Recently my teenage son asked to miss a day of school. He wasn’t sick and nothing bad had happened at school. He wasn’t trying to avoid a test (we checked) or some project he had failed to deliver. He simply wanted a full day of practicing for an upcoming gig on his guitar. In my day (or maybe more accurately in my parents’ day) this would have been a crime against humanity, surely to put the wheels in motion for my son to be lazy, homeless, and a slacker. My dad will never read this story, but if he did, I can almost predict the ensuing phone call about how he never would have let me do this when I was young and the resulting lecture about how hard of a worker I turned out because of it. It’s what gave me so much grit, so much commitment, so much accountability.
Well, dad, I hate to tell you this but the thing is you did let me do it. I called it “getting a headache” and like every good teenager knew how to play the game but at the end there were days I simply did not want to go to school or baseball practice so I can stay home and “play on my computer” and 25 years later I did not end up on skid row. In fact, things worked out pretty well as you can see.
Here’s the thing about it all…
- He was honest in his intention. He had a guitar gig coming up and wanted to learn the song better to make the band sound as good as it could. He really didn’t try to cover this up in any way or put a thermometer on a light bulb, he was honest, direct, and asked me as an adult would.
- The public curriculum at today’s US public schools is not exactly riveting or challenging. It’s not the teacher’s fault at all, they are doing the best they can, it’s simply a system built to teach to the average and focus on getting a job rather than challenging and creative outputs. It’s a system optimized when we were expected to go to factories at 18 and it worked great then..today, it’s downright pitiful. Half the days I feel like the kids watch some Disney movie, I’m sure he’ll survive missing that.
- My son gets mostly A’s, is very mature for his age, oddly aware of current events, has a dream of playing music professionally, and maybe most importantly, is a great kid with a good group of friends who in all truth, are much more inclusive, diverse, thoughtful, and understanding than me and my friends were at that age.
- He agreed to treat today like school, only focused on perfecting his craft. That means no video games, no online streaming videos, only his music and a few carefully assigned books I asked him to read. His mother and I set very clear expectations of what today would have to be like. We showed him what success looks like.
- I’ve done this before with my kids when it comes to taking them to national parks, museums, or vacations. I truly believe these days taught them more about life than any day of school can ever have done. There is a bit of precedent and so far, the world has not ended.
The funny thing is, I actually spent a few hours yesterday listening to a speaker talk about GRIT and how today’s kids simply do not have it. I hate those generational paintbrushes generally, and while showing up every day has its place, it’s not the only skill that produces real-world success, nor is it the only attribute that matters. I know tons of people who are at their job every single day for 30 years and truth-be-told, these people are some of the most depressed, prejudice, non-inclusive, and downright unhappy people I know. After all, nothing says toughness like going to work every day only to complain for 3 hours on how much you hate this job, taking an hour to set your fantasy football lineup, and think of creative ways to avoid your boss until it’s time to leave.
Plus, these moments of high-trust with your son are important and downright awesome! Let’s see what he actually does with the day. If he goofs off and doesn’t quite deliver, this is a fantastic opportunity to have about accountability, responsibility, and expectations with very little risk. We all slip, and it’s through this adversity that we learn. It’s much better to use these moments for life lessons than waiting until he is 17 or 18, which bad choices can really matter.
But what if he nails it? What if he actually lives up to his end of the bargain and spends the day perfecting his craft, reading the books, and engaging in thoughtful discussion with me on the topics? What if this day creates a tight bond of trust that tells him that I have his back, that it’s okay to take a mental day, that education comes from thousands of places and school is not at that top of that list? What if this book whets his appetite to read another book tomorrow and another next week?
As a business owner, I am constantly calculating cost vs payoff, upside vs downside, true risk vs hidden fears. I instinctively do the same for these moments I’m sure, without even knowing it and the truth is, the upside potential of what may happen far outweighs any risk of him today’s assignment on the name of the generals in the war for Texas.