Speaker | Entrepreneur | Author

Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts tagged legacy
What My House Looks Like

My kitchen table has crayon on it. The upholstered chairs have sugary milk seeped in, puddling just below the surface. There is a smear of paint on the back door, left there two weekends ago after my daughter and I came back inside once we painted the stool on a patch of mulch near the fence. Fingerprints dot the area around most doorhandles and if you look for just a minute, that's a plastic chicken leg there by the couch leg. Its partner - mashed potatoes - is probably under a cushion. And his accomplice - peas - is nowhere to be found.

The pile of stuffed animals is getting higher. We have more Lego's than bin space to store them now. Those helium balloons she got for her birthday? They'll be floating quietly in our living room until they finally droop to the floor (around the time her next birthday gets here).

My home looks nothing like a catalog with those septic white rugs and no sight of dust. Nothing here is at a right angle and you'll find a wrinkle in most everything. Our shelves are cluttered and so are our lives.

My home looks nothing like the fake living rooms you find at IKEA or in a West Elm window. Here we have milk rings on counter and chocolate chips beneath the highchair.

My home looks nothing like I pictured, but it looks every bit like a family lives here. It looks like a place where my daughter is growing up, where she plays and runs and falls and rests. It looks like a place where my wife and I are making a life together, where we crash at the end of the day, where we lay to talk about where this is all headed and how we'll get there.

This place looks like life to me.

We're All Just Cleaning Up Spills

She finishes her doughnut and the evidence of what she just did is all over her face and fingers. The sticky icing, the sugary dough, and those rainbow sprinkles are scattered on her skin. I wipe with a dry napkin to no avail. This will require something wet and cold. She grabs her milk and gives it an inadvertent squeeze a second too soon. Before the straw can make it to her mouth, a few drops of liquid splatter on her shirt and the edge of the table. A small pool forms from the drops and she puts one finger in the puddle, splashing and sending milk flying.

I'm sure that later tonight she'll spill some yogurt. She may knock her cup of water off the table, squeeze out too much toothpaste, or drop her tiny container of crackers. And each time, I'll stoop low, find a towel or napkin, and clean. I'll scrub and wipe and dab until the spill is gone, her world is reset, and we can all carry on as planned.

As a parent, sometimes it can feel like all you're doing is cleaning up spills.

Scratch that - as an adult, all we're all doing is cleaning up spills.

We make a glorious mess of things sometimes, don't we? We quickly long for the days when our biggest mistake was losing our ice cream and not destroying a friendship. As grownups, we can lose clients, burn bridges, and waste a reputation with a few keystrokes or misplaced words. And there we are - left with a very big mess, needing more than a paper towel to make things right.

Kids make messes every day. If we do right by them, we show them how they can be cleaned up, how dropping pretzels isn't the end of the world, and how life can continue once we've done the dirty work of working with the dirt. In that small lesson, hopefully, we can show them that taking time to clean up is a chief duty of us humans. Leaving food, toys, or clothes in disarray is no way to live. Neither is leaving a heaping mess of hearts, dreams, and legacies.

None of us admit that we're as messy as we are. Beneath very put together facades, we all have some dirt, some grime, some spillage, and some clutter. If we could just press pause on our busy lives, perhaps we'd be able to focus on stooping low and putting back together that which we've broken or spilled.

The first step is to recognize what a royal mess we've made. When we've wrecked someone (including ourselves), we need to understand the damage done and assemble what we need to make it right. The most overlooked tool in this endeavor is time, which is teaching us a brand new lesson all by itself. The spills we make as adults are rarely cleaned and tidy in the time it takes to refill a plate of granola.

It can seem like we're hopping from one spill to the next - those of us with kids and those of us without. But in this hopping we see something of our role on this planet. By making so many messes due to our day-to-day lives, taking the time to clean is as much a part of who we are as what we do when our lives are so neatly organized and presented.

My daughter looks super cute first thing in the morning, when we come downstairs dressed and matching, clothes pristine and untainted. But that's not her. She's really the girl I see at around 5 PM, after a full day of playing and painting, eating and drinking. The stains and messes she makes during the day give her the stories that will turn into memories.

