The attendance officer smirked at the boy who had come to school late. The boy shifted his feet as he explained that the blowout had scared him, and he demonstrated with an invisible steering wheel how he had fought to keep the car on the street. He avoided death and destruction thanks to quick thinking and cat-like reflexes.
“It’s amazing no one was hurt,” the boy said, puffing his chest as if waiting for a medal to be pinned upon it.
The attendance officer rubbed his bald head with one hand and folded his other arm across his chest. The smirk never left his face.
“A blowout, huh?”
“Yes, sir. A very dangerous one.”
“You had to change your tire, right?”
“Yes, sir. Mr. Lawson taught us how in Drivers Ed. Took a lot to get the grease and dirt off my hands,” he said, turning his outspread palms over and back again.
“So you had to put one of those little doughnut spare tires on it?”
The boy paused for an instant, sensing danger but knowing that hesitation was weakness.
“Yes, one of those little embarrassing spare tires. I’m going to get it fixed as soon as school is out. The guys are really making fun of me about it.”
He laughed nervously.
The attendance officer stood up and walked from behind the desk. “That’s great, son. Really great. Let’s go check out your handiwork. I want to see this spare tire of yours.”
The boy didn’t flinch. He walked beside the older man down the long hallway leading to the back parking lot and opened the glass door, holding it for the attendance officer. They walked down the sidewalk shoulder to shoulder and onto the asphalt of the lot. They passed row after row of cars in silence. The boy moved forward deliberatively, as if leading a procession.
Finally, he arrived at a submarine-sized silver station wagon. The attendance officer folded his arms. The boy took a deep breath and said, “Obviously, I didn’t think you’d walk all the way back here. I didn’t have a flat. I lied.”
The attendance officer smirked again. “No kidding.”
I was thinking about that incident recently after witnessing one of the final sunrises of 2020 on a run down Kavanaugh Boulevard. My breath rose visibly as I shuffled through leaf-strewn sidewalks. Christmas wreaths still clung to some doors, and a few stray ribbons and bows littered the street. But the sunrise spoke of newness and the chill brought the senses alive. It’s almost time to start again. I could hear the songs on my Spotify account switch and listened to a refrain from the Avett Brothers. I heard, “Tell the truth to yourself, and the rest will fall in place.”
What a great line to end one year and start the next. Truth is a heavy word, one soaked in depth and meaning. It’s also among the most important core characteristics we must form, hold onto and foster. A person’s integrity must be on full display at all times. Because, at its essence, that’s truth.
Moving deliberately from the lasting stings of 2020, we can help our employees, our clients, our community most by taking a few moments of self-reflection. For some, the economic pause gave permission for a pause in common sense, an excuse to act in a manner beneath expectations. Did I do that? Did I give into the disconnect and allow it to separate me from my soul? But then comes the action associated with self-reflection: how to correct the command and control within me, how to advance my own best qualities in the name of others, in the name of the institution that is greater than self.
At the beginning of any worthwhile endeavor, strong leaders take a moment to gather themselves, to employ introspection. Doing so allows one to enjoy the fruits of self-reflection and explore further that which makes us unique, different from our competitors, apart from those who refuse to do the work. Within that self-reflection, we find the courage to overcome challenges and the vision to do more, to be more. In turn, this allows us to uncover the greatest attributes within our organization, those that pull us to advance our purpose.
As we take our first steps into the New Year, we embrace the truths in our lives, in our work and in each other. A year is new only for a short time. But during that span, we can promise to use everything in our power to augment those core characteristics that make us, well, us.
Because, in doing so, we find the meaning of truth.