I looked at the National Honor Society website while I was preparing for this talk I’m giving today. I know what the honor society is of course, but I must admit, in school it always seemed out of reach for me. As a matter of fact I hope someone takes my picture addressing you guys because I would love to send it to some former teachers of mine along with the caption, #irony. On the website, I saw important words like leadership, and service and #futureready. More on all of these in a bit.
I grew up in a different world than the one you guys are growing up in. Everything you can imagine was different then. From the way teachers taught and parents parented and what was considered socially acceptable behavior between men and women to what was considered to taboo to talk to your neighbors about including religion and politics.
You guys are growing up in a time where we our experiencing the biggest cultural shift we have ever known. Everyone over 35 has no idea what it’s like to grow up during these times. And you guys have no idea what it was like to grow up in any other environment other than here and now. In a time that the country seems so divided, so much so, it seems sometimes that we can’t figure out a way to come together, I have great faith in your generation, that you will be the future leaders who will be the ones to teach the generations that preceded you, that it can and will be done. It will only be done with things like empathy, and kindness, and respect for people who may or may not think the way you think or believe in what you believe in. It’s going to take love.
So how my podcast, You Be You & I’ll Be Me came to fruition. Let me preface this with the fact that although this story takes place around the election, it is not political. I care about story, humans, emotions and heart. I don’t care what political party you identify with so exhale adults! I just didn’t want you to get nervous once you heard me get started and think, uhoh, where is she going with this?? Get the hook!
I am a mom and my husband and I have four children. The youngest of whom is our daughter Kelly. Kelly is a bit of a wild card and likes to buck the system any time she can. That’s a nice way of saying she can be difficult, but we love her anyway. So it was not completely surprising when she informed her father and I her senior year of High School that she was going to only apply to 1 school, The Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. I said, how about a safety school just in case so we have a back up plan? She said I already have a back up plan. We braced ourselves for what she was about to say as she continued on. I plan on driving across country and living in California for a year at which time, I will go to Santa Barbara Community College and eventually transfer to UCSB. I already have a job lined up, Kelly had worked throughout High School at a store in town that girls love and parents hate called LF and she had already set up a conference call and spoken to management in their California office about working at the store in Santa Barbara. Is that so? We said. We have learned to pick our battles with this kid so we thought instead of dismissing her with an absolutely not, we would bide our time and see how things played out.
When she heard a few months later that she had gotten in to her one and only school of choice, I thought, great, that’s settled. But by then Kelly had other plans. She said, Just hear me out. Well this should be good, we thought. And she proceeded to regale us with her plan C. Defer for a semester and still go to Santa Barbara and work at LF and then go to SCAD in the spring. We said, we don’t really think that’s a great idea but you are 18 years old and I suppose that means you can make your own decisions but here’s the catch. If you take a semester off, you are going out there with no help from us, other than your cell phone that we will continue to pay for so we can keep in touch with you. Other than that, if you’re not in school, you are working full time and paying your own bills, including rent, groceries, gas, everything will be on you. When you get to school in the spring you go back to getting the benefits that your brother and sisters got when they were in school. Meal plan, dorm room, normal 18 year-old college student stuff. She said, fine I don’t want you to pay for anything. We said, fine we won’t. So that stubborn little baby of the family packed up her car and away she went to drive across country to live in Santa Barbara.
Suddenly for the first time in over 25 years, my husband and I found our selves empty nesters, which is a term people use referring to couples who no longer have children living at home in the nest.
We were like a kid who gets to the carnival and is so excited that he can’t figure out what to do first. Like so many here on the east end of Long Island, our work is seasonal so we had some down time. We decided that we would take a trip and drive across country, taking our time and seeing as much of the United States as we could before landing in California and seeing how that little Kelly girl was holding up.
We started mid October in the year 2016. We drove through the Blue Ridge Mountains, onto Nashville and Memphis. Little Rock, Arkansas, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Put our heads on a pillow in Amarillo, Texas. Drove route 66 to Tucumcari, New Mexico, stopped at the Grand Canyon to watch the sunrise over one of the wonders of the world. Spent 24 hours in Las Vegas, Nevada, that was plenty and finally got to LA and eventually Santa Barbara. We made it to California in a few weeks and it was the most eye opening and interesting trips I had ever been on in my life, at such an incredible time in our nations history.
We talked to locals and fellow travelers everywhere we went. Listened to Country Music in Nashville. Had a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich in Memphis. Drove through the craziest hail storm I had ever seen in Oklahoma.
We saw amazing things and weird things and incredibly sad things. We watched families eat breakfast together on Sunday mornings in diners along the way.
