. Her clients drive breakthroughs in innovation, growth, and engagement. Her corporate clients include Coca Cola, UPS, Novartis, J&J, and others who know female leadership talent is good for business. To accelerate your own growth connect with her here. Connect on Twitter @hennainam.