I learned many things from my time in the military, but today I want to talk about something I learned from watching my kids navigate military life.
My oldest daughter is getting ready to graduate high school. She has lived in North Carolina, Maryland, Illinois, and now Florida – with many trips to other places in between. Her dad has lived in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and North Dakota. Suffice it to say, the kid has traveled.
I grew up in a very, very small town. It was often said, if you didn’t know what you were doing, just ask someone—because everyone was always up in everyone else’s business. We all knew each other, our parents knew each other, and (sometimes) even our grandparents knew each other. That was not my daughter’s experience. By the time she reached eighth grade, she’d been in seven different schools.
With that kind of life, you learn to make friends quickly. Admittedly, both of my kids have always been very social—they’ve never met a stranger. They will find a way to strike up a conversation, even if it’s as simple as finding something quick to compliment an old lady on in the store: “Oh, I like your necklace!” And, yes, that has happened…more than once.
When we first moved to Florida, my daughters didn’t know anybody. Less than a week later, I watched my oldest walk up to a little girl at her new school, and they hugged. I just thought, “Wow—look at that!” She had made a friend and felt close enough that they felt comfortable hugging, in only one week. That’s just how she’s always been—how she learned to be. Military life had plenty of challenges with moves and missed birthdays and holidays, but I realized it also helped her step out of her comfort zone. It gave her people skills not everybody has. She learned quickly that in order to have a friend, you have to be a friend. She kept many of those friends, too. She still has friends she talks to all over the country. It’s almost as if she served in the military herself.
Would it surprise you to know many adults struggle with these same skills? We teach our kids “Don’t talk to strangers!” but even as adults, we can find it hard to really connect and engage. It’s easier, sometimes, to be a sort of social media warrior hiding behind a keyboard and computer screen. It can seem safer there because you’re faceless and (mostly) free from embarrassment. But watching my daughters be so open and connect with strangers has always been fascinating.
In my estate planning practice, it can be hard to get around the need to be open – to talk to people about the deep (and sometimes dark) details of their lives, to have those hard conversations, so that I can help them. I’ve learned, just like watching my kids, to be a friend, first. When I notice a client seems uncomfortable, I’ll open up and share something about myself, first—a funny or awkward story, etc.—so they feel comfortable opening up, too. And believe me, I have plenty of material from my 40-plus years.
As my 9-year-old says, “Sharing is caring.”
In the spirit of sharing, I’ll leave you with this little story. My husband and I get a charge out of buying each other items that say “The World’s Okayest…” on them. In the past, I’ve bought my husband “World’s Okayest Dad” and “World’s Okayest Firefighter” merchandise. Returning the favor, he once bought me a “World’s Okayest Lawyer” shirt.
Several Fridays ago, I made the questionable decision to wear that shirt to the post office.
Someone in the lobby saw my shirt and asked, “Are you a lawyer? What kind of law do you do? I just moved here, and I need a lawyer!” They were super excited to see me!
I said, “You know this says World’s Okayest Lawyer, right? You sure you want to go with that?” I was half-joking because it clearly was not the best marketing strategy to wear that shirt in public.
They laughed, and we talked a bit more. Turns out, my shirt ended up being a great conversation piece and an unintended advertisement of sorts.
While I’ll never tell whether that conversation turned into actual business for me, it really made me smile. That connection, even for a moment, was pretty awesome and it really was that simple. In one instant we went from being absolute strangers to a welcomed interaction, just like I’ve watched my daughters do again and again over the years.
To have a friend, be a friend—it’s remarkable what a big difference such a simple concept can make.