Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Fairness is Like Perfection

I told the group I was speaking to what they really wanted was to constantly drive toward perfection.

One of them asked, “What does perfection look like to you?”

“I don’t know. I've never seen it. And, I never will.”

I could tell most of the people in the room were thinking my answer invalidated my previous statement. So, I shared my story.

I Thought I wanted Perfection

In my marriage to my ex-wife, I was failing so badly at being an example of a loving husband that my botches were also evident in the example I provided my children.
I wanted parental perfection. But, I kept telling myself, “You’ll never be the father you want to be! Just look at the things you’ve done!” I paralyzed myself with the impossibility of being perfect.

One day, someone showed me that they saw what I thought I was hiding from the world: My failures at being the example of the loving husband and father I wanted to be.

I’d known for a long time my failures as a parent were rooted in the fact that my relationship with their mother was not based on love. We’d worked very hard at trying to find common ground. Turns out, there wasn't enough for both of us to stand on. Sadly, the results were disastrous.

I wish I could say it was for reasons more noble than embarrassment, but the realization that my failures were evident to the people around me shook me at my very core. I finally determined to do something.

I found the confidence and conviction to change the relationship with my ex-wife when I decided:
  • I cannot move forward if keep looking backward.
  • I can be a good parent who is not married to my children’s mother if I know what that looks like and drive my thoughts, decisions, and actions toward that ideal.
  • I can be a parental partner with my children’s mother, if not a marriage partner, if I know what that looks like and drive my thoughts, decisions, and actions toward that ideal.
  • I can overcome the excuses I’d made in the past to maintain the status quo.
    • Financial fears.
    • Fear of damaging my relationship with my children.
    • Fear of being viewed as a failure by others.

Why I Didn't Choose Fairness

I changed the nature of the relationship with my children’s mother first. 

She initially didn't think it was fair for me to ask for a divorce at the time I did. It wasn’t. But, I realized I couldn't wait for perfect circumstance and we both needed the fighting to stop or we’d never be the parents we really want to be.

I worked at refocusing our interactions on what we both valued: Raising children who can make sound, rational decisions, are positively productive, and can find satisfaction in their own efforts. To do that, we both needed to create a family culture based on kinship, trust and love.  It took several years, but we got closer every day.

Next, I started to change the nature of my relationship with my children.

I communicated new expectations for my children. Change is hard, my children initially resisted it, “That isn't fair! How can you expect us to _______ (insert new expectation) when you used to_______(insert my past/related failure here)?”

It’s true. It isn't fair to change the rules on people. But, if you don’t start out with the best rules in the first place, and you want to make things better, you have to change them. Changing things for the better with people can’t ever be fair in relation to the past.

If I didn't have conviction in my values as a person and a parent, I might have given in, because they were right about it not being fair. But, I wanted things to change and I couldn't argue with my past failures, so I didn’t.

“Yes, I did _______(insert my past/related failure(s) here). Because I want to be a _______(insert value here) father and I want you to grow up to be a _______(insert same value here) person too. We both need to change how we think so we can change how we act and react.”

So, fairness is like perfection... that neither is possible. Try to be either completely and you'll immobilize yourself with impossibilities. Drive toward fairness and perfection and you move forward.

It took some time to gain momentum but everyone made progress. We’re still making progress.

How to drive toward parental perfection and fairness:

  • Define the person and the parent you want to be.
    • What values do you want to personify?
    • What words do you want others to use to describe you and your actions as a parent?
      • Gain conviction through strength in the belief that you can be those words for other people.
  • Communicate the definition of the person you want to be and why achieving it is important.
    • To your spouse or parental partner.
    • To your children.
    • Why stop there? Tell everyone! It will make you feel courageous as all get out! Plus, it you will gain advocates who care.
  • Evaluate every situation.
    • How can you achieve values-driven success?
      • What actions will help you get what you want AND be the person you want to be?
    • Are you being the person you want to be while you try to get what you want?
      • A great tool for assessing this is the free GPS Theory App on my website.
  • Drive toward perfection and fairness, and values-driven success:
    • Do things that will help you get what you want AND be the person you want to be.
      • Gain confidence as you make progress.
      • Here’s the catch: You can’t get what you really want if you are not first the person you want to be. This is true of parents…and everything else human beings try to become.

My point to the group I was speaking to was this: Just because perfection is not attainable doesn't mean we can’t try to continuously get closer to it- that’s what self-improvement is. 

And, whether they realized it when they signed up for the Finding Family Success Workshop, or not, they came for self-improvement. They came to challenge the status quo and drive toward perfection and fairness as parents.

We'd like to hear what you think. 

Answer these questions in the comments section, below:

What words do you want others to use to describe you and your actions as a parent?

Who are the most important people for you to hear those words from?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom Eakin is the author of Finding Success and the Success Engineer at BoomLife, and helps people achieve values-driven success. Through his writings, workshops and inspirational speaking, Tom helps people find and expand the sweet spot between what they value, what they’re good at, and what their situation requires so they can exceed even their own expectations. Tom is a former U.S. Army Ranger-qualified Combat Engineer officer with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration and Master’s Certificate in Executive Coaching from Bellevue University and has created stellar performance in teams in a wide range of environments. Originally from the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, Tom lives in Jefferson, South Dakota, near his three children with his wife, Julie. He is an active and passionate advocate for parents, veterans and entrepreneurs in his community and region.