If you know anything about me or my leadership style, one thing is for certain: my strategies for being a CEO and a dad have some overlap. For both, I have the same five Taylor Swift puns ready to go on repeat (It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me), I will always try to capture Brené Brown’s empowering vulnerability, and I will always look to my family for inspiration.
This year, at Pulse 2023, I closed the conference with the one thing always on my mind: our teenage daughter, Asha, is going to college this upcoming fall. Cue the sappy dad tears.
I’ve tried my best to prepare for this her entire life, but it turns out, nothing could prepare me. That being said, it’s not all sadness. I find myself overwhelmed with bittersweet joy, too; I’m proud of who she’s become and the journey she’ll soon embark on. And she’s taught me a lot about my role as a leader—always thinking about the road ahead (and the human beings we’ll bring with us along the way).
Without further ado, here are 3 lessons my teenage daughter (and Taylor Swift) taught me about the future.
Lesson #1: Being Human-First Means Leading With Your Full Self
This is one of those lessons I’ve carried with me for years. If you don’t like Taylor Swift references and Dad jokes—that’s totally okay (even if you’re wrong)! You have to find a style that works for you. Embracing my quirkiness and emotional vulnerability is what helped me leave that awkward leadership phase where I was too preoccupied with other people’s expectations. And I like to believe embracing your full self helps others in your community do the same.
This lesson wouldn’t have been possible without my daughter, which began the moment she was born. My wife, Monica, had her iPod playing during labor, and when our child entered the world, the Hindi song “Chhoti is Asha” was playing. In Hindi, the word Asha can be translated as “heart’s greatest wish.” And of course, when we saw that “Blank Space” on the birth certificate, Asha’s name was obvious.
I carry that “heart’s greatest wish” with me into every moment we have together as a community. There’s lots of uncertainty ahead, but by embracing our full selves, we embrace our full potential, too. And there’s no better way to prepare for the future.
Lesson #2: Planning for the Future Means Embracing Uncertainty
I realize “uncertain” or “unprecedented” times have been buzz words since 2020, but they are buzz words for a reason. Between economic instability and the rise of AI, there’s a lot to be concerned about. But there’s a lot to be optimistic about, too.
One thing that really puts that into perspective is having a child. The moment Asha was born, I knew that everything had changed. But I also knew there would be trouble because—one day—I knew she would grow up. I knew the future would come for us, as it does for everyone. We see it happening, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. And sometimes it’s super exciting. Sometimes, it’s scary. Though often, it’s both at the same time. I’m so very proud of Asha’s upcoming journey at Northwestern, even as I remember (all too well) every Christmas past when she still believed in Santa Claus.
Our community has to prepare for uncertainty, too, while also celebrating 10 years of Pulse and enjoying our conferences together. Holding the past, present, and future together means embracing uncertainty, and that’s the first step in planning and preparing for what lies ahead.
Lesson #3: The Road Ahead Is All About the People With You
Anyone who peeps at my calendar knows I get my energy from spending time with others. But beyond that, it’s where I get my inspiration to keep going, as time spent together is the beating heart of our Pulse community.
And that has everything to do with the future. We can and should still celebrate the past—like 10 years of Pulse, and our first Taylor Swift parody ever (a “Blank Space” and Customer Success lyrical mashup). But as our community evolves, the way we spend time together does too, often for the better.
This past holiday season, I thought a lot about my family’s Christmas pasts together. I thought about one in particular—when Asha whispered something in my wife, Monica’s, ear as we sat around the Christmas tree. They both giggled, and Monica said, “We can’t tell him – daddy’s not ready yet.” I naturally had to know, but when they revealed the secret—that Asha no longer believed in Santa Claus—I definitely was NOT ready.
But there’s a silver lining here, too. Lately, I’ve thought a lot about how my time with Asha will evolve as she enters adulthood, and this past December, I captured those thoughts in a poem I wrote for her:
And the most incredible part: she made me a list, too: “The 25 Things We Can Do Now Because I’m Growing.” A few examples from her list: We can play golf together, we can go see shows together, and we’re gonna go hike Mount Kilimanjaro together. And these are all possible because of the future we’re embracing.
The future might be scary, and it’s definitely uncertain. But embracing it allows us to spend time together in new ways, while also empowering us to reimagine what community looks like.
I realize that’s a lot of sappy Dad energy for a blog post, but that’s my starting point for understanding where our community is at emotionally. Though we all come together to form an incredible and inspirational Customer Success community, we are all human beings with complex lives. We have parents, pets, children, friends, and emotional journeys of our own. I’ll be forever grateful for the lessons Asha has taught me, and I’m positive these lessons are only the beginning.
The future is unprecedented within and without the office. Embracing both helps us bring our full, unabashed selves everywhere, which empowers success in all aspects of life. Sprinkle in a few Taylor Swift puns along the way, and we’ll make it “Out of the Woods” together.