When work and parenting skills collide

For the past few months, I have been a case study for transferable career skills.

My son has been the beneficiary of those skills. He’s 18, so it’s been hot and cold as to whether he notices their benefit.

Here’s the background: For the past few months my husband and I have been engrossed in the college-search experience. It hasn’t always been pretty. It has always been emotional.

My son wants to study music and whether that career takes him into education, the business of music, sound design or even performing, all music majors need to partake in the college audition process. It’s a whole additional step beyond the college-application process, which can be stressful all on its own. Lucky us, right?

Having zero experience in knowing what to expect for auditions, I reached into my own skillset to help. We all have them. I might be a writer at heart, but I’m also a coach, a financial planner, a strategist and a communicator. My standout skill? Professional nudger.

With the auditions, we juggle several areas: scheduling time off, booking hotel rooms, double-checking itineraries, managing private lessons and stressing over budgets.

Planning for the unexpected is also key.

For example, at a recent college audition in upstate New York — about five hours from home — we arrived at the college around 9 a.m. and were standing in line waiting to book an accompanist for my son’s voice audition. In that line I noticed something odd on my son’s black dress pants. I leaned over. Was it dirt? Was something sticking to the pants?

To my horror,  it was none of the above. I was staring at a four-inch hole down the outside seam.

Oh. My. God.

Knowing that I couldn’t panic in front of my son, I quickly and silently ran through a possible solution: We had an extra pair of pants in our hotel room (again, plan for the unexpected). Our hotel room was only five minutes from the college. My son’s actual audition time wasn’t for at least another hour. I could drive back to the hotel and grab the extra pants, return to the college and my son could switch out the pants in time to spare.

Once I pulled my son and husband aside, I quickly relayed the bad news about the hole, but just as quickly assured them that I had a solution and everything was going to be fine. I could show no fear because I needed my kiddo to remain calm and stay with the task at hand.

Let’s be clear, though. I was FREAKING OUT on the inside.

But it all worked out. I delivered the new pants, my husband remained at the college, waiting calmly with our son. An hour or so later my kiddo entered his audition with fresh pants, sans holes.

It’s a minor example, but in looking back, my career has taught me a lot about working in teams, working under pressure and working on super-tight deadlines. I reached into that toolbox during this emergency.

It’s always important to:

  • Have a plan B. Things will always go wrong. In fact, have a plan C and D, for that matter.
  • Faced with a problem? Find a solution. Never relay to your team (or your boss) just the problems. Always be willing to provide a solution.
  • Remain calm. Freaking out will only stress your team out. It helps no one. Freaking out to your boss? Not an admiration-inducing workplace skill.  
  • Give clear communication. Share your plan and how you will execute that plan.
  • Deliver. Follow through on it.

Now, all my career advice did nothing for me a couple hours later. After watching my son enter his audition classroom,  I dissolved into a blubbering mess. All the emotions hit me: I’m so proud of my kiddo for pursuing his dream. I’m proud of the hard work he puts into it. I’m proud of the risks that he is taking.

But if all goes well and he gets accepted into a college that is five hours from home, I won’t see him very much and I’ll miss him beyond words.

No workplace prepares you for that.

Cathy Hirko
Cathy Hirko is managing editor, news, for the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business. Email her at chirko@cpbj.com.

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