Wandering through my High School years I played a bit in the political space. It was an interesting use of my ability to speak and think on my feet, and I was on the Student Congress as a Sophomore and a Junior. I was not a very active member, but loved wondering how we could get a group of 30 people to agree to any Outcome. I am never sure who or why, but someone nominated me for a very prestigious event, particularly in Texas: Boys State. It is now the subject of a new documentary that I haven’t watched yet, but having been there, I can hazard a guess that it would be eye-opening….
… the idea was to take one of the leading students from each High School across the state, and send them to UT Austin for a week of intensive study of government, and how it actually works. Many of the students had a passion to go into politics, and they fit in nicely as the first part of the week is a full-on campaign to get elected to office. I really hadn’t thought about politics as a serious career, but no pressure – a boy 6 years ahead of me from Tyler-Lee had not only gotten elected Governor, he was then selected for Boys Nation – and was, like Bill Clinton, elected President.
We rose at 5:30, ran down five flights of stairs, out onto the field for an hour of exercise, followed by meals in the cafeteria, classes, caucus meetings, campaign rallies, etc. 1400 boys… we pretty much took over 4 large dorms for the week. Once elected, on Wednesday we actually took our positions – I was a state representative and assigned to a committee, and we attempted to work together to craft a bill we would try to pass by Friday. And if we did, we got points I think, but honestly, I was more just wondering why all of this activity actually made sense?
Cat always had a sense of wonder and irony about the world around him, joined with skepticism of the machinery of the music industry. As he continued to write bigger and bigger hits, his enjoyment of the touring and constant promotion was starting to take a toll on him again. This particular song comes from one of his many flights where he had a Buddha in one hand, and a box of chocolates in the other… and he wondered if he were to die on the plane, would these be the objects he took to the next world? The album continues his deeper inner journey with songs like Jesus, Ready, King of Trees, and Home in the Sky.
Today’s song came from that same plane ride, and his remembering Don McLean’s big hit 2 years earlier, American Pie, itself an homage to Buddy Holly’s short but impactful career. If you lay the lyrics of this song beside lyrics from Not Fade Away and Words of Love, Cat expertly weaves them in with ironic twists, and produces a masterpiece of the wonder of longing for the innocence that is so fleeting as we grow through it towards our own destiny and Outcome.
The American Legion sponsored this event, and I suspect their major motivation was to provide a taste of the “real” politics to citizens who may or may not actually get into it, and like Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out 200 years before, the point is to understand how decisions and cooperation can actually work without power and authority, but with more understanding. What I observed was that you had to have a keen understanding of the rules (specifically Roberts Rules), an ability to schmooze and interact, but most importantly – a clear Outcome you were seeking. It could be as simple as being elected, but that focus is critical to success in that profession.
I was honored to go, and ironically, as I have written about before, I actually was elected President of our Student Congress only 9 months later – not something I actually pursued, but something I served reluctantly. If you have ever had an interest in politics, or ranted and raved about it, I would encourage you to get involved in what it ACTUALLY is. As with senior leadership roles, once you see it, you may wonder why ANYONE would do it, but my taste of it then did not spark the wonder or passion that many others picked up with the same experience.
In my work with leaders, many are anxious that they need to know the exact right next path, the right thing to do, to “follow their passion”. I would counter that small experiments are often a better test. One week in the Texas heat showed me what this was, and while I still dabbled in it, I recognized this would not be my life’s work. It even started to show me that while I was good at Debate, it was not something I would want to become my profession. As you wonder what could be coming next for you and your teams, what are some small experiments to run, approaches to try out — if only for a short while… It is like watching kids play… they will try it, goof around, and move on. Perhaps we all need a bit more of that…I know that I will try to always stay… O Very Young.