Let us go on, then, and make messes. We can't live without doing so. But let us also be wise enough to clean them up each time so that we can all keep playing together.

Speaking Event: Orientation at Christopher Newport University

In just a few short weeks, I'll be visiting Newport News, Virginia for the first time in order to speak to the incoming freshman class at Christopher Newport University. This is my first event booked in conjunction with CAMPUSPEAK. We'll be talking about how to pack as much as possible into the next four years in order to finish college and find who we are in the process. I firmly believe that the point of college isn't to find a job as much as it is to find an identity. It's also a great time to find a cause or a passion that stirs us and motivates us through the next phase of life.

One cool thing I've learned about CNU is that each freshman is given a penny. When they graduate, a tradition is to toss that same penny into a fountain on campus, bookending one's journey as a Captain.

See you soon, #CNU16!

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What's Left

You get up early, work out, get ready for your day, eat breakfast, go to work, work hard, go to meetings, fight traffic, come home, eat dinner, and then you're available for your family. You know this drill, right?

It's a terrible drill.

The way we currently work isn't working. What it means is that when we come home, exhausted, our families get what's left of our time, attention, energy, and concern.

This isn't how it's supposed to be. Work isn't supposed to get our best and our family isn't supposed to be stuck with what's left.

Some days, this is just how it happens, but when it's a pattern, there's a huge problem.

Why do the people we love the most get our second-rate selves?

This doesn't mean we have to slack off at work and do our worst. But it does mean we need to step our game up when we walk in the door and see those we love.

Want to make sure you have the best to offer your family? Here are four things that work for me:

Hang up the phone before you open the door

If you use your drive home to catch up on phone calls, make sure you conclude the call before you walk in your house. Nothing says that something else is more important than blabbing into a phone when you unlock the door to your home.

Take deep breaths and say goodbye to the workday

If you're head isn't clear, your family will be the first to notice. Even if you need to hop online once dinner is over and the kids are in bed, clear your mind before you engage your family.

Change clothes

My dad did this when I was young (so did Mr. Rogers), and apparently Tina Fey (as she recalled in Bossypants) does it, too. When you come home, slip into something more comfortable. Then, you'll be perfectly dressed for crawling on the floor, going for a walk, or doing something fun and messy with the family.


Want to show your family you care? Make dinner. Tidy up. Read every book your daughter demands you read to her. Bathe the kids. Make the bed. Wash the dishes. Love often looks like cleaning up, I've learned. Prove to your family that they come first by doing anything and everything to help them.

Remember: our family deserves what's best, not what's left. Make sure you have enough in the tank for them as often as possible.

What would you add?

Any tips that help make sure you give the best to those you love the most?

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I Don't Need a Building

I don't need a building standing tall on some campus or in some city with my name on it. I don't have nearly enough money for that. I don't need volumes of books written about me, read by the masses or by the scholars. I don't have an interesting enough life for that.

I don't need a holiday named after me, where people get off work and go shopping for mattresses on sale. I don't have enough notoriety for that.

I don't need a parade held in my honor, complete with a marching band and people waving at the crowds. I don't have enough pomp and circumstance for that.

I don't need a song written about me and what I may have done to inspire someone with a guitar and a dream. I don't have nearly enough motivational qualities for that.


I simply want to be written on the heart of a few people, who will remember the best parts about me when I'm gone. I want my legacy not etched in stone, but marked with a life well lived.

I think I have enough me for that.

What Time is It?

My daughter has no concept of time. She's not supposed to, being all of two-and-a-half. But it quickly gets frustrating when Mommy needs to get to work or Daddy needs to take a shower and someone else wants to line up dinosaurs or watch just one more episode or go down the stairs just right with her hand on the middle rail, tiptoeing so that each foot hits each step just right all the way to the bottom and then it's Mommy's turn to do the same thing. And when this all happens, part of me knows that very soon, she'll grasp time. And then we'll be on time, right? But at what cost?

When we learn the importance of time, we lose a bit of our innocence. Time is a tool manufactured by adults in order to further develop a world where numbers make sense in the context of bank accounts and calendars. Time is one of the few overlords we let master us, unable to be emancipated form its methodical and cruel gaze. Even when we're sleeping, he's eternally at work, ticking away until it's time to get up, get dressed, go to work, go to lunch, go home, and repeat.

