Learning Through the Eyes of a Child

I have two children, both boys, and they are a blessing.  Every day I learn from them probably more than they learn from me.  Sometimes I learn positive things about myself and at other times I gain less flattering insights; and then sometimes they provide me flashes of brilliance that are timely and relate to my work.  After all children are just small adults.  This is one of those moments.

My oldest was 7 years old and my youngest was 4 years old.  We were on vacation and came upon a rock climbing wall.  Both of my children wanted to try climbing the wall.  I have to tell you that I did not think my 4 year old would be allowed to participate due to his age and his overall size. 

After waiting in line it was time for my oldest some Aris to give it a try.  He seemed to love the experience.  He was having so much fun.  He went about half way up the wall and then came down.  As soon as he was on the ground he asked to go back up.  So we let him have another try.  Same thing again…He was truly enjoying himself.  After he went up, about mid way, he came back down again.  As you could already guess he was ready to start climbing again.  Well there were others in line so although he was disappointed he understood and took off the safety harness. 

Next my youngest, Eli, was to try.  They worked diligently to get the safety harness on tight.  Once they felt confident they let him start up the wall.   He also made it midway up the wall and then something happened.  He looked down and got scared; and I mean really scared.  He was about to come down when I intervened. 

I asked him “What are you scared of?”

He said “I am scared of falling?”

So I proceeded to tell him that he would not fall and get hurt.  I told him about the safety harness and how it worked.  He was still scared.  So I pointed to a man coming down from the top of the wall and showed him the harness in action.  He soon realized that he would not get hurt.  However, he was still frightened. 

I asked “What else are you scared of?”

He replied “I can’t see where to put my feet!”

I asked “Would it help if I talked you through where to put your feet?”

He said “Yes.”

At that point he started making his way up the wall.  A crowd began to form.  People started saying things like “Look, he’s going to make it to the top.”  And they were right.  This small little boy was actually going to climb the entire wall.  He made it to the top and pushed the button that rang the bell signaling his success.  The crowd cheered and I know I had a big smile on my face. 

When he was back on the ground he told me that he was scared.  I told him I knew, but that I was proud of him because:

·         He admitted he was afraid

·         He was willing to talk about his fear;

·         And he was willing to accept help

At that moment my oldest came over and said “Dad, I was scared too.”

I said “I had no idea.  You looked like you were having so much fun. Why didn’t you say anything?”

He replied “I was afraid of what you might think of me.”

Both children were afraid.  But only one of my children was comfortable admitting it –The one who made it up the wall. 

How many of us are afraid to fail? 

How many of our employees are afraid to talk about their fears?  Their concerns? Their mistakes? 

How many of us, as managers, will miss the signs? 

How does all of this impact our performance individually? Collectively?

3 thoughts on “Learning Through the Eyes of a Child

  1. Brad,
    What a heartwarming story. This forced me to take a moment to reflect. Something struck me; as a long-term friend, I have to tell you your parenting skills are impressive (I know your parents remain extremely proud of you).
    Eli sounds amazing at age 4—so open to new experiences and so very honest about where he is in that process. I think that as most people grow older, there is a loss of the freedom to “just be” and a loss of courage to not care who knows it. Our society tends to beat those principals out of us—and quickly, as Aris appears to have experienced by age 7—and it takes a while, and much hard work to get them back.
    This story seems to be more about taking control of the actions you can, than worrying about a negative outcome. Eli was afraid of more than one thing. Fear of falling is obvious—we all get that, and frankly, we all share that one. But your question was insightful and pivotal. “What else are you afraid of?” Interestingly, the first fear was an outcome (albeit potentially painful), the second was his ability to do something. Once Eli had guidance to help place his feet, he kept moving. What a great illustration of doing what you can to overcome a failure, to overcome the fear of an outcome.
    As a manager, I think the lesson is to acknowledge and accept the first level of fear(s); but then search for the actions that will overcome the second level fears, and in doing so, make the first fears obsolete.
    –David K.

  2. Love it (and I RT’d it too). Great food for thought. I think I forget most about accepting help.

    When I was a Corporate Account Manager years ago I would NEVER have told my Manager about my fears – because I figured he’d see it as a sign of weakness, sign I didn’t know what I was doing. I figured I would have tagged myself as one of the second raters. Of course, this shows I was focused more on fitting in/looking good than on actually achieving my sales targets!

    I’m more apt to look for help in books, articles, videos than from people (seems safer and you don’t have to make weaknesses visible to others). Thanks for your article which brought about this insight.

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