Thursday, July 22, 2010

What comes around...

My son came to spend a couple of weeks with me in what will be our new hometown this summer. The goal was to give him a chance to get a lay of the land and spend a little quality time with his dad. The drive is about two and a half hours giving us plenty of time to talk along the way.

And so it was that he and I were discussing the impending (his feelings not mine) doom surrounding his perceived future once we make the move to western North Carolina. Granted it's still almost a year off, but to a young man facing a major life change, impending is how it seems. And so the conversation bounced back and forth between "Why do we have to move?" and "Can't you find a different job?" to the extreme of "I'm a good kid, how come God is making me move and not the bad kids?" How the heck do you answer that one? It was quite a while before I realized I had an opportunity to share with him a bit of what I have learned about making the most of change; recognizing it for what it offers and not what it appears to take away.

I explained to him that in preparing us for the life we want, God sends us on little (and sometimes big) detours so that we can have the experiences we require. His puzzled look spoke volumes; so I went back a few years down memory lane and recounted one of the detours I had experienced. This detour is what I referred to earlier as "going around my elbow." Detours happen to a lot of folks, and I told him this short move west was only his first. I also said to embrace it rather than run from it. Unfortunately it looks like being able to embrace it may take more convincing.

He listened intently as I shared that one of the first times I remember "going around my elbow" was when I went away to college. I had skipped a grade in High School and though I was very bright, I was socially lost and lacked any kind of disciplined study habits. Not to mention the fact that I was quite a smart alec; not a good combination. So, the Good Lord had the foresight to send me to a place that could fix all these issues in a very short amount of time. I found myself the summer of my graduation at the United States Military Academy some 550 miles away from home experiencing a "detour" the likes of which I could have never imagined.

Interestingly enough, at the time I thought I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. Everyone who knew me said that was what I should be. I had been accepted at NC State, Northwestern and Carnegie Mellon. But when West Point came calling, it was hard to pass up a free education. This was especially true when, except for NC State, we would have been hard pressed to afford the others.

The military academy served many purposes. It taught me character and leadership. It gave me strength and discipline. It cultivated study skills. And, most importantly, it provided me with a chance to learn of my true calling as a designer.

I had been designing things my whole life. From Legos to models to animated movies to electronics I had always created things. It was from these examples that my "advisers" helped me make my career choice from the only thing they could relate - engineering.

It was only once I was at the Academy that I realized mechanical engineering was not what I expected. Ironically, once I came to the conclusion that a designer was what I was destined to become, a mentor of mine at the cadet theater informed me that one of the best design schools on the East Coast was at North Carolina State University. To this day I believe had I gone there first, two things would have happened. First, I would have probably flunked out due to poor study skills. And second, had I managed to not flunk out, I would have missed my calling as a designer. The latter would have happened because my focus on design at the Academy was only a result of my need to escape from the day to day regimental demands of the corps.

So after plebe year I found myself returning to North Carolina to attend the university "next door" in the field upon which I have built my life. A straight line would not have accomplished the same thing. And the sequence of events resulting from that journey would have never happened.

Getting through to a boy of thirteen is going to take more than one story. Fortunately my life and the lives of many others are chock full of them. I think I will let them come as they may. Teenage eyes start to gloss over if you fill their heads to full in one sitting. For now I will let my son ponder what opportunities might come from taking a slight detour at this stage of his life.

- Ken

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