In Texas I saw this adorable family dressed like cowboys, because they were cowboys! The two little tiny cowboys were probably 6 or 7 years old and they jumped up on a stool at a restaurant that had a shooting game with what looked like pretty authentic rifles in the lobby to have target practice while you wait. I watched in amazement as they tilted their cowboy hats back and held their rifles and took aim at their moving targets. I raised my phone up to take their picture when my husband said, Uh what are you doing? Look at these tiny cowboys! He said, ok well, they are actually real children who belong to that bigger cowboy over there who probably wouldn’t appreciate a stranger taking his kids picture for your instagram account. Oh, you have a point.
In Tucumcari, I watched the biggest hugest man I had ever seen. He walked in the restaurant we were having dinner in and asked the young waitress by name for a table. She sat him at a table for four and a minute later his wife, son and daughter sat down. They were all chatting and smiling and laughing and when the food came this gentle giant, that looked like he could be an intimidating dude, grabbed his family by the hands and they bowed their heads and prayed grace before they ate.
We passed through long stretches of highway, some really beautiful and some with the most poverty stricken shacks on the side of the road where the only thing in town were factories, gas stations and maybe a slaughter house where I imagined generations of families worked because, that’s all there was.
I saw so many beautiful things the mountains, the desert, the different cities and towns along the way, the grand canyon, I even stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, which you probably don’t get the reference but to me, it was pretty cool. I also saw so many things that could only be described as bleak and heartbreaking. Out the window I saw children playing in yards of homes that I didn’t know could exist in the same country I lived in. And every time we chatted up a local or a fellow traveler news of the coming election was on everyone’s mind. One man in Texas said, I just don’t want to live like this anymore and I can’t make a better life for my family.
What I learned was internet has connected us all but on the surface we don’t seem to have much in common with each other. What is “normal” for us here on the east end of Long Island, may as well be living on a different planet for a kid going to school in the middle of what we would consider nowhere, but what they consider their home.
When we got to California the climate was one of fear, anger and frustration,
And that’s when I noticed we, as a country, had completely stopped listening to each other and started hating each other.
For the last 3 weeks I had watched families who lived completely different lives than the way my family lived. Yet, what we all had in common was love. We all love our family and our friends. We all want everyone to be as happy as possible and healthy and have opportunities to do things and go places and thrive. That is something we all want. No one is better than anyone else. We are all human beings and we all deserve love.
So I decided to start a podcast that told stories we could all agree on. You Be You & I’ll Be Me, is my way of saying, you may not agree with what I believe and I may not agree with what you believe and that’s ok. Let’s keep the big picture in focus. We are all human beings, born in one of the most exciting times in history. Let’s celebrate the fact that the cartoon The Jetson’s was pretty much spot on, just as I always hoped.
So on my podcast, sometimes I have my kids on and we talk about things like self-esteem, and putting yourself out there and following your dreams. I have my husband on and we talk about being your authentic self. I’ve learned so much from interacting with different people of all ages and all walks of life. I recently had on a mother and sisters of a man who died from suicide. I learned that you say died or death from suicide and not committed suicide because that makes it seem like they committed a crime when really all they did was put an end to their pain and suffering because they thought everyone would be better off with out them.
I have people on who are passionate about what they do. When you hear someone talking about something they truly believe in you can see the fire in their eyes and feel the passion that they feel. I am a story teller and I learn best from someone telling me a story. So I can really feel their emotions and their “why”. The best part of the Olympics for me are the back stories they tell about the athletes in between events. And it’s never and Johnny didn’t have to sacrifice a thing to win this gold. He’s always been good at everything so it’s no surprise! No, never! It’s always “and Johnny had to over come one terrible hardship thing after the next to get here, but he stayed dedicated.” But then there is always the worst part when they throw in, “then two days before he came to the games, Johnny’s dear old grandmother died but her last wish was for him to bring back the gold.” So Johnny does his event and we are all watching and we are invested because now we all know his story, and he’s at the finish line and he won and he’s looking up crying and since we know the story, we are all crying as a nation with him “saying he did it for his grandma” And we are bonded for life. Because we shared something personal that we can all relate to.
The most unlikely people can find commonality if they want to. And just as easy you can find a million ways we are divided if we want to. There is a quote that goes, If you look for the bad you will find it. If you look for the good, you will find it. We always have a choice between the two realities; the positive and the negative. The reality we invest our energy in is the one in which we exist.
By the way, if you are wondering whatever happened to Kelly. She did work at LF in Santa Barbara. And while she thought she made plenty of money while she worked there in High School, she quickly learned that in order to make enough money to pay her rent AND eat food she had to work herself to the bone with out days off for weeks on end. I would check in on her and ask how she was doing and she would say, I’m so hungry. Or I’m so tired I’m going to cry. But sometimes being a good parent is not giving in. Believe me all we want is for you guys to be happy. We would lay down our lives for you and give you the shirt off our backs. But sometimes being a good parent is allowing you to learn the hard lessons by not swooping in and saving the day. It’s hard for most parents to watch you go through hard times. But that is when you learn the most about yourself. That’s when you get an opportunity to make yourself proud because no one helped you, you did it all on your own. So sure enough because we didn’t make it comfortable for Kelly, when the time came, she left California in the rearview mirror and is living her dream of being an art student in Savannah.
