“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Buddhist proverb

“Misti, I’m a high school senior and will likely get an advanced education and not enter the workforce for another 10 years,” said my intern just a few weeks into the role I’d expected him to keep for a year. “My mom says I should quit after the summer so I can focus on school and college applications.” While Craig’s original commitment was for the summer, I’d quickly realized his value to my company – and the value of the role for his future – and convinced him to stay longer.

But after some serious soul searching, he’d changed his mind. I agreed with his reasoning and respected his honesty, but I’d spent weeks getting him up to speed and was depending on him.

“Don’t you realize the long-term impact of this opportunity? Stay the course,” I wanted to say. Instead, I took a deep breathe and tried to put myself in his shoes. I realized he didn’t understand that I took a chance on him and needed his support. I knew the long-term value of the full internship (i.e., work experience, a cheerleader in me, a network and entrepreneurship fundamentals). But he didn’t – or at least didn’t prioritize this over his other goals. However, he might be right. If he doesn’t become an entrepreneur, this internship probably won’t matter much on his résumé in 10 years.

I realized I had only focused on what he would get out of staying longer and never mentioned my need for his support. Knowing his generation, I purposely made it “all about him.” Now, it really wasn’t, and I was unsure how to express that without feeling overly vulnerable or selfish.

Fortunately, we’d already built a foundation of trust, so I felt I could be candid. “Craig, this is a lesson that will serve you and all you serve for the rest of your life,” I said hesitantly. “I agree with your points and understand your position. But in life, it’s not always all about you. Sometimes other people need your help, and that’s a good enough reason. I need your help. I hope you will reconsider.”

Yuck! I felt so needy. But in reality, many young professionals never consider how their decisions affect others – not because they don’t care, but because it simply doesn’t occur to them. I could tell by Craig’s face he’d just never thought about it this way.

I walked away from that conversation with a knot in my stomach, trying to resist the urge to say, “Just go. You’re clearly not committed, and I don’t need you.” But that was my ego talking, and I needed to let this lesson sink in – for both of us.

Two days later, I text messaged another co-founder of a group I formed to share strategies for success, asking if she could run the next meeting without me. I didn’t think I’d benefit much from this session and wanted to exercise instead. As I pushed “send,” the words I’d spoken to Craig echoed through my head. I wasn’t living the value I was trying to teach him. I sent a second text: “I’m out of integrity. I’ll see you in the morning.”

As leaders, we must be aware of the impact of our actions and inactions. When we lead by example and help others see the impact of their choices, we develop our businesses – and future generations. But only when we practice what we preach do we have the right to shape them.

In the end, Craig decided to focus on school, but he found a great replacement and sent a touching summary of his internship, letting me know how much value the opportunity provided him.

It begins and ends with us. Will you “be the change” with me?

Rock on!

Misti Burmeister