That was an important insight for me. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it—I probably was caught up in the day-to-day schedule of parenting, activities, work, and chores. If you raise your kids where you grew up, then chances are they already know your friends, family, friends and favorite childhood spots. That is not the case with my children. I have many great friends where we live now, but there is something about laughing with people that I’ve been friends with since childhood that is, well, different. I was reminded of this on during this trip home when my friends were all gathered at my best friend’s house. The adults were sitting at the table playing a game together and the children were all in the basement having a party of their own. At one point in the evening, my youngest daughter came up and pointed out that the “adults were having more fun than the kids.” They saw me fully comfortable in my own domain.
My kids are having a very different childhood than I. Instead of holidays gathered at an aunt and uncle’s house with the entire family—cousins galore, multiple generations, homemade ravioli, and lots of laughter—we spend holidays picking which state to travel to and which family to visit. One isn’t better than the other—they are just different. For my girls to fully know who I am, they have to see that difference. It actually surprised me how much it impacted them. As we drove by my childhood homes, I told stories about each place. I didn’t think my young daughters were paying attention much, but realized they really enjoyed these stories when they asked me to retell them to my friend as she drove us to the airport.
Leaving Chicago was one of the more difficult decisions in my life. I had left to live briefly in another country, but I think my gut knew when I left for that time that it wasn’t a permanent move. When I made the decision to move to another state a few years later, I realized that this was more permanent. I had almost grown too comfortable at home. I needed to push myself to be uncomfortable in a new setting in order to reach my next level of personal growth. I valued my past, my home, my life up to that point, but I needed to get outside of it to explore the possibility of my future.
I’ve been doing very interesting research and work on unconscious bias for my job. Through this work, I’ve realized something—my past plays an important and critical role in how I got to where I am today. The hard work, the ability to get through tough times, the ability to take orders and work under minimal supervision—all of that came from my upbringing and “blue collar” values.
But I also realized that that upbringing was so ingrained in me that I couldn’t see what else was out there. Living in a foreign country, moving to a different state, making friends with people of all different backgrounds, stories, leadership levels, education, and experiences opened my eyes up to so many different possibilities, hobbies, careers, and ways to grow. I might not have seen these possibilities had I not stepped out of my comfort zone and left Chicago. Most importantly, had I stayed in Chicago, I wouldn’t have had my daughters—the greatest gifts in my life.
It’s important to value where you come from. Understand it’s role in who you are. Understand the positive influence it’s had in your life, and at the same time, know the biases it might have created that could be holding you back. For those biases, seek out people that can help you reframe your perspective and mitigate the negative drag of those biases. This is important for both your family and your career.
Honor your past, and yet don’t let only your past define you. Seeking out new possibilities doesn’t mean you’re denying or shunning your past, rather, it’s a chance to honor that past as a building block to your future. Good or bad, your past is a key part of who you are, but if you spend all your time looking backwards you’ll walk into a wall ahead of you. Focusing on the possibility of your future could be the best way to honor your past.
Will I ever move back home to Chicago? I would love to. I took my girls to visit my alma mater in hopes that they’ll want to go there and we all will end up moving back home. But regardless of whether we do or don’t move back home, I realized the importance of letting my daughters know that part of my life. It’s a significant part of my story and my personal evolution into the person they know today. And I think they enjoyed seeing that part of me 🙂