Let me tell you about the amazing change of pace I experienced today.
My kids' school, River Woods Elementary, participates in a national program called WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students). Twice a week, a different dad spends the entire school day volunteering at the school. The guiding principle: Young children of all stripes can benefit from having more active father figures present in their lives. Hard to argue with that, right?
I signed up fully expecting to flex my "dad muscles".
I didn't expect that my day away from the office would also train my work muscles.
Back in my home office, just hours removed from my whirlwind return to grade school, I find myself energized, full of perspective, and above all, grateful.
Here's the play-by-play, reconstructed from my hastily scribbled notes (via #2 pencil on loose leaf, naturally.)
Helped work the drop-off line by holding open car doors on what may have been the windiest day of the year. Felt a bit like HM Queen Elizabeth II as I worked to perfect my "regal wave" to our local River Woods families during drop-off.
Morning announcements! I was introduced by Principal Baumgartner as today's WATCH D.O.G. and invited to say hello to the entire school over the PA. Too bad I then immediately lost all credibility with 500 little kids by mis-telling the joke my kids' taught me to share: (i.e., "What's orange and sounds like a carrot? a parrot." Oops. Strike That. Reverse it. #WillyWonkaFail)
Math Workshop with my daughter's 1st grade class. Mrs. Oczki did an amazing job giving a lesson about tallying. The students practiced the concept by voting for their favorite color. Because it was a roll-call vote, and because first-graders are apparently quite susceptible to peer pressure, the results of the tally found BLUE with 18 votes, RED with 3, and GREEN with 1 (the teacher's sympathy vote). After the lesson, I worked a station to help the kids practice subtraction, tallying, and computer programming on iPads. First graders learning computer programming; I suspect I may have still been eating paste at that age.
Recess! Running, jumping, skipping, hopping, and freeze-tag with about 30 1st graders. I'd coached about 1/3 of these kids in soccer and softball, but it was great to meet the rest of the posse. So many good eggs. (And yes, so stinkin' cute.)
Office Volunteering: Stapling 6'x3' sheets of construction paper onto show-boards for an upcoming 3rd grade art show. I give myself an A for effort, but a B- for outcomes as I spied a few admittedly higher-performing parent volunteers... refine... my work a few hours later.
RECESS 2! All of the above, but this time with ~60 kids of multiple ages.
Pedometer exceeds daily goal at precisely 11:14 AM.
Lunch!: I order myself a classic school lunch (chicken patty on bun, broccoli, banana) and saddle up with my daughter and her crew. She seems "fine" with my sitting next to her, but at least 5 other girls and boys jockey for the right to sit on my other side. I've clearly overcome my opening joke fiasco and am now officially popular in first grade.
RECESS 3! Enough kid stuff. Now it's go-time: Me vs. about 20 5th grade man-boys in an epic game of not-quite-tackle-because-we-would-all-get-in-trouble-if-we-called-it-tackle-football. I win thanks to my relative size, strength, experience, and complete control over the rules.
LUNCH 2: Three recesses make a 40 year old man hungry. I secure some cheese pizza and chocolate milk. I also dial in a fruit cup. I probably haven't had pears in light syrup in, oh, 20 years. I make a point of spending time with each group of kids, partly because I've known my son's core cabal for 6 years, and partly because those boys were still licking their wounds from their football beat-down. I sit down with some dual-language-classroom kids, many of whom are English-as-a-Second-Language, and we immediately hit it off. We talk about violin lessons, soccer, air-guitar, drums, and our shared fondness for ketchup.
HIGHLIGHT OF MY DAY: Mrs. Ullestad. invites me to give a talk to her 5th grade students about my memories of 5th grade, my memories of transitioning to junior high, and my advice for their future. Short version: "Grit, Not Quit" and "Do what you love, what you're great at, and what the world needs." Time-tested executive coaching advice with some 11yr old flair. I feel fulfilled. Thanks to Mrs. Ullestad. for that opportunity.
I coach a group of 5th graders on their civil war re-enactment play. There is something uniquely inspiring about teaching ethnically diverse Yankees how to speak with a more convincing southern drawl.
Phys-Ed: 1st Gym class is classic "let-it-rip" kickball.
I hand write letters to my kids that they'll read tomorrow reflecting upon my day. I get a little bit emotional. But then I think about kickball mastery and I smirk, secure in my macho dad mojo.
I call next week's WATCH D.O.G. and let him know how much fun he'll have when it's his turn. He hears the exhaustion in my voice, but doesn't immediately cancel his commitment. And I don't even work in sales.
Office Volunteering 2: I help a bit more with the dreaded art show displays. There is now a full-on flotilla of uber-capable volunteer moms running the show. What I give up in autonomy is now made up for in complimentary cookies. A worthy trade.
The circle is (literally) complete as I man the pick-up loop, opening doors for kids to get into their cars and head home. Whereas I was "weird new dad" just 6 hours prior, I'm now a micro-celebrity*. Super small people I've never met are shouting "have a good day Mr. Bechtel!" from their tan 'n taupe family trucksters. (*Ok, nano-celebrity.)
Back to the grind: I have a board conference call with one of our startups wherein we discuss cash flow, customer acquisition strategies, and product road maps. Tensions run high as our "earn" numbers aren't keeping pace with our "burn" figures.
The board sounds deflated. Tired. Like... grumpy grown-ups.
I, on the other hand, continue to suggest optimistic alternatives. "Can we recast the data piece as a subscription?" "Maybe we can unwind some CapEx and generate some liquidity!" "Maybe we just whip up a new offering entirely!".
Fellow board member: "What's gotten into you, Mr. Sunshine?"
I mutter something about our fiduciary responsibility to maintain an unconditionally constructive mindset, but decide not to tell him the real reason:
That I'm still energized by 300 little fist-bumps, 3 outdoor recesses, 2 hot lunches, and, as of this writing, 1 still-undisputed first grade kickball championship.