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Unconformed Free Chapters
Click HERE for the FPEA Presentation Expanding Your Child's Career Opportunities
Here is two free chapters of Unconformed
Chapter 1: Papa and Wrecked Planes
I’ve got this mental image of my grandfather engraved in my mind's eye. He’s in his office at his aircraft hangar, leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head, laughing and joking and swapping stories with one of his customers. He’s been universally loved by them, and the feeling has always been mutual. He was (and is) a great businessman but not in the conventional sense. He’s not a business process builder or a devisor of corporate systems. Instead, he’s an opportunistic thinker—a problem solver who can dive full-force into any opportunity that comes along and do it with great vigor and joy. How he got there is a pretty cool story.
My grandfather, Don Huntington —whom I call Papa—was born in Bedford, Ohio, in 1943 during World War II in the aftermath of the Great Depression. He is no stranger to hard work. He started working in a small coal mine at the ripe old age of six after being forced into the job by his father. I can’t imagine what life must have been like for him. But as Papa tells it, it was easier to be a little boy working in a coal mine than to be a little boy at home with his abusive dad.
Papa decided at a young age that he didn’t want to be anything like his father. He married my grandmother when they were both very young and set about the task of building a good life for his new family. Since then, he’s done practically every kind of job you can imagine. He worked as an electrician, a machinist, a well driller, and in water treatment. He was a scuba diving plumber at Disney World, for Pete’s sake—who knew that was even a thing? By the time he was forty, he had done around forty different jobs, all with only an eighth-grade education and a lot of difficulty reading because of severe dyslexia.
My grandfather has always had a fascination with aviation. He learned to fly while still in Ohio and brought that love with him when he moved to Florida. The year I was born, he decided that he wanted to build his own airplane from a kit—a Long-EZ aircraft designed by Burt Rutan, the designer who engineered the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe non-stop.
Papa quickly realized that he would need a lot of parts to build that plane. Rather than buying them new, he thought he would just buy some wrecked planes and pull what he needed off them, then sell whatever parts remained. That's how his business, Quality Aircraft Salvage, started.
I grew up with a photo of the Voyager on the wall of my room at home while also riding around the country with Papa scouting for airplanes, tearing them apart, and bringing them back to his salvage yard in Groveland, Florida, where he sold the parts he didn’t need. I was around twelve when he finally finished building his plane. It was his passion, and through it, he developed a set of exceptional skills.
By the time his airplane project was complete, he had built a thriving salvage business. Most of Papa’s sales happened over the phone or by fax, but people would sometimes fly in from all around the country and bargain with him over parts. He was the consummate haggler. As I watched him work, I learned that business is about relationships. Years later, one of my business coaches, Rick Corbin, said it best:
Business is, in its truest form, an excuse to be
in a relationship with one another.
My grandfather really knew how to build relationships.
To keep me busy at the salvage yard, Papa would have me do little tasks like sorting bolts, sealing parts in plastic bags, and shredding the paper he used as packing material for shipping his goods. I also worked with him from a young age at his booth at the annual Sun and Fun Fly-In Air Show in nearby Lakeland, Florida, where he would always give me something to sell on my own. One year, it was these wooden walnuts that, when you opened them, contained a little bug. You’d open the walnut, and the bug’s legs would suddenly start wiggling and twitching. Everybody would scream and throw them down—and then step up with handfuls of cash to buy the nuts as gag gifts for their family and friends.
I got the chance to meet many interesting people at the Air Shows. Whenever someone from another country stopped by our booth, Papa would ask them for a couple of small bills or coins in their native currency, and he’d give them to me. Back at home, I would look up the places the money came from and learn about them. Over time, I built up a collection of currencies from all around the world. It was a ton of fun.
Even though he had very little formal education, Papa was an early adopter of technology. He bought me my first computer, an IBM 286, and allowed me to play educational games like Reader Rabbit and Math Blaster on them. Whenever a new computer model came out, he bought it for me.
