Finding Your Voice at Any Age—Caitlin’s Birthday Wish

Author: Jill Scheulen
March 30, 2016

Caitlin books

What do you remember about your sixth birthday? Do you recall your closest friends at school, the face of your teacher, or what you used to do during recess? Can you visualize your school picture that year or your favorite lunch in the cafeteria?

My Sixth Birthday

Although it’s been more than three decades, I can distinctly remember the wonderful events of that the warm summer week when I approached my sixth birthday. I distinctly remember three “gifts” I received during that week: my first Major League Baseball Cardinals shirt that I wore at least twice a week for an entire year; a call from my first softball traveling-team coach telling my parents I had made the team; and most important, I remember playing catch and missing my brother’s fastball off the tip of my old tattered mitten, proudly receiving my first and only black-and-blue shiner that covered my entire left eye.

It was a year to remember, because for the first time in my life, I had truly begun to find my voice in the world of sports. All the knowledge I had gained about sports since birth collided that year with experiences that enabled me to find my inner passion in sports.

caitlin inviteBut finding one’s voice isn’t only about knowing one’s gifts and talents; it’s also about helping someone else find his or her voice in life and serving others. I must admit, at age six, I wasn’t very focused on helping other people or enabling them to find their own voice. I don’t even recall having it cross my mind at that age, which is why I was so inspired when I met Caitlin.

Caitlin’s Story

Last spring five-year-old Caitlin, who is a student at a Leader in Me School near my home, sent me an invitation to her sixth birthday party. It’s been quite some time since I have invited to a six-year-old’s birthday party, so I was quite intrigued when I received the note. I was even more surprised at where the event was being held and the type of gift invitees were asked to bring.

After seeing this invitation, I couldn’t resist learning more about Caitlin’s story. I learned that Caitlin loves the library. On many trips to her favorite venue, she is known to take off her little shoes at the door and relax in the back with a new friend, book, or game.

Caitlin wanted to do something special for her sixth birthday. She wanted to use the 7 Habits, which she had been learning about in her school in Bowling Green, Missouri, and she wanted to do something that would have a positive impact on others. As she brainstormed ideas, she focused on her passion and love of books.

She developed a plan to host a book collection of new and gently used books for the local library, which attendees at her birthday celebration would donate in lieu of gifts. Caitlin took the lead in partnering with her mother and created a banner to advertise her unique event, placed it on social media, and developed a short article for the local newspaper.

On the day of her birthday party, Caitlin collected 378 books for the Bowling Green Public Library Children’s Section. Using the knowledge and experience of goal setting she had learned in school, she even used a scoreboard to track her progress toward reaching her goal. But the giving didn’t stop with the books for the initial two shelves in the library. Extra books were donated to kids in local daycare facilities, her elementary school, and to any child who wanted to take one home to enjoy the love of reading, just as Caitlin does.

caitlin booksSeveral weeks later, Caitlin received a note from her State Representative, Jim Hansen, congratulating her on making a difference in the community. Caitlin’s mother said it is one of Caitlin’s most prized possessions, as it is a reminder to her of her talents and potential.

In The Leader in Me, “voice” is the overlapping of the four parts of our nature: our body, heart, mind, and soul. Caitlin’s birthday reconfirmed all four parts for her. She knew she found strength at the local library (mind); she loved to read (heart); she selflessly forfeited her own personal birthday presents to give back to others (body), and she listened to what life was asking her to do in this moment to help give her a higher sense of purpose, meaning, and contribution (soul).

This past year, six-year-old Caitlin taught a valuable lesson to those around her. She taught us to listen, to act on our passions, to share our gifts and talents with others, and to find meaning and purpose in serving and contributing to our community. Most important, she taught us that one person can make a tremendous difference, even when you’re only six years old.

“One word expresses the pathway to greatness. Voice. Those on this path find their voice and inspire others to find theirs.” The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

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