Conversation with a Daughter

  • Posted: April 18, 2018
  • Category: Blog
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Life handed me one of those special moments you dream about the other day, a time to remember when the winter winds blow. My daughter asked for advice!! If you are a dad, you know how rare such times are, perhaps not quite being struck by lightning but close. She is a teacher, concerned about career directions.

My daughter has been in the teaching game for some time now, well over ten years. She loves to teach, is passionate about it. I’m a proud father, so please allow me to brag a bit. She began in the classroom but was drawn to the larger question of “What makes for good teaching?” She went to night school for her Master’s degree and used that background to become a coach and resource person for the county. She is doing well and advancing steadily in her chosen profession.

But with experience and success in a career comes the unexpected nuances we learn in those heady days of growth and advancement. As we gain experience and become skilled at our job we learn, sometimes to our dismay, that we are craftsmen. A teacher is a craftsman, just as a Doctor or an engineer is a craftsman, or a carpenter or plumber for that matter. A craftsman has little need to be concerned with much beyond the job at hand and doing it well. Larger questions are not only above the craftsman’s pay grade, but decidedly unwelcome to those managers above them that might have been elevated beyond their ability.

There are limits to craftsmanship. Craftsmen are what the economists call “price taker’s”. Craftsmen have little ability to influence their compensation or their work environment. They work for the wages set by others, or the market if you insist upon being academic. However using county government and market forces in the same sentence risks maniacal laughter. Craftsmen work under conditions and upon tasks set by others. A craftsman’s job is a craftsman job. It is what it is.

This lack of control and responsibility is a great comfort to the true craftsman, no need to deal with troublesome ambiguity. The true craftsman can totally focus on the perfection of their craft. But this lack of control is an irritating burr under the saddle of the person burdened with vision or ambition. It turns out that my daughter is a woman so burdened. I fear that this curse of ambition is perhaps her genetic heritage from me and as I offer my sympathetic shoulder I am secretly smiling.

This curse of ambition can be especially galling in Education. One could fill a good-sized library detailing the various dysfunctions of America’s educational system. But what would be the point? Shaking a fist at god is an idle exercise best left to CNN, Fox News and the New York Times.

To be sure, there is room and opportunity for people with ambition in the Education system. All human organizations have room for people with ambition, even vision. All human organizations need these folks desperately. But the roads open to those with ambition in the schools have little to do with teaching children or even the larger world of learning in the classical sense.

This is the cliff upon which my daughter stands, gravel slippery under her feet clattering down into a dark chasm below. The road is inviting. It beckons a seductive siren song of change, of making a difference, to a woman of her ambition and experience. But it is a road filled with politics, with compromise, with the need for cold calculation. It is a road where children are simply a means to an end, hostages to political agendas and entrenched bureaucracies.

My daughter can easily return to the job of a craftsman. She would be good at it and it is an honorable job, allowing her the rare privilege to influence countless young lives for the better. But she is very aware that if she does so, she will work for The Man, her ambition and vision a constant stomach churning irritation amid the mind numbing mazes of the bureaucracy.

My daughter tells me that she often hears my voice in her ears. Teachers and schools have been the source of a long running skirmish in our family. It is the considered opinion of my family that teachers are nature’s nobility; hard working, heart of gold individuals both under-paid and self-sacrificing. I have countered with a somewhat more jaundiced view, more in line with Scripture’s teachings on human nature.

But here is my daughter whom I dearly love, a teacher, at a crossroads. She has a decision to make. It has been her fate to grow up in and be influenced by a culture divorced from reality. Its message came from a thousand directions and sources –

“Follow your dream. If you dream it, you can do it.”

Like all well crafted fairy stories, there is truth in that message for children growing up in America of the Twenty-First Century. But not said are the realities surrounding dreams and their achievement. We all genuflect before the great god of Education as if it was the magic key unlocking the gates to an earthly Eden. Let it be said that the three R’s are foundational and life long learning a critical necessity for a life well lived. But almost nothing is said about what it really takes to turn dreams into reality.