Meanwhile, my daughter doesn't know she gets picked up at four o'clock. She just knows that Daddy or LaLa or Mommy is here so it's time to go home and play or to get an afternoon yogurt or to go see her baby cousin. She doesn't know that noon means naptime; she just lays on her cot at school like all her other friends do after a morning full of puzzles, stories, bubbles, and tricycles.

Shame on us for letting the clock run as much of our lives as it does.

Sure, we need the rigid, impartial drill sergeant of time to make sure we get on the plane when we're supposed to and so that we can pay our bills when they're due and so that we can get to the game in time for the first pitch. But letting deadlines and alarms direct our every move - even those outside of work - is the surest path to live a life that is never yours.

When I come home each day now, I take off my watch. There's no use in knowing when it's 5:05 and then when it's 5:32 and again when it's 6:01. Each second spent looking at my watch is a second I don't spend fully engaged in building a tall Lego tower or finding all the elephants to put next to the giraffes or counting all the bouncy balls.

With each glance at the clock I'm reminded of a life that is full of obligations, when things are needed by someone else, and all that I'll need to do to make everything happen by a certain date. But when I glance up to see my daughter putting a blanket on Dumbo, I'm reminded that my legacy will have nothing to do with deadlines and everything to do with playtimes.

This isn't a reminder just for parents, that the clock shouldn't have as large a role in our lives as it does. It's a reminder for any of us who are always running late or not getting enough sleep or unable to do our best work or cutting dinner short or figuring out how to shave seconds off of an already busy day.

Every second counts, but not every second matters. The chief purpose of our lives is to put more meaning into each moment.

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The Hero Defines the Superhero

Who is your hero? And who is better than them?

Could you be?

Heroes are a dime a dozen. Well meaning people do something extraordinary on a daily basis. Turn on the news and after all the shootings and robberies, you'll usually find a story about a local business owner or a teacher who is doing good things for other people or the community. They're a hero.

As such, they've just set the bar. They just defined what it means to be great and meaningful. Now it's your turn to up the ante and do them one better if you're looking to stand out.

Thankfully, there are a lot of heroes in the world. But, there aren't too many superheroes. This means that if you're willing to become one, you can rise up and have a tangible, lasting impact.

This is why Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman appeal to us. Sure, they have super-human powers. But they also seem to possess a super-human understanding of justice, compassion, dedication, commitment, consistency, and sacrifice. Anyone can be a hero once. But to do it over and over again? That's...well...super.

We like to think that it's the possession of a secret or super power that makes someone a superhero, but it's not. Name a superhero and beneath the armor or mask or costume you'll find a heart that beats to the tune of unwavering promise and habit. You'll find someone committed time and again to a cause, an idea, a value, or a standard. 

Whether it's Spiderman or the teacher who never gives up on a student (and hasn't for a decade), you'll find the same thing at the core. Strip away the ability to scale tall buildings and you'll see that both comic book superheroes and passionate community advocates do the seemingly impossible every single day.

To me, this is what makes - and can make any of us - super in our heroism: repetition.

You don't start by being super or sewing a cape. You start by being heroic. And then you do that thing over and over again.

Don't worry about the cape. Show up enough and be a hero to someone for long enough and they'll give you that cape. Your job is to be super every day.

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I Will Build You A Thousand Sand Castles

We sat in the cool sand under an overcast sky and started to dig. We moved sand around looking for shells and then started to fill buckets in an attempt to build something. When the bucket could hold no more sand, I turned it over and lifted it again to reveal a small column standing there amidst the shovels and seashells. My daughter saw the beginning of the sand castle, grew excited, and then stepped on it, turning my work to rubble. She looked up, pleased, and asked, "Daddy build another sand castle so I can knock it over?"

Sure, my love. For you I would build a thousand sand castles.

This is what we do for people we love. We're willing to build and rebuild and then build again and again and then a few more times. We're not working with stone or marble when we're working with love. Our materials are fragile human hearts and delicate emotions. Often, each crumbles under the weight of everyday life, busy schedules, and the pressure to be perfect.

