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Until Proven Otherwise – It’s “Best” to Assume the “Best”

The experts always say the separation is harder for the parents than the children. I agree.

We recently took Ben to overnight camp for the first time. Ben is our youngest son. He just turned 12, and he’s almost 5 years younger than his brother Danny and 7 years younger than our oldest son, Josh.

We thought we were done with the whole child-rearing thing after Danny was born (in 1997), but my sister-in-law had a little girl years later and with two boys already in the fold, my wife, Jill, wanted to go back to the well one more time and try for a little girl.

I really wasn’t sold on the premise of another child. I vacillated between indifference and strong opposition. When Jill joined me on the couch to share the amazing news that she was pregnant; my reaction was probably a tad less than supportive. I think I asked for “more ice cream,” if memory serves. I could’ve have handled that better.

But soon after Ben was born (read: once I held him for the first time), I changed my mind and I grew to LOVE the little guy with all my heart. Now as his overnight camp experience approached, I wasn’t looking forward to 25 days 4 hours and 16 minutes without him. (Yes, I am counting.

My 19-year-old son Josh was also deeply affected. I think that because Josh (a college sophomore) is away is at school most of the year, he treasures time with his baby brother in a special way. As we drove home, and over the sound of my wife’s tears, Josh shared his thoughts.

What if he’s not having fun?

– What if he misses us?

– What if he wants to come home?

I understood his sentiments. Parting is always such sweet sorrow. Ben handled it like a trooper, but it’s easy to replay that last parting moment over and over. That sadness doesn’t do anybody any good. A better way is to replace that thought with the image of him swimming, or kayaking or sailing.    A better way is having an image of Ben doing something fun. So, while empathizing with Josh’s feelings, I asked him:

Why assume something negative?

Absent any information to the contrary, why should we consider anything other than the premise that Ben is having an extraordinary time? Why not focus on the image of him making friends and exploring new and unfamiliar territories.

Helping people achieve success is the core of what I do for a living. I’ve come to notice that Josh’s natural thinking here isn’t out of the ordinary. The fact is that we’re wired to have negative thoughts far more easily than positive thoughts. For example:

– My customers don’t value me…

– My company doesn’t need me…

– This won’t work…

– I’m not adding anything here…

– I’m not going make the sale…

These thoughts are poison. They are not only physically draining, but they weaken your ability to think creatively and move towards achievement. I’m not suggesting that you turn a blind eye to what could happen. On the contrary, feedback is essential, so keep asking questions, observing and listening for clues about your performance, etc. Consider what could go wrong, but only for the purpose of being prepared for what might reasonably happen.

Instead of allowing the down side to hold serve, tell yourself a better story. Unless you know, or hear or should reasonably believe otherwise, put a positive image in your head. That action alone will work wonders.

So, with that in mind, let’s rework Josh’s sentiments above.

What if he’s not having fun? (He is having fun. A blast, as a matter of fact…)

– What if he misses us? (I should hope so [especially his father], but he’s already forging new friendships with people he didn’t know yesterday. How exciting!)

– What if he wants to come home? (Maybe he does – but that will subside with time and he knows he’ll be home soon enough. After which he’ll quickly proclaim, “I’M BORED!”)

Josh and I have talked about this and he’s in a better place now.

As for me, I have the calendar marked with Ben’s return on August 8th at 10:00am, and I’m fully expecting.

”Dad, can I go back to camp next year?”

I’m not sure I can stomach that, but…

That’s just the way it works!


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