What’s Going To Make You Smile?

Posted on July 28th, 2016 by


Isn’t that what every photographer says?

But what if you don’t want to smile?  What if you’re doing something with your life that no longer brings you joy?  What’s going to make you smile again?

And what if you’ve worked so hard to get to where you are at and you no longer have that spark?  Do you still keep doing it just because you’re very good at it?

What do you do?

I will tell you two stories, both of which I’ll never forget.

Years ago, a mom whose child was a TLC camper who had won the state tournament the previous year, was in the semis again and highly favored to repeat.

I went up to the mom and said, “How’s it going?”  The mom said, “Terrible.”  That was not the answer I was expecting, especially since her daughter was easily dispatching her opponent.  “Why?” I asked.  “My daughter wants to quit tennis”, she said. “Why?” I asked.  “Because she hates it.”  I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind.  “Why doesn’t she quit?”  The mom looked at me like I was crazy and said, “I won’t let her!”  I’ve never been one not to take the opportunity to dig a deeper hole than I am already in, so I said, “How long has this been going on?”  She replied, “Since she won the state last year.”

Pressing on dumbly, I asked, “Why won’t you let her quit?”  She said, “Because she has the chance to repeat as state champion!”  As if this made perfect sense, and the fact that her daughter was miserable in her life was not an issue, or that their relationship had been deeply damaged by this.  I walked away very sad.  I have done the same thing topeople in my life.  I never saw that girl smile the whole match.  She could have spent that year doing something she loved.  Art.  Music.  Volleyball.

The mom was trying to do what was best for her child, I deeply believe that.  But she was missing, I think, what was most important.

brandonphotoThis past weekend at family camp, Roy came to TLC with his brothers and dad.  Whenever they roll around, my world brightens up. They have great love and kindness for each other.  That always intrigues and delights me.

I went up to Roy and – knowing he had played for the state champion Minnetonka boys’ team this past spring (which I hadn’t been able to see because TLC was in session) – I said, “Congratulations on being a state champion!”  He said, “Thanks, but I wasn’t on the team this year.”  I must have looked shocked.  I said, “What do you mean?”  He said, “I got burned out on tennis and I wanted to get into photography, so I turned all my attention there.  I haven’t really picked up a racket since last summer when I was at TLC.”  “Are you happy?”  The smile that spread across his face was big as the world.  “Yes!”  “Any regrets knowing you could have been playing for a state champion?”  The smile never left his face, nor did he waver.  “No!”

I blurted out the first thing that came to mind.  “Congratulations!  That’s wonderful! You are doing something you love.”  And then I turned to his dad – and his mom who had come down to surprise him with a birthday cake – and said, “Good job!”

Because our job as parents is not to try to fit our children into our passions, but to help them find their passion and fit our lives into it.  Even if we wouldn’t choose it for ourselves.  Even if we wouldn’t choose it for them.  Because it is not our lives they are supposed to lead.  It is theirs.

I get sidetracked sometimes.  I fail at this.  So do you, probably.  But when we do, I want you to remember Roy.

And smile!


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  1. Brad Olson says:

    Great message for us parents and coaches to hear! Keep the great blogs coming Neal. I love each one!
    Enjoy your August after TLC ends!

  2. sven from Germany & former instructor says:

    Thanks for another reminder Neal …from Turkey with love

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      I know you and Steve had these conversations as did Steve and I. Lucky guys, we were…

  3. Jennifer Kirby says:

    So true! When I was in high school, I was “talked into” staying on the swim team longer than I wanted to by the coach. I wish I had stopped when I had wanted to. Quitting can be good!

    Thanks for writing. I love your posts.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Think of how much time we have our kids waste on things they get no joy out of, when they could be creating something beautiful in their lives and in the world. We let adults make these decisions to stop something and move on, why don’t we respect kids the same way?

  4. Bev says:

    This is a wonderful post, and so true! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Bev says:

    This is a wonderful post, and so very true! Thank you for sharing!

  6. Diane Marsh says:

    I know that Steve would be so proud of the way you are carrying on for him. Thanks for the beautiful story. And tell Barb to come visit me in Florida.

  7. Mike Senescall says:

    Listening to your children is so important.

  8. Lynn Larson says:

    Great stories once again! And yes, we as parents have to let our kids find their passion, not ours!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thanks, Lynn. It’s hard. But they know themselves better than we give them credit, I think.

  9. Amy Velasquez says:

    What an AWESOME reminder! Thanks!!

  10. Karen Mann says:

    Right on the money again!