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What A Young Injured Boy Taught Me About Mastering Change

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” ~Erin Morgenstern, Author of The Night Circus

I’m always amazed at the lessons life teaches us, often in the most unexpected ways. Recently, an injured young boy taught me a lesson about how we successfully master change.

I had an upcoming speaking engagement to talk about the power of stories and how you can make an impact with your message through storytelling. I was nervous.

Not about the speech I was going to give. But by that ominous tickle in the back of my throat that was a sign of worst things to come.

My speech was a couple of days away. I had come down with a bad cold, and I was worried that I might be too sick to present.

My head and body ached and my throat felt like sandpaper every time I swallowed. In a panic, I rushed to my doctor’s office the next morning to make sure I didn’t have the flu.

While I was sitting in the waiting room, a family walked in with a young boy who looked about seven years old. The kid was tall and skinny with blond hair and the most beautiful blue eyes that captured my soul.

When he saw me looking at him, I couldn’t help but smile. He looked away as if he was embarrassed. I knew I was invading his privacy but I couldn’t help but stare.

I noticed right away that something was wrong with his left arm. He was holding it up against his chest with his other arm to keep it stationary. He was either unable or unwilling to use it.

I wasn’t sure, but it was clear that he was in a lot of pain. I could tell by the lack of color in his face and his expression, the corners of his mouth slightly turned down, that he was hurting.

He was accompanied by his mother who clung to his side, a short woman with long dark curly hair. She was wearing black slacks with a modest flower printed blouse and a black cashmere sweater.

I watched as she hovered over her son. Her protective coddling told me she was very concerned about his condition, and I could see the lines of worry in her forehead and mouth.

The dad sat on the other side of his son in the waiting room. A tall stoic man with a firm jaw, he was wearing khaki pants and a button-down baby blue dress shirt with a white zippered hoodie. I assumed he was there to comfort his wife as much as he was to help his son.

I wondered what had happened to the boy. Had he fallen and broken his arm? Was it something even more serious that rendered the arm useless?

As I waited and watched them, I wondered how I would react in that situation, if he were my son? I suddenly felt a deep sympathy for the mother knowing full well that she was suffering to see her son in pain.

I watched her dig through her purse and pull out a can of Dr. Pepper and offer it to the boy. But he didn’t take it from her. Instead, he slowly rolled his head and eyes to the left indicating something. “Mom, there’s water right over there,” he said.

At that moment his mother, father and I all rolled our heads to the left like synchronized dancers to look in the direction the boy indicated. And sure enough, there it was in the corner of the lobby, a large water dispenser with clear plastic cups beside it.

Wow, I thought to myself. I was impressed at the boy’s will power to opt for the water over the soda — not many kids I know at his age would have made the same decision.

And he made it look so easy. He obviously wasn’t struggling with this decision in his mind. Then something magical happened.

The dad leaned over to the boy and asked, “What’s wrong son, you don’t want the soda.” The boy responded with such sincere honesty that his reply caught me off guard. “Of course, I want the soda, Dad, but I’m practicing making smarter decisions.” The boy then continued with his discourse of all the health benefits of drinking 64 ounces of water a day.

I laughed to myself. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This wisdom spoken from the mouths of babes still holds me in awe today. Then something beautiful occurred.

The dad lifted his arm and put it around his son’s neck. He squeezed him in a side hug and kissed the top of his head and said, “Great job son. Keep practicing.” The boy grinned and looked up at his dad who was smiling back at him.

I noticed how the boy and his father were suddenly transported from time and space. In this magical moment of connection, he was not a hurt little boy. He was a beloved son who had been empowered by his father to make smart decisions.

It was a beautiful and sincere moment that I will never forget. One that taught me something new about how we successfully manage change.

I already knew that change starts by creating a desire within someone, just as the parents had done by helping the boy see the benefits of drinking water. Until someone understands what’s in it for him/her, desire doesn’t exist, so you start by selling the benefits of the change.

But it had not occurred to me before that “practicing” change is a way to move through the fear of doing something new without the pressure of having to succeed right away.

The root cause of resistance is fear of failure and disappointment. By encouraging the son to practice this new behavior, the father had removed the boy’s fear of failure and disappointment allowing him to take more risk.

Equally important, when the boy exhibited the desired behavior of making a smarter decision, the dad was quick to positively reinforce the son’s behavior.

This is a perfect example of how we create successful change in our lives and our organizations. We practice. And we encourage others to practice the changes.

Through practice, we become more skilled and we build our confidence in the new environment. Practice subdues resistance to the change by removing the pressure of having to do it perfectly right out of the gate. Practice makes change an easier pill to swallow.

That boy and his family will never know the impact they had on me that day or the extent of what they taught me through their connection. But I think of them often and hope the little boy’s arm is healed.

Fortunately for me, I did not have the flu, just a bad cold. After a few days of medicine, cough syrup and rest, I felt much better just in time for my presentation.

After I thanked the group for inviting me to speak, I started off with this story about a young injured boy who taught me the secret to successful change. I transported the audience into the world of story and activated their emotions. They were instantly captivated and engaged. Right where I wanted them to be.