And when something falls apart or doesn't go as planned, if we're with the people we love, we stoop low again and start to build. We're not interested in doing work that will last for millennia; we do the work that's needed to make it through today because when we love somebody, all we want to do is spend tomorrow with them.

Love is not the thing that motivates us to create something that strangers will know us by. Love is the thing that compels us to do everything so that those who mean the most will know how much we care.

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The Power of Place

Sometimes, all it takes to take you back is a building. Stacks of steel and concrete or the way the fairway looks in that sunlight can transport you back a decade or more. Looking out a bedroom window or down a hallway that doesn't seem so big anymore brings back memories and milestones you'd forgotten still lived inside of you. I was in south Florida, keynoting a business conference. After the speech and a round of golf with my dad, we decided to go for dinner. As we turned off the main drag and into the complex full of restaurants and shops, I got that scary happy feeling like I'd been there before. And then I knew why it was familiar and foreign to me. I had been there once, almost ten years earlier when I spoke nearby. I was a different person then, on a different errand, but the power of place overcame me and there I was, younger and unwed with more answers than questions.

It's the feeling of a Friday night football game when you're 30 but suddenly feel 16. Or when you look at the counters in your parents' house and recall a time when you could barely see the cookies that you could smell cooling above. It's the way your grandfather looked in his recliner or the way Christmas sounded when everyone was together under the same roof of that very old house.

Our homes are more than where we live. Our offices and schools are more than bricks and drywall. Parks are more than trees and open fields and roads do more than get us from A to B. Everywhere we go and move is a memory waiting to happen, eager to sneak up on us when we're busy doing everything else.

Places can be sacred. Churches and bars can equally have special meaning for those of us who darken either doorway to meet with friends and commiserate with strangers.

The only way to recognize the power of place is to succumb to its alluring pull. Let it wash over you. Let your mind wander back to a time when you were and where you were. And understand that the next memory could happen anywhere. The conditions never have to be right or perfect. The creation of the moment will make everything right by it.

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Good Parenting Happens in the In-Between

From the looks of it, we're all fantastic parents. Our Instagrams from Disney World and the Facebook albums of Easters and Christmases show smiles, laughter, hugs, and happiness. It's as if nothing goes wrong in our lives or for our families. It's easy for people to think I'm a great dad because sometimes my blog posts show that I'm willing to get dirty with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter or that I'm at her beck and call when we go out to eat. And while I'm learning myriad life lessons from this pint-sized princess, certainly we all know that for every muffin she eats happily, there's a little girl (and her dad) who gets frustrated when it's time to change a diaper, take a bath, or go to the doctor.

I don't think the good parenting we're all doing happens when we post the highlights of our lives to Facebook. It happens in between those moments.

Somewhere between your Christmas morning and the craft your child made for Valentine's Day, you were a great parent. You taught a life lesson, moved heaven and earth in order to make your kid happy, or put off what you wanted to do so they could do what they needed to do. There is no album on Facebook for that. 

At some point between the school portraits and your summer beach trip, you snuggled next to your son or daughter (or both) and watched a silly TV show. As their eyes followed the dancing monkey or uncoordinated clown, you looked over and caught the smile that was curling upwards from the corners of their mouth. You didn't take a video of it, but it's etched in your mind forever.

The times when you didn't let them have dessert because they didn't touch their vegetables? Or when they couldn't watch TV because they didn't clean their room like you asked? When they left toys lying about so you told them they'd have to clean up before they could play with a friend? When they needed to apologize to their brother before they got certain privileges back? None of those times go on Facebook. Few of those instances involved smiling. But good parenting probably happened.

Do not judge your parenting skills - or the quality of your life, for that matter - based upon what you or anyone else is putting online. Those are the highlights. That's the SportsCenter of living, not the full game with its ebb and flow, its rhythm and mistakes, its moments of terror, uncertainty, and desperation.

Facebook is an idealized representation of ourselves, how we parent, how we live, how we love. It is anything but authentic.

Parenting - and life - happens in between online posts and updates. It happens when we least expect it. And when it does, when those memorable moments of teaching and learning and being happen, the best thing we can do is put down our phone and live as deeply and authentically as we can in that moment.

