My son was born three months prematurely in 1990 weighing in at a whopping three pounds and an ounce. Despite my doctor's prediction of a precarious delivery, he came into the world clearly setting his own agenda. From the get-go, Dennis has never been one to get caught up in anyone's expectations, including mine.
By age 5, Dennis could assemble any Lego kit put in front of him. He was driving our riding lawn mower at 7 and repairing it at 10. With family strong on college graduations, I envisioned MIT and a mechanical engineering degree by 21. Instead, he has chosen to get his commercial driver's license and is a long-distance truck driver who can take a diesel engine apart and put it back together again with his eyes closed. He also writes on a trucking forum about his adventures of being a first-year driver. His entries are sharp, witty, therapeutic and, judging by the response he receives, incredibly helpful to others in the industry.
He's always taken a road less traveled and it isn't for everyone. While I've been the one who spent years believing I was helping him learn how to navigate his life, it's really been Dennis who has steered me in the right direction.
So, these are the five things I've learned from my son.
1. Be selfish. When Dennis was young, this wasn't a quality I encouraged. It often got him in trouble at home. But as Dennis has matured, I've seen him transfer this energy into something far more positive. He has the ability to draw a line and advocate for himself without hurting those he loves or disrespecting his bosses. This means he doesn't carry around a lot of guilt or baggage, which often interferes with personal and professional growth. This has been especially useful in dealing with family dynamics.
2. Respect an introvert. There's a difference between being quiet and being shy. A shy person typically doesn't want to be alone, but they are often afraid to interact with others. Someone who is quiet or an introvert, like Dennis, has great social skills, is well-liked, but never fears solitude.
3. Don't always take advice from someone just because they've been there. When Dennis decided not to pursue a college degree after his freshman year, it didn't go over well. But he argued his case. He set a goal and made a plan to achieve it. He is learning as a young adult how to play the game of life better than some people who have had far longer to figure this out. There's a time and place to do what you've been told. There's a time and place that you must face a life juncture for yourself.
4. Figure out exactly what you want and then change your mind. Dennis has tried a few things since his decision not to go back to school. Completing a four-year college degree and then finding a job might be the most logical choice for many. But being logical isn't always the path of least resistance. Have the courage to change directions. Learning what doesn't work often leads to figuring out what does.
5. Be comfortable in your skin. This is really a culmination of all the above and this kid's biggest attribute. Dennis has been full of surprises from day one. He isn't what I expected 24 years ago. He is so very much more.
My son has taught me that you never go wrong with being true to who you are when the road you travel isn't caught up in a traffic jam.