Every now and then, I hear myself giving advice as a parent that I realize I should be following myself.
Such an incident occurred most recently a couple of weeks ago, as my two younger daughters played in their second-to-last softball game of the fall season.
This season marked their first experience playing softball, so the game was new to them. Fortunately, they had an excellent — and very patient — coach, who taught them the basics of throwing, catching, hitting and running.
Hitting proved to be quite challenging for both of my girls. They did a great job in practice, but once game time rolled around, each girl seemed content to keep the bat on her shoulder and watch pitch after pitch fly by.
Partially this was due to the fact that other young, relatively inexperienced players were pitching, so balls were much more prevalent than strikes. But it was also due, at least in part, to fear — fear of getting hit with the ball, fear of striking out, fear of trying something new and difficult.
So, in the middle of one inning, after they had both come up to bat and once again failed to swing, I called them over for just a second before they took the field.
"You're doing great," I said, "but I think the coach really wants you to swing when you see good pitches. Don't be afraid to swing, and when you do, swing hard. I'd much rather have you strike out swinging than stand there watching the pitches go by."
They both nodded and smiled, then ran out to the field.
As I watched the rest of the inning unfold, I thought about the advice I had given and wondered, "Am I practicing what I just preached? Am I swinging, and swinging hard, when new opportunities come along? Or am I content to stand with the bat on my shoulder as the pitches go by?"
Truthfully, I think I've done a little of both during my lifetime. More than 20 years ago, when I was dating a girl I had grown to love, I overcame my fears and took a big risk in order to live close to her during a particular summer. I lifted the bat off my shoulder and swung away.
Fortunately, that girl later married me. Twenty-one years of wedded bliss later (at least for me!), I'm confident that, in that case, I hit a home run.
That same woman encouraged me to be bold once again just more than a year ago, when an opportunity for me to change careers came along. I swallowed my fear of failure and took a swing. I'd like to think I swung hard.
Thirteen months later, I'm not sure I've hit a home run. I'm still inexperienced in my new job. I don't think I'm always meeting my goal of exceeding the expectations, every day, of those for whom and with whom I work. But at least I made contact and put the ball in play, and I'm hopeful that I'll eventually round all of the bases.
In the meantime, I've found that sometimes it's more difficult to swing away at the routine pitches of everyday life. Whether due to the forces of inertia, laziness or fear, I feel that I sometimes let a good pitch slip by, knowing after it hits the catcher's mitt that I really should have taken a crack at it.
This could happen when one of my team members at work asks me a question, and I don't work hard enough to find the best answer. Or when a challenging task arises, and I opt to let someone else handle it, even though I know it will help me learn and grow if I try to take care of it myself.
I occasionally have the same problem at home. Sometimes, when one of the children asks for help with homework and I'm feeling particularly tired after a long day at work, I opt to head to the bench and call for a pinch hitter. (My wife, who seems to have limitless energy, is always willing to answer that call. But she really shouldn't have to.)
These kinds of thoughts continued to swirl around in my mind as my daughters' team once again came up to bat. I watched this time as my second-oldest daughter stared down the pitcher, with fire in her eyes. The pitch came toward home plate, and she took that bat off her shoulder. She swung, and swung hard.
She connected with a solid hit, stood shocked for a second at what she had done and then scooted toward first base.
As for me, I was jumping up and down, cheering like crazy — just as family and friends have done for me every time I've taken a risk and swung away throughout my life. And just as those people have done for me, I would have rooted for her even if she struck out, knowing she had given it her best shot and learned in the process.
It was a great moment for me as a parent and a great reminder for me as a person. At home or at work, we need to be bold. We need to get that bat off our shoulders. We need to watch carefully for the good pitches, be prepared to overcome our fears and then swing away.
That's the only way we'll move forward in life. And the reward, whether in the form of a successful hit or the learning that comes with striking out, is always worth the effort.