A Letter to My Child

“Decision is a risk rooted in the courage of being free.”

– Paul Tillich

July 3rd, 2047

David arrives at his desk at 7 am. Today is his 40th birthday. David’s wife, Linda, planned a celebration dinner and asked him to get home a little sooner than normal. And thus, David decided to come in an hour earlier to start his work.

At the age of 40, David has accomplished a lot. He is a senior manager and a star performer at his organization, respected by his direct reports, his peers, and his bosses. But David has not been happy lately.

David turns on his computer and opens the report he has been working on for the last couple of days. It needs to be on the CEO’s desk by tomorrow morning. Just then, he hears a ding. David remembers that he forgot to turn off the notification for e-mail. “Better do it now,” he thinks. But somehow, David feels he needs to click on the e-mail icon instead. He doesn’t generally check his emails first thing in the morning.

When David clicks to open his email, what he sees startled him. “An email from Dad! That’s impossible!” David’s Dad passed away at the age of 69 last year, in a car accident. “What idiot is trying to prank me?!” But David clicks on email before he realizes what he is doing. Here is what he sees:

“Dear Son,

Happy Birthday!

You turn 40 today. How time flies! I remember the day you were born like it was just yesterday. But here you are, already the man I always knew you’d be: kind, honest, brave, smart, accomplished…the pride of our lives.

Son, you know how very proud I am of you and how much you mean to me. My heart hurts when I see you’re unhappy. You hide it well. But I know you haven’t been happy for a while. And I know what’s been going on.

Believe me. I was in your shoes once. And it sucked! What do you do? Do you stand up for what you believe in and risk losing your job? Or do you turn the other way and pretend everything is fine? What would happen to Linda and the kids if you lose your job? What would happen to you if you keep pretending that you don’t know about the breach? What would happen to those impacted by the breach, and those the breach will impact if it’s not stopped?

These questions weigh you down like a ton of bricks. I know you’ve lost sleep over this. You’ve lost weight. Linda is worried about you. But you wouldn’t tell her what’s going on. You don’t want her to worry. In fact, you haven’t told anybody about this. “What for?” You think. “Who can answer to my conscience for me but myself?”.

That’s the loneliest place to be: just you and your conscience. No one knows that you know. Just you and your conscience.

I’ve been there.”

The above is how a homework assignment could begin. This homework assignment is one of the tools I designed for my coaching clients who wrestle with a critical decision. In this assignment, the client writes a letter to their child in the future when the child has reached their current age. The client puts their child in the same position they’re in now and imagines what to say to their child as an older and wiser person who has made it through the trial. What the client writes often reveals their core values, their worst fears, and their own solutions to address those fears. We then discuss the letter in the following session together to clarify the next step for the client.

Here is one way this letter might continue:

“Remember that day when you were about ten? You were surprised to see me when I came to pick you up from school. You were used to me coming home just before you went to bed if we were lucky. But that day, I picked you up from the school, and we went for ice-cream.

That was the day I made my decision.

Remember what happened afterward?

Your mom and I sat you down after dinner and told you we were moving in with your grandma and grandpa. You asked why and we told you that we needed to save money while I looked for another job. We sold our house and crammed into your grandparents’ basement. We stayed there for six months before we moved into the house where your mom still lives.

Remember what you said to me when we were staying in your grandparent’s basement? I never forgot. You said: “Daddy, I like you playing with me and reading to me. Can we stay here forever?”

That’s when I knew that I had made the right decision.

What you didn’t know is that your mom and I also became much closer. Or maybe you did. We didn’t fight like we used to, even though we had nowhere to avoid each other in that crammed basement for six months. We didn’t go out for fancy dinners anymore. But I never felt closer to your mom -I believe she felt the same way – as we cuddled together to watch our show on TV after you had gone to bed.

That’s when I knew that I had made the right decision.

Just one more thing. Remember how I went out to look for a job every day during that time? It wasn’t easy. There were days I doubted whether I had made the right move; days I felt I had failed your mother and you, and days I was scared for all of us and asked myself “What if I can’t find a job?”. But somehow, knowing that I did the right thing, not the easy thing, made me stand tall.

We didn’t tell you much back then because we didn’t want to burden you with grown-up stuff. But do you know that you were one of the primary reasons for the decision I made? I wanted to make a decision that would make you proud one day.

The rest you know. Our life changed dramatically. I made less money but had more time to spend with you and your mom. We moved into a smaller house in a different neighborhood. We made new friends. You grew up and went to college. And you become the man you are today, the son I’ve always wanted and adored.

Son, what you are about to learn, as I’ve learned, is that we do not lose what’s truly important to us by doing the right thing. We save it. God only knows what I would have lost if I hadn’t done the right thing for me!

I guess the question is, ultimately, what is most important to you?

Your loving Dad.”

This is a sample letter to illustrate how this homework assignment works. I composed this letter based on my work with a previous client. “What happened to this guy? “you may wonder. I’m pleased to tell you that he did the right thing for him. And his worst fear didn’t come true. Instead, he was put on paid leave while they investigated the breach. He endured three months of anxiety over the uncertainty of his future before being cleared to return to work. A week before returning to work, he was offered another job, a better one in a different organization. He was one of the bravest individuals I’ve ever worked with.

If you’re facing a tough decision, feel free to give this exercise a try yourself. Make sure to take your time, use your imagination, and follow your intuition as you take the journey to the answer within you. Good luck!

Change is inevitable, whether you choose it or it chooses you. If you are ready to embrace change and embark on the journey of transitioning into a brighter future, contact me for a complimentary consultation to find out whether I’d be a good fit to serve you.

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