Recently I went on a camping trip with my son and 20 of his school friends each with a parent in tow. It provided a fantastic opportunity to spend quality time with my son and build on our relationship as he navigates the transformation from teenage years to adulthood.
Each night, after a long walk through the fantastic Australian outback, the boys put their recently acquired cooking skills to the test over a campfire while each parent desperately tried not to interfere and take over. Whispers of suggestions would creep in gradually to ward off any chance of food poisoning and hopefully introduce a slight hint of taste.
One night when we all had settled down, and our food was hastily consumed, one of the teachers suggested the parents take part in an exercise by sharing insights and experiences with the boys so they could hopefully draw on some inspiration. The teacher facilitated the excise by asking each parent to stand-up in turn and answer one simple question. “What was the best five year’s of your life and why?”
Like a number of other parents I immediately jumped to my early 20’s. This was when I had a lot of fun and success in team sports and where I met some of my closest and still dearest friends who have helped define who I am today. The insight I wanted to share with the boys was to build and enjoy the friendships they have as some of the current or new friends around the camp fire will support you through your life. Inspiring indeed I thought.
Other parents told of amazing personal triumphs over adversity, including illness and family tragedies. Tears were shed and humbleness quietened any hint of loose conversations around the campfire from the boys. Each and every story was powerful in its own way and without doubt, given it was mostly fathers in the group, quite a bit of one-upmanship started to find its way in as Dads relived their career defining years and reminded us how successful they are now. The lesson here being ‘work hard and you too might be like me one day’ (or some derivative of that).
The stories continued until one of the mothers stood up to tell her tale. As she started to speak, she paused and with a twinkle in her eye said “You know I was about to reminisce and share my early successes as a lawyer. But just before it was my turn, my son, in innocence and maybe in boredom, whispered to no one in particular that the best 5 years of his life would be his next 5 years.” She paused again, looked up at the stars pulsating in their brilliance and continued “I love that thought. In fact, it has already inspired me, and I’ll commit to saying the next 5 years will be my best and the next 5 years after that and again after that and so on. Thank you, son.” She sat down with a huge smile and gave him a hug, much to his embarrassment.
It was a perfect way to finish off the evening.
There are two key insights I often reflect on from that night. Firstly, inspiration can come from many different sources and at any time. Practising active listening is a must to help ensure we don’t miss these nuggets when they do appear. Secondly, we all have genuinely amazing experiences we can each reflect on for evidence of what can be, but the mindset of the next five years as being your best will always make today better than yesterday.