Unexpected moments, unforgettable memories. All of us work so hard in life to plan for those perfect moments with our favorite people. We spend extensive time and large amounts of money planning vacations, cruises, camping trips, and other memorable experiences just to fall short of unforgettable. The unforgettable memories are created in those experiences which are unplanned and unexpected.
Last Tuesday, I decided to text the kids towards the end of my workday and told them to get ready, we are going to hike to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. I was well aware that my twelve-year-old son (Grant) and my fourteen-year-old daughter (Ashtyn) had slept in late and had been lazy all day. Dad was going to show them, I’ll drag them up the mountain with me.
I am quite confident neither of them were looking forward to the experience, but they were ready and waiting when I got home. Here in Georgia, it is hot…really hot. This time of year late afternoon storms can pop up anywhere. That fateful day was one of those days.
Generally when I hike the mountain, I go up the more challenging natural trail. That route is pretty difficult, full of steep inclines, and rocks. I always come back down via the roadway that winds around the mountain to avoid those obstacles going down hill. It’s just my routine when I go.
So we started the climb. Grant was hot-shotting it, bound to end up tripping and getting hurt on a rock. Ashtyn wasn’t overly excited about the climb or conversational during it. The best part of the experience for her was that she had her ear buds in, likely listening to Taylor Swift.
Two minutes before it poured (and evidence it looked like a nice day!)
There is a parking lot when you get close to the top. That is where we felt the first drop of rain. I looked around for clouds, didn’t see any cause for concern, so we proceeded to the final portion of the climb (about another 500 feet). Then, we heard a loud boom of thunder. Game changer! I checked the weather app and it said there was a fifteen percent chance of rain. At that point, we were in the one hundred percent portion of that fifteen! It was time to head down the mountain and quickly. The road ahead awaited us.
We didn’t get too far into the descent when the bottom fell out. It absolutely poured the entire way back. A hike that was intended to prove a point to two kids, only proved to be an unexpected moment, unforgettable experience. Here are five things I learned from that twentyish or so minute run downhill in the torrential downpour:
Calm Is Contagious
I was talking to my wife, Shannon, on FaceTime when the thunder and lightning rolled in. Luckily the cell reception was spotty and she didn’t know the full extent of the situation we had gotten ourselves into. My life was on the line either way, I was going to get struck by lightning or she would finish the job if something happened to her babies!
She didn’t sense we were in as big of a bind as we were because I was able to stay calm, at least on the outside! She could have sensed something was up, but I just gave her a confident smile, told her I loved her, and hung up. It wasn’t until the second FaceTime call with the three of us soaking wet in the truck did she realize what had happened.
You may have heard this before, but a leader should always look like a duck on water. Above the water, graciously gliding across the surface, while beneath the surface kicking frantically. Rorke Denver says that, “calm is contagious.” When the storms start brewing in our leadership worlds it is imperative for us to stay calm. If we panic, the team panics. Conversely, if we are calm, they are calm. We decide how and what to infect the team with.
All Eyes Are on You
As I hung up the phone, I drew my attention back to the kids. They were looking at me, I was looking at them. Both were looking to me to lead. After all, I am the parent! I needed to make a move. We needed to get to the base of the mountain, and do it quickly. So we started to jog.
In leadership, all eyes are on us when unforeseen things happen. We have all had our fair share of crises over the last few years, things that we never saw coming. Between a pandemic, supply chain issues, inflation, gas prices, and labor shortages, it is an extremely heavy burden to bear. Our teams are looking to us for leadership in these moments, all eyes are on us. Make the move, they are waiting to get where the organization needs to go.
Laugh at the Situation
As we started the jog, we looked around at each other. Suddenly, Ashtyn’s frown turned upside down. She started to laugh out loud as the rain continued to drench us. It was almost out of pure disbelief in the situation. While the rain got heavier, the mood got lighter thanks to her laughter. It too was contagious and Grant and I joined in. That simple laugh broke the concern that was buried in the craziness of the moment. I can’t recall the last time I laughed that much, certainly not while running!
We take ourselves and our world’s way too seriously. When things get crazy, a laugh can be the cure for chaos. It breaks our line of thinking and redirects our attention to what matters. Laughter lightens moods and provides an escape from the gravity of the situation. Sometimes you just have to laugh.
Sometimes, There is Nothing You Can Do
Between the three of us, we had three iPhones and two sets of AirPods. I’m sure if I totaled it up, that is well over $1,000 in electronic stuff. Stuff that does not play well with water. I somehow thought that putting everyone’s stuff in my pockets would save them from being damaged. Five minutes into the jog, my pockets were wet just like every other piece of clothing I had on.
Once I gave up trying to control the outcome of those devices’ fate, I enjoyed the rest of the run much more. I was deeper into the moment and more present with the kids, just had to realize there was nothing I could do to control the outcome. It was what it was.
We all want everything in our leadership worlds to go as we planned. It makes life much easier doesn’t it? I strongly believe that our most unexpected and unforgettable moments in our leadership journeys come when we don’t see them coming. Our best learning is done in the midst of chaos, when we have to pivot from the direction we planned to go. The ability to pivot lies at the intersection of when you realize there is nothing you can do sometimes. You just gotta accept the fact.
Make a Decision
There were two options we had in front of us, to do nothing or to start the descent. Doing nothing was our worst option. If the storm worsened, we would have made zero progress and no one was coming to get us off the mountain. We decided to start making progress towards getting down the mountain.
There are times as leaders where the worst decision we can make is no decision at all. We can become paralyzed through the process of analysis and go nowhere. Going nowhere leaves us stuck in the same place. Momentum is everything in leadership and it is driven by decisions that pursue forward progress, even if it’s downhill!
Not all decisions will turn out right. Getting out 67% of the time can make you a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer. The G.O.A.T, Michael Jordanonce said, “you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.” Leaders decide, it’s what we do, take the shot.
Conclusion – Unexpected Moments, Unforgettable Experiences
That was the only time I didn’t want a run to end. We could have rested in that moment forever.
Unexpected memories become unforgettable when they are talked about later. We spent the fifteen-minute drive home reliving the entire experience over and over. I guarantee you the next time we are outside and it starts to rain or the next time we climb the mountain, a sentence will begin with, “you remember that time when?” We will cherish what comes next for the rest of our lives.
How many of those, “remember that time when” stories do you have in leadership? I guarantee most of those stories are not grounded in planning, they are produced in unexpected ways. Ways that make those moments stick. Moments of this magnitude can redirect our journeys to places we could never imagine them taking us to. Unexpected moments, unforgettable memories.