I was stunned when our 14-year-old son approached me with his idea. He wanted to run for President of his eighth grade student council. That, in and of itself, is not terribly remarkable, but it was certainly a departure for our son. He has struggled with anxiety issues for years. Because part of the process of running involves giving a short speech in front of a large student assembly, my wife and I would never have pushed him in that direction or even expected him to be comfortable with the idea. And my wife was even president of a high school class of more than 700 students!
I am a professional speaker. I would typically be the person running toward the stage rather than away from it. Yet I was the one getting uptight. What if it didn’t go well? What would be the impact on his confidence?
That’s an overblown fear, of course, so I took a deep breath. I tried to allow myself to simply be proud—that our child had come up with an idea to do something difficult and far away from his comfort zone. I also tried to avoid the temptation to over-coach him.
Instead, I asked my son two questions. The first was his motivation for running, while the second was what he wanted his classmates to know and feel at the end of his speech. His motivation was simply that he had some ideas that he thought could make things better. After all, he’s been going to this private school since kindergarten. What he wanted his classmates to know and understand was the importance of not being afraid.
My son gave his speech this morning. Here are some of the highlights of what he said:
“When I first thought about being a candidate, I remembered one of my favorite verses, Joshua 1:9. ‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ … Strong leaders with faith can help all of us get past our fears and to do things we might never have imagined. So that’s why I decided to be a candidate. This is the first time I have ever done something like this. If you elect me, then I promise to do my best. I will represent everyone, listen to everyone, and work to find the brightest ideas and bring them to the table. And no matter how the elections go, we can all remember God’s words–be strong and courageous.”
My 14-year-old son, in his first time on a stage like that, naturally did several of the things that great speakers do. He was clear. He was vulnerable. He was authentic. He encouraged everyone, himself included, to aspire to a higher ideal.
As I write this post, I don’t know how the election will turn out. But that doesn’t matter much.