My grandfather gave me a special opportunity to experience things at a young age that most kids don’t get to do. First, because I was homeschooled, I got to spend a lot of time with him. Second, because my grandfather was a traditional old-school self-learner, he didn’t set out to seek education just for education’s sake. He pursued his interests, learning whatever he needed to learn along the way, and in the process, became well-educated in many different things. He became somebody people relied on to help them solve problems.
Papa always encouraged me to work hard, try new things, and meet new people. He saw every experience and interaction as an opportunity for learning. I didn’t realize it at the time, but by teaching me the art of the deal and the value of relationships, learning, and hard work, my grandfather was preparing me for my future. He was giving me the basic tools I would need to have a happy, fulfilling life at work, at home, and in my community—which brings me to the next chapter.
Chapter 2: Equipping Kids With the Tools for Any Vocation
As the homeschooling dad of ten kids, I know that some of the most effective education starts at the kitchen table with the child who's rubbing their eyes and mumbling, “I don't want to learn this,” and then moves into the dirt, the grease, and the real-life stuff we do with our kids, much like Papa did with me at the salvage yard and Air Show booths. These are the kinds of “labs” where kids can experiment and learn the things they need to know to be productive and fulfilled: labs where they are free to make mistakes and practice their reps (more on that later).
I know from experience that it can feel overwhelming trying to make sure you cover all the bases with your kids so they will thrive—not just function—in adulthood. That’s why I devised a simple, big-picture place to start. It may sound a little “woo woo” to you at first, but please stick with me. We have to ground ourselves in this understanding before we can answer more detailed questions about what to give our children to prepare them for any vocation.
What I want most for my children—heck, for every person—are these four things:
The sky is the limit for people with these four qualities. Let’s take them one by one.
We all know what it looks like when someone has character. They do the right thing. They have integrity. They’re compassionate and fair. They’re dependable and responsible. They’re just an all-around good citizen. But how do we instill character in our children? I've thought about this a lot as I’ve been working and training people, and eventually, it came to me: you’ve got to have high standards.
C. S. Lewis once wrote, “God is easy to please, but impossible to satisfy.” As parents, striking a balance between being pleased and satisfied is always a challenge. We don’t want to be impossible to satisfy in the sense that we expect our kids to knock themselves out all the time trying to live up to our impossible critique or to experience anxiety about our expectations. But we want our children to acknowledge that they can always grow. We can want more for our children than where they are right now.
That does not mean, however, that we should be difficult to please—or that their goal should even be to please us. It means we hold them to high standards for effort and engagement, for getting in there and doing the right thing. But we can set lower expectations for performance because, after all, they are kids. We don’t want to be like the dad who looks at his five-year-old’s drawing and says, “Really? This is supposed to be a giraffe? Looks like a goat to me. Neck is not nearly long enough. Try harder!”
That is definitely not what Jesus would do!
Be willing to praise effort and then give feedback on what the next journey of growth looks like. Celebrate the now and point to the next.
As parents, we can’t force-feed our kids' lifelong goals. That's not how it's going to happen. In fact, if we try to force-feed anything to our children, they will end up resenting it. Whether it’s about sports, grades, a career, college, or anything else, if you try to impose it on your kids, it becomes an expectation. Expectations lead to disappointment, burnout, frustration, and resentment. That’s all they do. So when it comes to character building, don’t have expectations—have standards.
In our family, we treat people with respect. We always do our best. We work hard. We finish what we start. We leave things better than we found them. These are standards. You could also call them norms. Standards are impersonal; they’re aimed at “us” as a collective. In contrast, expectations are personal; they’re aimed at you. Standards are something we all agree to sign on to—a common goal we are working towards. Expectations, on the other hand, create interpersonal pressure. See the difference? If you set a standard and a kid doesn’t meet it, you can do something about it. But if you have an expectation and the kid “fails” to satisfy it, there is nothing you can do but be disappointed.