Back in my working days, my business partner and I often mused about what it took to make it in our business. We took turns reminding each other of a little adage we had about success –

“When its time – you have to take the hill and be willing to take casualties.”

What we meant was when things needed to happen, a good leader – the definition of someone who makes dreams come true – was willing to do what it took to get it done. It wasn’t about credentials or action words in one’s resume. The ability to realize dreams is in the individual’s gut and their willingness to sacrifice to achieve a goal.

It’s a hard awakening to reality. I don’t know anyone that likes reality. It is so much more satisfying to talk the talk, even more comfortable to simply think the talk, adopting it as a mantra to numb the anxious doubts stirring inside. Teachers are underpaid and overworked. Parents are so unreasonable about their little darlings. Those bureaucrats in the Administration Building are just a bunch of dead wood, political time-servers that get in the teachers way. We are never given enough money to do what needs to be done. We have all heard the conversation, nodding our heads in solemn agreement.

Maybe everything in the teacher conversation is true, maybe not. Who is to say? My advice to my daughter was – “So what if all that is God’s honest truth, what are you going to do about it? It is what it is.” A retreat into the ego numbing comfort of trading complaints with co-workers or the general public feels good in the moment. But it gets you nowhere, leaving vision blurred and mind numb to action. Bringing dreams into reality requires looking at the world as it is, not as you wish it were. The decisions you make today are going to create the world you live in tomorrow, and God willing, forty years from now.

Luckily, my own working life was safely insulated from the nobility of professions like teacher or doctor. I was an engineer in the oil & gas business, recognized by all right thinking people as a deplorable scum of the gutter and convicted rapist of Mother Earth. Even worse, I was working in those markets of cutthroats and pirates known as the Midstream. Midstream folks are sneered at even in the disreputable world of oil & gas. I had no false illusions of nobility to contend with in my own career. I was a Morlock in an rowdy bazaar of pillagers and thieves, perhaps suffering from low self-esteem but not blinded by the myth of the Sacred Cause. But I did live in its shadow.

It was my great good fortune to grow up on a farm, not a gentleman’s farm but a working farm. To a very great extent, farming has a cultural conversation very like teaching. Farmers are underpaid and overworked. Bankers are unreasonable, vultures feeding on the carcass of farmers. Cheating crop buyers rig the commodity markets. We never get paid for our crops what they’re worth. I have heard the conversation many times, nodding my head in agreement. As a one-time insider, I believe there to be a great deal of truth to the conversation.

But it is what it is. And over the sixty plus years of my life I have watched events in the farming community take their slow but almost preordained course. It has been my great and deep sadness to watch an admirable way of life that I loved and admired die a slow and painful death. But it is what it is. When the Wehrmacht rolls into your village, you can throw rocks at the tanks, run into the wilderness or you can shrug your shoulders and learn to live with the Gestapo. In fact, the best thing to do is join up. Reality bites.

But the truth of the matter is, once made aware of the green-eyed demon of Ambition; you are infected. Even if you choose to ignore the demon’s advances, the Gestapo can see it in your eyes as you struggle to knuckle under. Sometimes ambition is simply about more money, a better car, a bigger house, a corner office. But sometimes, perhaps most times, it is also about making the world a better place. We have a vision of how things could be better and our ambition spurs us to make it real.

It is very hard to resist the wild excitement of that vision. We usually make the fateful decision to walk that road. We learn to game the organization, to play politics, to cultivate the network, to collaborate with the Gestapo. If we have the talent for it or simply enough fire in our belly, we move up and begin to accumulate power. Our eyes begin to see the world in a different way.

That road of ambition is challenging. It is exciting. We experience success, the ability to actually change some things, to influence decisions. Even if the money or the corner office doesn’t come right away, there are perks and hidden opportunities and importantly, that powerful narcotic – ego satisfaction.