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These Are the Rules

We were outside at our house after coming home from school. It had rained a bit the previous few days, so her small wading pool had some standing water in it. Knowing the plants would be thirsty as the humidity would be picking back up soon, I began to use one of her buckets to scoop water and pour it on the hydrangeas. Those guys get very thirsty. My daughter saw what I was doing and wanted to help. She reached for her pink plastic frying pan (what it was doing outside is anyone's guess). She filled it with water and gingerly stepped to the tree. At first she held it up to one of the branches, thinking a leaf would literally drink the water. When that didn't work, she dumped it at the base of the trunk and declared, "This tree is so hungry."

Bored with that she then filled her pan again and dumped the water on the ground nearby. Seeing a small puddle form, she determined it was ripe for jumping. She reveled in what happened when her small feet found the pooling water. She giggled at the sound of water being tamped and splashed and repeated the entire process. After a few more rounds, she looked and me and asked, "Daddy jump?"

My first instinct was to tell her, "No, that's too messy. Daddy doesn't want to get his shoes and pants muddy."

Luckily I caught myself and said nothing of the sort. I was mature enough to understand that the point of life isn't to stay clean. It's to get dirty with the people you love. 

For most of our lives, we're given a set of rules. We learn regulations about what's proper, expected, common, or normal. We're told to stay clean, speak softly, eat all our vegetables, and be careful. But I've determined that these are not the rules we should be following.

These are the rules:

Love fully; not halfway.

When you are somewhere, be all the way there. Don't worry about taking pictures of everything with your phone.

Don't worry about what you look like. Worry about who you're with.

Notice people. Don't just look at them. Really notice them.

If you're lost in conversation, it's okay to be late.

Life and its spontaneous moments are a gift. As such, they should be treasured, protected, and shared.

Haters aren't worth your time.

Listen and watch. Then say something.

Don't judge. It's a waste of time.

When you laugh, laugh loud. When you cry, cry deep. And when you do either, do them in the presence of someone you love most.

And when your daughter asks you to jump in mud puddles on a Tuesday after school, jump high.

"I want to do it."

I try to help her clean the cupcake icing from in between her small and sometimes uncoordinated fingers. "I want to do it," she says as she grabs a wet wipe and gets to work.

She grunts as she attempts to pull Legos apart, blocks that I attached rather well so we could build the tower taller.

"No, Daddy. I want to do it." I watch as she struggles until she relents and whimpers, "Help!"

Putting on her pants is no longer my job. It's her exercise in independence.

"I want to do it," she tells me and she stabs one leg in and then the other, often down the same pant leg.

And so it goes with most of our daily routine. Opening the pack of crackers, turning on the TV, choosing a book for bedtime reading, lining up buttons, buckling her seat belt, cleaning up a spill, getting into her stroller, putting a clip in her hair - these are all things that she now wants to do.

Yesterday, we were coloring and she spotted some stickers. I asked her if she'd like me to take one off the page and give it to her so she could place it on her shirt.

And then she hit me with it: "No, Daddy. I need to do it."

And she was right. She did need to do it. It was time.

This is what growth looks like. It's letting people do what they need to do so that one day, when they're on their own or miles away or all grown up (or all three), they can play with stickers or clean up a mess or eat lunch or go for a walk without your constant oversight, meddling, or touch.

And while it takes the wind out of me sometimes to think about her not needing me, I know that ultimately, my duty is to teach her that she only needs herself. I'm not supposed to wipe her mouth forever. I'm just supposed to wipe off that milk mustache until she's figured out how to do it.

As a parent, I am the teacher who's fighting against the end of the semester. While traditional educators look forward to the summer break, I don't want to stop giving lessons, demonstrating how something is done. I crave her mastery, but I don't want to lose the intimacy that comes from being the ever-present helper, cleaner, teacher, and guide.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that the only way I can ever be always there is to teach her something she'll take with her forever. She'll always know me not because I'm within earshot to help wipe her fingers after eating a cupcake. The best I can do is that when she's grown and big and strong and eating a cupcake, she'll think of me and our icing faces as she takes a napkin to dab in between her slender fingers to get all the gooey sugar goodness that likes to hide when you're eating a cupcake after a long walk with someone you love.