Recently I attended my 35th High School Class Reunion.
Actually, I did more than attend it; I hosted it at our farm.
I graduated with about 115 other kids in 1980, and as Class President, I have been involved in the planning of all of our class reunions (though early on, my role was much smaller when I lived clear across the country). This summer marked our 35th year, and a small group of us were talking this spring about whether we would have an event. The consensus of the other three members of this group (those who live near where we grew up) was that they were in, but it “has to be easy and informal.” After that comment, I suggested having it at the farm where I grew up, about 5 miles from the school.
The decision was made to do it, and to take me up on my offer.
The event was casual, as you can see from the picture, and the crowd wasn’t large, but I believe everyone had a good time.
In the time leading up to the event, when I mentioned class reunions to a variety of people, I received a wide range of responses (and several in attendance mentioned hearing the same things in conversations they had). The comments ranged from; “I love reunions”, to “I have no interest in going”, to “No one will talk to me,” to “I didn’t like those people in high school, why would I go hang out with them now?”.
The point is that it is clear that reunions create mixed feelings and emotions for people; they bring back fond memories and old insecurities. They refresh life-long bonds, and might even reopen old wounds. Clearly I fall in the group of wanting to attend (or I wouldn’t have offered to host it), and yet I understand the mixed feelings that people have.
Since the event I have been reflecting on what I observed during the event, and those reflections led to this article.
Given the opportunity, people want to help. Yes, there was a small group who worked with my wife Lori and me to plan the event. But my point is about the number of people who offered to help with the next one, and the people who offered to come back by on Sunday to clean up (including the person who just showed up!). Sometimes we think we can (or are supposed to) do it all alone. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Perhaps you are keeping others from the chance to contribute and be a part of something that matters to them.
History is history. All of the “stuff” that we have from our teen years is just that – stuff. It is over and in the past. Think about it; you can’t change the past. I observed over and over during the event, people talking about lessons from the past, and really focusing much more on the here and now, than on the past (whether it was positive or negative). If it is negative, let it go or learn from it. Either way, it is in the past. It is time to move forward to a great future.
Taking a risk is most often worth it. I’m sure that some came with at least a little trepidation; some hadn’t been to a reunion in a while and perhaps felt they were taking a risk. I’m betting (hoping) that all would say it was a risk worth taking. I recently read that “old ways don’t open new doors.” It’s time to take a bit more of a risk; chances are it will be worth doing.
Perception isn’t (always) reality. 35 years can change a lot. But sometimes old perceptions die hard. When we come to a situation with an open mind and a willingness to engage, we might very well find that our perceptions (which can become our truth) aren’t exactly accurate. One of my favorite things about this and every other reunion I have attended is watching people enjoy the company of people they seldom or ever talked to in school (and doing it myself). I was reminded that perception isn’t necessarily real and when we suspend that “belief” we often are pleasantly surprised.
In the end, it is about people. This isn’t just a statement about a reunion, but about life. When we engage in life with other people, we are rewarded in so many ways. Remember that today, tomorrow, and forever.
You may be thinking that this is a leadership blog and this post didn’t really point to any leadership lessons. If that is what you are thinking, I respectfully disagree. Read the lessons above again, with your leadership hat on – those truths do apply to your work in building relationships with and leading other people.
At the end of the day, whether you love class reunions, would go if you could or you’d never even consider it, I hope the lessons ring true for you and you can apply them in your life and work.