The next tool children need is a growth mindset, which is a mindset of lifelong learning. Lifelong learning is a phrase I use a lot, mostly with adults, because we tend to lose that mentality with age. You get your certificate, you follow your course, you get your degree, and now you've made it, right? Nope. We all know that's not how it works. We’re always going to have to learn new stuff. The world keeps speeding up, and the things we learned ten years ago often become irrelevant. Just think about how much technology has changed since, um, I don’t know—yesterday? Approaching new learning opportunities with fear or a defeatist attitude gets a person nowhere fast. So we have to encourage our kids to adopt a mindset of lifelong learning and growth, and that starts with embracing it ourselves.
Rather than thinking of education as linear, let’s think of it as helping our kids build a portfolio of skills. The foundation of creating a wide range of useful skills is having a habit of applying them. As parents, we can help our kids develop a habit of learning. If a child gets into the habit of playing four hours of video games every day, then that's what they will be good at. That's what they’re going to give themselves to. We can help them see the power of habit by modeling good practices of our own. It all comes down to what you feed them. As parents, we should be feeding them opportunities for growth so they can build a broad portfolio of skills that will serve them well now and in the future, no matter what vocation they choose.
Next, we want to equip our kids with a sense of joy—joy in work and joy in learning. Whether it's serving others, whether it's the job we do every day, whether it's serving our children by educating them, if we aren't expressing joy in what we do, then who wants to be us?
Think back to when you were a kid. You could tell when your parents were not experiencing joy. How did that make you feel? Even if you were doing something you loved, if your parents weren't happy, then it didn't feel the same. On the other hand, when you knew that they felt joy in what they were doing with you (or doing for themselves), it made all the difference.
I was presenting and exhibiting at a conference a few years ago, and one of our sons, who was five at the time, was helping me in our booth. He and I were having a blast interacting with the people who stopped by. And then, with this huge grin on his face, he started telling people that I “owned this conference hall” we were standing in.
“Yeah, my dad owns this place!” he declared.
I had to laugh. While I clearly never said that I owned the place, maybe I was acting like I did (gulp). It was fun to see him feeding off my excitement over what we were doing. I cherish those kinds of experiences together.
And finally, people need a purpose. We need to feel that what we are doing matters and has meaning. This is especially true for those in the younger generations. We’ll discuss this again in the next chapter, but for now, let’s just say that purpose is a worthwhile goal, yet for many, it is an abstract concept. It is elusive. Some people have trouble figuring out what their Big Picture Purpose is. I think that’s because we often encourage or expect young people to find it too early. When you're a kid, the only things you can see are the bright shiny objects—like becoming an astronaut, a YouTuber, a pro athlete, or a billionaire like Mark Cuban or Oprah Winfrey. But what they don’t understand is that Cuban and Winfrey are billionaires because they actually know things and do things and are excited about them. They learned and did a lot of small stuff in order to build up to the big.
So rather than promoting the idea of discovering their macro purpose, perhaps we ought to guide our children toward solving smaller problems that help them develop character, growth, and joy. Those small sandboxes they play in—building a city out of blocks, planting a garden, fixing a lawnmower, singing a song, changing a tire, getting that first car up and running— are the micro-purposes that lead to macro-purpose and lifelong satisfaction. Approaching it the other way around is putting the cart before the horse. We want that cart, of course, but first, we must practice the modalities by which we're going to discover it. That requires character, a mindset of growth and joy.
Our role as parents is to create opportunities and structures for our children to equip themselves with character, growth, joy, and purpose. Every vocation, avocation, and profession is available to the joyful person with character, a purpose, and a commitment to lifelong growth. If you’ve ever been responsible for hiring or training people, you know that’s true. If you’re hiring and you come across a candidate who's joyful, has great character, a purpose, and a commitment to lifelong learning—but doesn’t have the right piece of paper—are you going to pass them by so you can hire the unpleasant person with the right piece of paper who seems likely to gossip and complain? Of course not. I’m not saying that certificates and degrees and courses of higher education aren't valuable, but they’re icing on the cake. First comes character, growth, joy, and purpose.
In today’s world, these four tools are like superpowers. They are so rare. Let’s do everything we can to change that.