As I was driving away from home this morning, I saw a man and a young boy walking within my complex. The boy must have been no older than 3 or 4 years old. The man had a serious face as he was talking to the child. Not scolding him, but more like he was passing on to him some very important knowledge that would help him many years later. The young boy wasn’t saying anything, but it definitely seemed like he was paying attention and recording the message in his little organic recording device, i.e., his brain.
Anyway, although this scenario was all in my mind because I had the windows up and couldn’t hear what they were saying, their body language told me all I needed to see to understand. I thought of a few things as I watched this scenario unfolding. One, what is this man telling his son (my assumption)? Is it something practical, like the advantage of dollar-cost averaging? I would like to think he’s giving him advice based on what he has learned in his life and prevent the kid from making the same mistakes that he did.
I also thought that the things this man was saying, he probably had not told any other human being in his life! Yet, whatever it was, he felt safe enough to tell his infant and innocent son. But why? Simply because he knew the kid did not really understand him. Would he tell a similar message to his teenage son? Probably not, because he would fear judgement, resistance or worse, dismissal. But this kid who could not talk yet only offered acceptance – he would receive all the message without any reply. And sometimes, that is all we really need, someone to listen.
Then I thought what would I say to my child, if I had one? That is almost like asking what would you say to the child version of you? Of course, in order to keep it simple and not get into meaning of life discussions, I will just mention the five concepts I would I tell my child.
Be kind to yourself
Do those things that you enjoy doing. Do whatever gets you in that state where time flies by. I used to like drawing when I was little, but then I stopped just prior to entering high school. Why? Because I listened to some more experienced people who told me I should study something practical, like engineer or doctor. Since I did not like blood, I picked engineering. I mean, it’s not like I had any other choice. It’s not like people make a living drawing, right? Of course, those are rhetorical questions. Many people are currently doing what they love, and without worrying about what other people think or how much money they make. Of course, I am not saying be reckless and irresponsible, but if you have a creative desire, pursue it. Those close to you most likely wish you happiness, and that is only achieved when you do things you like. That is my definition of being kind to yourself.
Learn to laugh at yourself.
This is basically not taking yourself too seriously but with a positive spin. I used to be very serious and anxious when younger, basically because I learned that we have few precious and critical moments in life, so we better make them count! I remember cramming over exams and being in terror of failing and having my life ruined! How about realizing that our whole life is precious, not just some moments? Our physical existence is one big classroom. The more we screw up, the more we learn about ourselves and others. And the best part is that Life does not hand out grades or report cards. Perhaps we get warnings, but we can always try again. So, laugh at your present misadventures and see how they will become future seeds for success.
Try to understand others.
I have one brother and one sister, born one year apart and raised together for decades by our parents. Yet, we have different opinions on almost everything! Human beings who experience the same exact event have different takeaways. And that is ok, just the way we were designed. Never dismiss people, even those who you think have crazy ideas. Be patient and ask them why they think that way. In asking about their background and any impactful event, you can learn a lot about how they reach conclusions. The goal is not to convince others to think like you, but to understand how we all have the right to think for ourselves.
We all make mistakes. I have made peace of some of my past mistakes, but not with others. This last group made me think for a long time that I didn’t deserve happiness. Maybe some things in my life hadn’t turned out like I wished because of these past “sins”. Shortly after my divorce, I started seeing a therapist and discussing these issues. I noticed that the mere fact of saying these acts out loud made them appear more terrestrial, more human. Remember, we are not the same person now that we were at 17 years old. If we did something then that we regret now, and for whatever reason we can’t make amends, the mere fact that we feel embarrassed, distressed or disappointed means that we have matured and grown. There is nothing we can do to change what we did when we were young, naïve and inexperienced. We made the best decision then with the information we had at the time. But we can choose to forgive our present and future selves and try not to repeat the mistake. Don’t be a martyr forever and enjoy life. You deserve it!
Don’t eat in the car.
I do not mean it’s messy to eat in the car. Heck, I’ve done it many times. When I see people eating inside cars while they drive, I feel bad for them. I realize that perhaps is because they only have 15-minute lunch. But sometimes, that is not the case. We live in a busy society (pre-pandemic), where status erroneously means how many appointments or meetings I can cram into my day, even if that means skipping meals. I believe humans were meant to eat socially, and that’s how we developed bonds within our tribe and with others. One of my favorite TV shows was Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, where he would visit remote countries and people, and break bread with them. These meals were unrushed and brought everyone’s defensive shields down, so they could understand and appreciate one another. Set aside ample time to eat foods you enjoy; with people you enjoy. Preferably outside the car!
I would wish my kid listens to these comments, and that she applies them at her discretion. Not so I win any parent of the galaxy award, but in the sincere hope that she goes through life with an optimist outlook, knowing that nobody has Life figured out, and that she can accomplish what she wishes without regrets.