Sometimes the most important thing that can happen in your kid’s life is what happens in your life.
For me, the race to nowhere started at age seventeen. I took extra courses in high school, played varsity baseball, worked two jobs, and traveled with a music group. When my grades started slipping, my Latin teacher confronted me after class. Mrs. Culbreth said, “If you don’t slow down, you’re gonna burn out by thirty.” I laughed, patted her on the shoulder, and got busy doing more important stuff.
I remember wondering as I walked away, “Why thirty?”
I completely forgot about what she said until I was thirty-one, sitting in a car late one night on an Alabama dirt road. I had come to a dead end emotionally. Mrs. Culbreth had only missed it by one year.
That night her words drifted back into my mind from more than a decade earlier. How did she know? What was it she saw in me? She had definitely been a prophet, and my life was imploding. I will spare you the details of the ministry I was attempting to manage and the countless hours I had spent working, creating, and investing in teenagers and young adults. Even more, my wife and I were at a stage of family life when we were parenting four children under the age of seven.
On that back road, all of that faded away, and I was overwhelmed with loneliness and emptiness. The collapse happened subtly. I found out in counseling over the next few months what Mrs. Culbreth had tried to explain. We all enter into adulthood with a certain amount of reserve. If we expend too much without making deposits, we find ourselves in an emotional deficit.
My childhood was great. I lived in a neighborhood where every house was lit up for Christmas. We climbed trees and played baseball in front yards. Frequent trips to visit relatives would mean spending all day hiking through the woods, fishing, and exploring old barns. I spent numerous weekends at nearby lakes, rode dirt bikes, and spent quality time with our church youth group. It was Camelot for me. Every walk, every friend, every Sunday, every trip, and every game made a deposit in my invisible personal bucket.
So I started the journey out of high school feeling like I had a bank full of energy. Then my life moved into warp speed, and I began to burn fuel at a pretty high rate. Mrs. Culbreth was just estimating how long it would take me to burn a full tank at the rate I was moving.
The problem was that I did not realize the hidden value that seventeen years of positive deposits had made into my personal emotional account. I just started spending emotionally without depositing. Then one day when I was facing a personal crisis, I reached into my emotional bank, and it was empty.
In the difficult months that followed, I wasn’t the only one who suffered. It was like the traffic backed up on a bridge behind a car that’s out of gas. A line of people I cared about were also affected. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a few friends and family members who cared enough to rescue me. They were committed to making new deposits in my life and helping me restore what I had lost.
It is not complicated to understand what happened.
I had simply failed to refuel my private world.
I was leading others, just not myself.
I had totally depleted my capacity, because I had neglected to nurture my personal growth.
There’s a crucial link that exists between your ability to parent and your personal growth.
We sometimes refer to that value as “make it personal”. So maybe your challenge this week isn’t to focus on your kids, but to focus on you. What are a few things that you do that help you revive, refocus and refuel your life, so you can be better at loving and leading your kids? How do you lead yourself to grow personally?
Reggie is founder and CEO of Orange. He has co-written two parenting books, Playing for Keeps and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity as well as other leadership books including Lead Small and Think Orange. Reggie lives in Georgia with his wife, Debbie, and has four grown children, Reggie Paul, Hannah, Sarah and Rebekah. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.