Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In his shadow...

Standing at just shy of six feet tall, the smallest of my children now casts a long and dark shadow over his old man. With shoulder pads, another three quarter inch for cleats, and stiff posture, he smiles down at me from his lofty height. Grinning from ear to ear, this once tiny toe-head beams because he knows he still has more to grow, whereas I will stay as I am, looking up at the young man he has grown to be.

Just days away from his first high school football game, he explodes with enthusiasm. I look over at him on the way to practice and he is fidgety, not in the nervous mousy way of some, but more like a tiger twitching his tail, scanning the horizon for prey, anticipating the attack with every fiber of his being. The muscles along his arms and shoulders ripple under his t-shirt. The hot summer months have tempered and transformed his body from iron to steel.

I watch him as he defends his position. On the "O"-line, he protects the quarterback's right flank as tackle, overpowering defenders larger and older than himself. He is eager to use his power, yet controlled and precise in its application. From novice to starting line, he is learning to master this game one down at a time. Leveraging the experience of each play to improve his performance and provide the teamwork required to move the ball across the goal line.

The transformation has been all encompassing. He no longer looks at our geographic migration as a penalty of life. Joining the grid iron fraternity has made him a part of something bigger than himself. Any time spent away from the field and his teammates is now seen as a deficit. And his past relationships remain strong over the distance courtesy of modern day communications and the knowledge that he is only one hundred and eighty minutes away by rail.

The hours of practice have not been limited to forging steel alone. Where the field of battle may have made him stronger, hours of rehearsing have continued to hone his musical skills into instruments of the finest qualities. He has set his sights on lofty goals and his talent and ambition will take him to heights I have only imagined. As he finds each new pursuit, I look forward to finding other shadows in which to stand.

Graduation from junior high school was both exciting and distressing. The calendar mocked him daily through the months of June and July. August has enjoyed the benefits of his stature and new social network and he is eagerly counting down to the first day of classes. This fall he starts his freshman year wearing his football jersey in the company of new friends with nothing but opportunities in front of him.

One might think to build him up this way is to unfairly set unrealistic expectations. In actuality I expect nothing. I am merely reflecting that at this time I have the wonderful opportunity to be there to enjoy the cool shade while sharing these moments with him. And I know that wherever he goes and whatever he does, I get to look up to see where he is going and he knows I am there taking in the view.

- Ken

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Like a ferret on caffine...

There are times being passionate about your work can be both a blessing and a curse. Having others want you to be a part of their projects is the blessing. Having the patience to wait for them to decide they need you and your ideas is the curse. And this curse can cause great consternation for everyone including me.

I have a tendency to rapidly connect the dots when analyzing problems and mentally half way through the project before many are even aware of what the problem is (the blessing). This does not in any way mean that my solution is the only solution or even that it is the best, it just means that I have one and therefore I need to share it or I might explode (the curse). The internal battle that wages within me is how to control this desire to be first with the breakthrough, first to the table, and then have to spend the balance of the time explaining and convincing why the idea was valid in the first place.

This is not to say I am not a team player (sorry for the double negative). On the contrary, I enjoy sharing the expertise of others inside and outside of my field. Where I experience difficulty is in not steam rolling the direction of a project just because my ideas jelled more quickly.

My boss calls it being "like a ferret on [caffeine]" (actually, she uses the work crack, but given its connotations, I decided to change it for this entry). She watches me with curiosity these days to see when I go into ferret mode. Fortunately, with her help, the ferret is becoming more manageable. It's amazing what you can learn even as old as I am.

So what am I learning? Well today was a perfect example. We were outlining initiatives for 2012 we want to act on to improve our learning deployment. Everyone on the call had items to contribute including me. As each person went through their lists, I could feel the passion rising, the need to put mine out there, all of them, and quickly. This morning, however, I elected to be patient. And, not only patient, I also decided to contribute but not dominate the process. This of course meant holding a few ideas back for another time or even better, for another person on the team to be able to contribute.

This was a major step for me. To put a few and not all on the table and then sit back to see what else might come. And come they did. And from their ideas I could add to them without owning them myself. And, after so many years, I was liberated in the knowledge that I would benefit from being patient and sharing the ideas of others.

This is especially important as my role is changing to be more and more strategic in nature. Transitioning from a historically tactical position to strategic means looking at the larger picture without being trapped by the nuances of the solution of "how" it will get done before painting the vision of "what" and "why" it is at all. This new found behavior of patience is critical to my success. Fortunately I have a mentor willing to help me recognize my flaws and develop the skills to manage my passion without losing it in the process.

- Ken

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Two Down, Ten to Go

While the summer is rapidly coming to a close, my son and I are racing towards the school season with great anticipation. After acing my first two graduate school classes and registering for the next round and watching Isaac rise to the challenge of making the JV football team and register for his high school this summer, our fall schedule is laid out before us in great detail. It is amazing how full a calendar can become in such a short amount of time.

Not that our world is totally consumed by football metaphors, but in our case, the title fits. Grad school for me consists of two classes per semester for six semesters (or 12 classes in all). Isaac has completed summer workouts and football camp with the Crimson Tide of Alabama and is rounding it all out with the last ten days of try-outs. Of course, completion of the last ten for both of us means the start of the next down.

This is not to say the first ten haven't been without their challenges. Sometimes you have to lose a few yards here and there to gain more later. The migration from Raleigh to Davidson has been just that for my son. Parting with his friends has not been an easy transition. We spent the first several weekends racing back and forth between cities to help maintain the ties that bond. Fortunately, as a result of his immersion in football, he has found new friends on the football field.

My challenges are more mundane. Scheduling, mapping the plays and making sure the players are fed seem to consume my hours (not to mention performing my day job activities). It never ceases to amaze me how my wife managed to do this for so many years and with two additional players. In acknowledgement of all she has done, the football team is hosting a Mom's Football 101 brunch and football game (note: there is no father's equivalent - there is no comparison for what a mom does).

All I know for certain is this fall will be like no other. The gridiron, freshman year, fall semester and life in general will provide an environment for our father son bond to continue to grow. There will always be a goal line and another touchdown to make. It's the plays in between that are what makes the game exciting. I am just happy we get to share the field.

- Ken