As I finished my junior year in high school, I had so many thoughts of what I wanted to be. The possibilities truly seemed unlimited. I remember having ideas of being a farmer, a highway patrolman, a ranger, a pastor, and the list went on. The list seems non-traditional, a little wide-ranging. However, in looking at the list today, all had a bent toward nature or doing something with people.
My first spark came that spring when I was selected to attend Boys State. It was a selection by default. The local American Legion made the selection, and there were two criteria – be a male and have the best grades. I was the runner up, since I made the first criteria, but not the second. The male with the highest grades did not want to go, not his thing, so I went.
I had never heard of Boys State, but was up for the new adventure. Boys State was a week long effort to teach boys from across the state something about our government and political process. During this week, we created a functioning, fictional government, electing officials and doing the work of the people. I jumped right in, running for a Supreme Court Justice position, winning one, and then being selected as the Chief Justice. (As a side note, there is a Girls State, too.)
My family was the farthest from being political as any family can be. Being good citizens, they did vote religiously in every primary and election, but that was the extent of their political involvement.
“A spark is an inspired moment which engages us to move in a renewed direction, energetically and with a greater sense of fulfillment.”
What happened that week was a spark went off inside of me. A whole new world was ignited, and I was totally enthralled by this path. I loved politics!
From this lucky participation in an event like Boys State, I attended college and received a Bachelor of Arts in Government & International Affairs. During my college career, I was leading one of our campus political organizations, interned in the Mayor’s office, interned in one of our US Senator’s office during the summer, and worked in a congressional campaign after graduation.
All this transpired from that spark during Boys State and led to a college degree and a seven-and-a-half year career in Washington, DC serving in various political roles.
Sparks in life cannot be necessarily planned, but giving our teens an opportunity to experience their own spark is essential. The opportunities do not have to cost money, as in my case, but it may be nudging them firmly into some opportunities which may spark a spark.
Right now, I planted a stake in the ground with my teen son that he will go on a mission this summer. I didn’t care through which organization, but he needed to get out there and do something out of his comfort zone. The added benefits are to do good works, experience the struggles people work through, and how a community can come together to help.
Will a spark happen? I absolutely have no idea. I am not necessarily looking for a spark to happen, but want to encourage the possibility. Through interacting with other youth and working in a new community, who knows what spark may happen. It may not be a career-making spark, but it may be other life sparks which stir up inside. Time will only tell.
Whether for our teens or for us, it is good to get out and do something a little different. There may be sparks that occur which inspire us to take our careers in a different direction or get involved in a new volunteer activity which takes our life experiences to a new level of fulfillment.
Sparks may fly from something you read or watch. Going back to my Washington career, at one point, I realized that I did not want to spend my life doing the political thing. My track was clearly to become a lobbyist at some point. I was not inspired by this thought at all. Fred Barnes, during this time period, published an article entitled The Parasite Culture of Washington. This lit the spark in me to figure out an exit plan, and I did.
Sparks in our life come at different points and through different means. They happen early in our life and through various phases of our career. The sparks may not take us in new directions, but may enlighten us to add to our life works. What I mean by this is your daily job may provide a certain level of fulfillment as well as fill the basic needs in Maslow’s hierarchy. The spark may inspire you to add to it. The addition can come in the form of getting involved in community organizations, in church, in running a marathon, in… fill in the blanks of what path the spark may ignite for you.
The point is feeling that spark inside is one of the most gratifying things anyone can experience. Truth-be-told, from a career standpoint, the spark that happened at Boys State may have been my best one. It created a great run of excitement and challenge, lasting about twelve years.
My recent spark has come from co-leading our Confirmation class and, more recently, attending the Leadership Summit. Together, these events have ignited a layered spark in my life. I love being a father and a husband; I enjoy marketing software solutions; and I am excited about developing and launching a new youth leadership program. As we age, it may not be the time to do less. It may be the opposite; it may be time to add on, to listen to the sparks inside and put them to work.
The Spark Challenge:
- If you have a teen, encourage them to read something new or go to an out-of-the-ordinary event. Provide an opportunity for their spark to occur. Sometimes, it may take more of a firm push than a suggestion to get them out of their comfort zone, and sometimes, it may happen during an expected, almost random event.
- Don’t ignore yourself. Take some of the same opportunities to get out of your comfort zone through reading, thoughts, or doing. Supplementing your life with fulfilling activities will make your daily work life more enjoyable, perhaps, and add to your life with an enlivened purpose. Life is additive, I believe, meaning there may be more than one or two things that you enjoy doing and make your life more meaningful.
Be open for a spark! Get ready to embrace it!