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The Best Laid Plans

Last year my son, Jacob started his first year of college. Before he began, my wife and I spent many days and nights with him researching and visiting colleges and universities. After visiting about ten schools, he chose a great mid-sized university in northern California. It was perfect. He loved the smaller campus, the friendly atmosphere, and the high tech focus. We researched and planned every detail of his move. And when it came time for him to start, he was excited and ready to go!

Over the next few months we noticed a little change in Jacob’s demeanor. When we would talk on the phone he was just a little bit less excited about his new direction. It’s not like he was obviously unhappy. In fact, had we not been paying attention, it would have been easy to miss the signs.

Spring Break rolled around and Jacob came home for a visit. He was very happy to be home and we were excited to hear his stories about his life at school. One day Jacob and I went to lunch and I mentioned that it seemed like he had something on his mind. “No Dad, everything is fine,” he said. But I pressed the issue, and after a little while, he cracked. With an almost imperceptible tear in his eye, he said that he was scared. He felt like he was working really hard, but didn’t know why. He really didn’t know what he wanted to become.

Moving on to a coffee shop, we continued our conversation. The topics bounced between his future, my college days, and his likes and dislikes. Although math came easily to him, he had chosen to pursue an engineering degree because everyone told him he would be good at it. He said that he really couldn’t think of a career that truly interested him.

After a while, the conversation drifted to the fun things he had done while at school. He said that he had been to a rock concert in San Francisco and he really enjoyed it. Although he thought the music was great, he said that much of the time he spent thinking about how the lights and the sound could have been improved. As he talked, his eyes brightened, and he said, “I wish there was a job like that.”

It was the first time he had shown real interest in a career path. And, although I admit some initial reservations, I encouraged him to follow that interest for his education. Heck, once I got to thinking about it there were a bunch of career paths that would need that type of expertise – he could work for one of the larger hotels, or if he is really ambitious the sky is the limit.

I’m so grateful that Jacob was able to open up and express his true feelings. Had he not been able to communicate with me, he might have returned to a career path that left him unfulfilled. And for the worst reason: because he thought it’s what everyone else expected of him. I think this last year, while difficult for Jacob, was extremely important in uncovering his passion and a great lesson in being true to himself.

Thinking back on this experience I am reminded that plans are important, but even more important is the process of planning and communicating. And once a plan is set into motion, that doesn’t mean it should be followed rigidly, it needs to be continuously evaluated and updated as you live and breathe it. The planning that we did with Jacob at the outset laid the groundwork for his current path – one that I hope will lead to a fulfilling career.

Plans are nothing; planning is everything. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. – Peter Drucker

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