Hey Lyle Letter #003

Planting seeds

Last Sunday, I was featured in a fun Q&A with Britany Robinson, the creator of the One More Question newsletter. If you’re a freelance writer, Britany’s newsletter is overflowing with actionable advice and resources. She has over a decade of experience in the industry, so she’s seen a thing or two.

Read the Q&A here, but more importantly, subscribe to her newsletter. I’m a happy, paying subscriber so I get an extra post from her each week.

Allllll right, let’s get to today’s Hey Lyle advice column.

Hey Lyle,

My daughter will be born in ~50 days. How do I know if my ambitions for her are too high?

I'm a creative person who wants her to be an entrepreneur, artist, engineer, writer, dancer, philosopher, and scientist who embraces all creative pursuits. How do I cultivate an environment where creativity is endless?

A First-Time Father

Hey First-Timer,

During the fall of 2015 when my stepdaughter Sara was a six-year-old, she “played soccer”. I put it in quotes because when she was in the game she mostly picked grass or ran around after the ball without actually attempting to kick it. She had more fun on the sidelines goofing off with her friends than playing in the game. Somehow her team still managed to go on to win the championship in their league.

The next spring, she turned seven and tried a class at a local theater school. She loved it. They put on a fun show at the end of the session called Dear Edwina, which—ironically—is a play based on an advice column for kids.

Sara memorized her lines with ease and she performed them with gusto. It was incredible to watch how effortless it was for her.

When it came time to sign up for soccer again, my wife Allison asked Sara if she wanted to play. We expected her to say yes because she had fun the previous year and she would be on the same team with one of her best friends again.

But instead, she contemplated it for a moment and earnestly said, “You know mom, I think I was born to be on the stage.”

And I’m telling you, First-Timer, she was 100% right.

We don’t know where she gets it. Allison is a dietitian and a very good public speaker, but she’s not remotely outgoing or extroverted enough to have ever considered doing theater. I was a musician and played on stage in front of thousands of people, but the thought of acting on stage is way more intimidating to me.

COVID has put a hold on theater for the past year-plus. But I’m guessing she’ll be right back at it whenever they start it up again. Or maybe she won’t. And that’s okay too. She’s been into fashion and watching Project Runway lately, so maybe she’ll want to explore making clothing next. Who knows?

My parents aren’t musicians at all, but for some reason, when I was around ten years old they bought a piano and got my brother Owen and me piano lessons. Maybe they wished they’d learned an instrument as a kid. I’m not sure. The problem was, Owen and I did not enjoy playing the piano. At all. We would begrudgingly go to our piano lessons and lie about practicing at home when our parents were at work. After a few years, they gave up and scrapped the lessons and sold the piano.

Fast forward many years later and we were in high school. I was a senior and Owen was a freshman. I was a newly licensed driver and I was driving us somewhere when “Two Princes” by The Spin Doctors came on the radio. Out of nowhere, Owen said, “Those drums sound cool. I think I want to learn how to play drums.” I bet now he wishes it was a much cooler band like TOOL who inspired that random thought, but no such luck.

After Owen bugged them for several days, our parents eventually rented him a drumset and bought him some lessons. He loved it and he got good fast.

It got me thinking, I want to play something too, maybe we can be in a band together.

Around that time, we were hanging with my cousin Jeromy and he showed me some songs from a Primus album. He told me the singer, Les Claypool, also played the bass and that was the instrument making the cool sounds I was hearing. It blew my mind and I wanted to learn how to do it too.

Now it was my turn to bug our parents. They ended up buying me a cheap Fender bass and a small amp for my high school graduation present.

Owen and I played for hours on end during the following summer and the next couple of years while I went to junior college. We learned our instruments together and we were locked in as a rhythm section.

My parents must have felt like spending money on the piano and the lessons and all the time spent nagging us about practicing were a complete waste. But they planted a small seed in us that grew and bloomed and propelled us both to form bands, write original music, and play on stage.

My band Pressure 4-5 signed a major label record deal with DreamWorks and toured North America for the better part of two years. After that, Owen and I were in a band called Ambionic together and created some of the music I’m most proud of writing.

Playing piano to a metronome all those years before helped us with our rhythm and timing. We can still jam today and it’s like riding a bike for us. 

Playing music has deepened my appreciation for music and the arts, in general. And pushing myself creatively and professionally with my music back then—along with having some measure of success—proved to me that I can do hard things and put my creative self out there. It’s even helping me now as I write these words.

In your first question, you ask, “How do I know if my ambitions for her are too high?” I believe you already know the answer to this, First-Timer. They are.

In my case, with my daughter Em who has cerebral palsy, I’ve had to drastically change my ambitions and expectations for her. Before she was born, I dreamt about teaching her golf and playing on the golf course together when I’m old and retired. She likely won’t be able to walk without some sort of assistance, so golf is almost certainly off the table. But maybe she will be able to explore writing and we can share that interest. Or maybe she gets into art or coding or any number of other creative activities.

The odds are you won’t have to deal with something similar and I sincerely hope that’s the case.

You never know what your daughter’s passions will be or what will spark them. One of your many jobs as a parent is to foster an environment where your daughter is encouraged to explore different things. But you need to remove any emotional attachment you have to any of those things. You can’t force her to pursue the things you want her to pursue. You should introduce her to art or writing or whatever else interests you, but don’t be heartbroken if she doesn’t get as excited about them as you do at first.

And yet. You can cultivate an environment where creativity is endless. You can do it by showing, not telling. Your daughter will always look to you as an example. She will worship you up until some age where she will pretend she doesn’t because it isn’t cool (but she still actually does). If you show her you have varied interests, then she will be more apt to embrace similar creative pursuits. If she sees you fiddling around on your phone all the time, then not so much. 

So, First-Timer, as your daughter grows up, let her see you writing and dancing and building businesses and talking about philosophy. If she sees why those things are important to you and how they fulfill you, she will follow suit in her unique way.

And maybe one of those seeds you plant will bloom and she will go on to do things you never could’ve imagined.

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