Last week I had the honor of attending my great aunt’s surprise 90th birthday party. The good news was that she handled the surprise like a 30-year-old and the even better news was that we had a beautiful afternoon connecting with family from all over the country.
For the past several years now, I’ve leveraged these family gatherings as a way to gather nuggets of wisdom from my older, more experienced family members. Three years ago, I recall asking my then 87-year-old aunt, "What’s the secret to a lasting marriage?" She took a beat, and with deadpan face she laid it on me.
And there you have it. I’m still unpacking the meaning within this answer that was left to all of our respective interpretations.
Towards the end of the party, my two daughters were milling about with family members they rarely see. One of our older cousins was weaving his woes about his new iPhone and the features he was struggling to figure out. My 11-year-old, Jane, jumped in with an explanation and a solve. Note that she doesn’t even have her own phone yet. Relieved and content, our cousin was about to move on when my girl jumped in with, "Is there anything else you want to know?"
She asked to use my phone as a "sample" and she sat down with her student to walk him through the ways of 2019 technology with patience and a smile. It was one of my favorite moments of the day. The image of them laughing and connecting; of Jane’s hunger to teach and our cousin’s openness to learn from a rising 6th grader.
In that moment, I was reminded:
We are all students and we are all teachers.
This is important for me to remember as both a parent and in my work with clients at all stages in their careers.
As a parent, I’m the one who lays down the rules and structure for my kids, but when I’m being my best self, I’m open to learning the lessons they have to teach me—even when they get in the way of moving from point A to point B at the desired time. I never realized how many different kinds of birds we could see on the walk from our apartment to camp!
In my work with senior leaders in organizations, we tease out frustrations with younger generations to home in on what we can learn from junior employees. We note how sometimes our frustrations can draw targets around our blind spots, shine a light on what we’re resisting and be the very thing we need to learn.
As with my approach to growth in leadership and humanity, awareness and mindset are the keys to inviting wisdom to show up anywhere and everywhere. If you cultivate a growth mindset—knowing that you don’t need to be right, you don’t know it all, nor do you need to—you can be open to unlikely teachers who can share another perspective with you. And in return, those who step up to be teachers can build confidence in knowing they have something of value to share that will touch your life in some small way or transform you—if you let it.