But along with the challenges and the satisfactions comes the very real risk of losing your soul. Of course if it was only about material success, then so what? Eat drink and be merry!! Let the dogs of success run free!! But if ambition was yoked with vision, then the danger lurks and it is real.

There is something that people seem to instinctively recognize about leaders with vision. The visionary leader is simply much more powerful than the leader existing only to satisfy ego or material wants. But as the leader with vision rises, experiences success, accumulates power and influence, that leader realizes that ambition and vision are an uneasy team.

Perhaps that is why both Matthew and Luke, men with experience in the power structures of the Roman Empire, take care to include the words of Christ on this subject:

“No man can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

It is a hard thing to live in the world and serve Christ faithfully. It is a hard thing to balance ambition and vision as well. With more power comes the ability to do more good. But what sacrifices must be made now? Perhaps more pointedly, who or what must be sacrificed now to achieve that great good, that vision to be achieved, in the future? Is it wrong to enjoy a few more perks, more money or more prestige? Is it time to purge a few “doubters” from the organization? My family has sacrificed a lot for me to be in this position. Isn’t it time they were rewarded as well? After all, no less an authority than Paul tells us”

“You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.”

While the craftsman sleeps well at night comfortable in the sure execution of his tasks, the leader tosses and turns with restless thoughts that have no easy answers. It is in this time that leaders discover who they really are. The awareness of one’s true self is a reality like any other. It bites.

As we journey on that road of ambition, leaders with vision soon learn that the world is a hard place. The Wehrmacht is invincible, seemingly impossible to change in any meaningful way. Why keep struggling to push boulders up the hill, only to see them roll back over me? It is a great discouragement, hard, dangerous and unrewarding. Perhaps it is best to simply give up the vision of something better. Just sit back and enjoy the corner office and four weeks a year of vacation. After all, being a Colonel in the Wehrmacht is not a bad gig. If you don’t make any waves, the Gestapo has other fish to fry and leaves you alone. Maybe if you keep your nose clean you can retire in a few years as another anonymous general with a nice pension?

It is well at such times to seek counsel from an older voice who struggled with these same questions, a great king with wisdom as well as great experience in human organizations. He said:

The race is not to the swift,

Nor the battle to the strong,

Nor bread to the wise,

Nor riches to men of understanding,

Nor favor to men of skill;

But time and chance happen to them all.

I would advise my daughter to take these words to mean that outcomes are not up to her, or to any of us. Outcomes are in God’s hands and will be worked out as He chooses in His own timing. All she can do, all anyone can do, is use her God-given time and talent to do the best job she can to make this a better place while she is here. After all, the only remains of the once mighty Wehrmacht are the hulls of rusting tanks in the green fields of the Ukraine.


3 Responses to “Conversation with a Daughter”

  1. Rex Rinne says:

    “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

    Work faithfully and trust God completely….reminds me of a plague you gave us on our wedding day that we still have almost 46 years later…..”Pray to God, but row toward shore”….good advice for anyone…..peace always……

  2. Dave W says:

    ‘When you come to a fork in the road – Take it’

    That quote reminds me of last summer when my grandson and I were hiking down from a high mountain lake after a day of fishing. As we walked down the road together we came upon a nice metal fork laying in the road. I told him, like the old saying goes; if you come to a fork in the road, take it. So, I told him he should take the fork and put it in his pocket.

  3. Bill Childs says:

    In the Forties, as a small boy I used to take long walks with my Grandfather on his farm in Wisconsin. Sometimes almost a mile to a creek filled with fish where we would always catch our dinner and sometimes more. He used the time to teach me about Jesus and God’s desire for our lives. The first Scripture he asked me to memorize and live and write in my Heart was was ALL of Proverbs 3 and especially verse 6. His teachings about the Lord have been with me and my sons and grandsons all of our lives. I am a Blessed man!
    Thank you for sharing. You have Blessed me.

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