Grand Heron International

Close this search box.
“Dad, I’m quitting college and getting a full time job”


We were all sitting at the kitchen having dinner. Cassandra, my oldest daughter of 19 years had chosen this moment to inform me that she was taking a break from school. As good of a father that I believe I am, this day was not my best.

Chewing my food, I chose my words carefully in order to have the greatest impact for her to realize the faults in her judgement. If I remember correctly the speech started with the fact that her mother and I would no longer agree to drive her 60 minutes each way to her part time job on the weekends. I then informed her that if she was not in school, she would need to start paying for her cell phone, not to mention the concept of rent would come into the equation.

This was a shining moment for me as a father to give my eldest some wisdom of life. Or was it? The first sign that things weren’t going well was when Cassandra got up from the table with tears running down her cheeks as she made her way to the bathroom. The second was the cold silence at the dinner table with my youngest daughter Lindsay and Cassandra’s wide eyed boyfriend who I’m sure wished was anywhere but there.

Target fixation: Stuck in Fight or Flight Mode

I was locked in what I call target fixation with Cassandra. I had lost sight of what was really important for both myself and Cassandra in this situation.

We all have Cassandra’s in our lives. They are the people or situations that trigger us and shift our brains into that fight or flight mode. That is a bad place to make decisions because we are being threatened by something. In the case with Cassandra, there were a couple of things that were threatened. I felt like I had failed as a father because my daughter was stopping her post-secondary education. I felt inadequate in preparing my daughter for the realities of adulthood.

You see, when you get right down to it, all we really want for our children is for them to be safe, happy and successful. We fear for them when we perceive that one of those things are threatened.

For 3 days I was locked in target fixation with Cassandra. Each time we tried to talk about the situation, I would get on my soapbox and deliver another sermon. On the 3rd day, I was working in another city with a client when I became aware of the impact I was having on Cassandra. In that vulnerable moment of her sharing her decision to leave college, all she really needed from me was a supporting parent to reassure her that things will be OK. Instead I pounded into her even more anxiety about her decision and what was in front of her.

During the lunch break I called her and apologized

“Hi Cassandra, it’s your dad. I’m really sorry. I realize now how hard it was for you to tell me about your decision and all you really needed was for me to be supportive and let you know that things will be ok – and they will be. I love you and let’s talk when I get back”

When we get locked in target fixation, it can sometimes take a micro-moment to get out of it and recover. Other times it can take longer. In my experience, I have learned that we can’t prevent ourselves from getting target fixated, we can only improve on the speed of our recovery. There will always be people and situations in our lives that trigger us. The first step is to be aware of those triggers.

VIDEO: How to be the best dad | Motorcycle Metaphor

Self-Awareness Check: 2 Questions to Ask Yourself

The second step is recovery. It is simple to teach and sometimes difficult to execute. You need to create a buffer between yourself and the situation. Some people take a breath while others count to 10. For myself I close my eyes as that seems to work for me. Once you have created some space between yourself and the situation, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What do I really want for all people involved?
  2. Is my behaviour moving me closer to that objective


In my situation with Cassandra, I want her to be safe, happy and successful. Was my behaviour in that moment moving me closer to that objective? What about 3 days later when I called her?

Being a great leader, parent, boss, or colleague takes self-awareness and sometimes our actions are driven from a place that doesn’t have the best interests of everyone involved. Sometimes it comes from a threat to our ego. If we all become a bit more aware of our impact on others and take responsibility for it, we are moving in the right direction.

About Michael Wallace

Michael uses 20 years of professional experience and a very engaging personal style to bring business leaders and teams together to reach their common objective.His core beliefs are: 1) Success is a great motivator. 2) Success can’t be taught. 3) Success needs to be experienced.

Michael works with clients throughout North America, but calls Montreal, Canada his home base, where he makes the most of his time connecting with his teenage daughters, enjoying the Laurentian Ski Hills and motoring the long & winding roads on his Harley Davidson. He is fluent in English and French, a graduate of the University of New Brunswick, and a certified coach with the Coaches Training Institute.

Learn more about Michael Wallace.

BOOK: « Motorcycle Metaphor », by Michael Wallace

Michael has recently launched a book –  « Motorcycle Metaphor ». If you want to develop yourself into a high impact leader where your team connects to your drive, this book is for you!

Through the unique perspective of the motorcycle metaphor, Michael will take you on a journey of discovering your leadership and how you can impact people around you. You will learn what gets in the way of engaging teams and specifically, what you can do to impact the situations positively. You will learn how to create an environment of success for your team to experience and work through difficult situations with your group and individuals.

Learn more and order your copy today!