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Ordinary People Taking Action
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“My teenage son, Scott, recently told me about a conversation that he had with his best friend. They concluded that they were happiest when they were five years old. When I asked Scott why they felt that way, he said: “Dad, when we were five, we were not self-conscious. We were freely ourselves in every moment, and we did not care what other people thought about us. Now we are constantly trying to measure up, to be somebody. We worry about what we look like, how we are dressed, and how we fit in with the other kids at school. It’s hard. At age five, none of this mattered. I miss being five years old.”
This isn’t my story. This is a paragraph out of the book Mastering Leadership, by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams. It’s a good book, in case you’re looking for an insightful read about leadership. I read this paragraph and immediately grabbed my computer to write this blog entry.
I work with students to help them identify the pathway for their future. I work with professionals to help them navigate their professional world. What both groups have in common is that they almost always tell me they are trying to live up to the expectations of others.
“Mom, what was your favorite day ever?” asked my 14-year-old son.
My response came after a long pause. “I honestly don’t know. Maybe the days you and your sister were born.”
“I knew you would say that. That is why I asked for just one day.”
“Gosh, I don’t know. The day I married your dad was a great day.”
“Was that your best day, ever, of your entire life?”
“I don’t know. That is a hard question. I remember the day I won my first swim meet, that was pretty good.”
"Well, what is your answer? Winning a swim meet?”
A pause to put more thought into my answer. “Ummm, maybe the day I was born. If I hadn’t been born, I wouldn’t have had all these other great days.”
“Oh, that’s good, I never thought of it that way,” my son responded with a smile.
This was truly my conversation with my son, not one taken from a book. We spent another 30 minutes talking about favorite days, favorite memories. The recurring theme – the best times were always when we felt we were our “true” selves. They were times when we were happy and without many other cares in the world.
My son said he wished every day could be his favorite day. I thought that was a very tall order – and probably not possible. I think I took away some of his optimistic outlook with my gloomy response.
Why do we as adults do this? Something about “growing up” makes us start comparing ourselves to each other – living up to sometimes unrealistic expectations. Something about being an adult makes us take the joy out of a teenager who just wants every day to be his favorite day. We are consistently the “Debbie Downer” in our own lives – in others’ lives.
I don’t think this reflection is just about the adult in me – I think a lot of us can relate. What happened between the age of five and whatever age we are now? Well, for most of us we … stopped believing in the magic of the world – the magic of ourselves.
What would happen today if you:
- Stopped worrying about what other people thought of you?
- Lived today as if it was the best day of your life?
- Believed in the magic of yourself?