Life is not easy, and to us over 35ers, 45ers, 55ers, we are afraid for you because we don’t understand the world you are growing up in. We think, thank you lord that there was no social media when we were navigating the waters of the uncharted territory of middle school and high school. We worry about your feelings getting hurt. Sure our feelings got hurt everyday but it ended at 3 o’clock when we went home and regrouped with our families and now you guys have to live it constantly. We worry about your mental health. But this life is all you know, so even though it seems like something we couldn’t handle, that doesn’t mean it’s something you can’t handle. If it gets to be to much, and sometimes it will, be brave enough and bold enough to take a break. Unplug, learn to be alone with just your thoughts and not your phone. Ask for help if you need it, because we know, you are doing your best but sometimes you need someone to throw you a line. Please ask for help when you need it. A friend in need is a friend in deed. You are leaders, leaders see the big picture. Notice the kid who could use a friend like you. We have to take care of each other, put your hand out to them to and tell them, tell them they are not alone.
It’s hard to be yourself when you are at a stage in life where everyone wants to be included and fit in and be just like each other. I don’t know why we do this when really we should be practicing self-awareness and being who we really are as individuals all along. Because I promise you, it’s the people that think differently than everyone else does, who aren’t afraid to march to their own tune, who speak out and stand up and stand out. Those are the true leaders and the ones that make a difference in this life. Confident people support, encourage and inspire others to be their best selves. If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more and do more, you’re a leader. And there is enough greatness to go around. If someone is better than you at something, don’t be jealous, work harder! And say to them, you are crushing this, want to help me get better? There are no excuses. Excuses are you not being honest with yourself. Practice responsibility, accountability and have extreme ownership of yourself. Total honesty is not easy. This is where you have to admit you maybe aren’t so great at something. Just own it, no one is perfect at everything. And every single one of us has a something about them that could use work. We also all have different strengths and things we are really good at. Start noticing what comes naturally to you, these are your gifts. No one shows a bird how to build a nest or a spider how to make a web. They are instincts and you should always use yours.
Be resilient, life is hard and every one of us gets brought to our knees at some points in life. Sometimes several times. Like Johnny who won the gold because he never gave up. My point is you’re going to get knocked down but it’s how quick that you get back up and keep at it that matters the most. Don’t wallow in it, or ok, wallow for a minute because you’re a human being with feelings not a robot. And then get back after it, until you get it or maybe it will take you down another path that actually is a better one for you to be on. Just keep trying.
Being a part of NJHS is not just about getting good grades and having leadership qualities, although those are two outstanding things to be and have. I have to say the most important quality we each possess is the ability to be of service for someone else. And service can be anything at all. A friend of mine is a former lacrosse player so he and his sons started a charity called Operation Baggataway, which collects lacrosse equipment and sends it over seas to the troops because he heard down time is usually really boring and makes their time away from home seem ten times longer.
So it doesn’t have to be something that you have no interest in. Then you’re not being your authentic self and you won’t receive the gift of true joy you get when you help someone in a profound and meaningful way.
And sorry to the parents if you already had your child all set up to clean out the church basement this summer and they throw, I’m not being authentic to myself if I do this, at you. Also kids, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.
As you mature in life I urge you to never stop questioning why? Respectfully debate people with whom you disagree. But remember, everyone has a back story that got them to where they are, ask them what it is so you can understand where they are coming from and tell them yours so they can understand you better. You may change someone’s mind or they may change yours or none of the above but keep your mind open and never stop wondering. Plot and plan but be flexible and fluid. The best things in life are usually the ones you didn’t plan on or expect! Let life unfold and please don’t be to hard on yourself. You are doing your best, and that is perfect. Sometimes life involves a little suffering. That’s when you know you are growing as a person. Those are the character building times where you get another opportunity to make yourself proud. You can get through anything, you got this.
Say yes to things that challenge you to go out of your comfort zone. Everyone is scared to do this, but if it’s not scary, you’re not being brave. I have faith in you that you will be the agents of change and you will be #futureready by being kind to one another and by leading by example that we are more alike than we think and that we are all in this together so we may as well smarten up and start paying attention to what is really important.
So keep doing the great work, you’re on a great path and I hope you all keep on it.
And I will end the way I end all my podcasts. If you like what you heard today, please go to itunes and leave a review. No I’m just kidding. I say work hard, be nice, have fun, laugh, peace.