Be True to Yourself

Ocean

“Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”
– Pope Francis

 

 

 

My daughter has no shortage of people who offer her advice.

Fortunately, most of these people have good intentions. Sometimes, though, people go beyond giving friendly advice and will bluntly try to tell her how to live her life. I’ve told her to be polite and smile at these folks — and ignore them.

I’ve experienced my own share of overbearing advice givers. Sometimes the advice is unwanted but harmless enough: people want me to change the clothes I wear, the style of my haircut, the hobbies I pursue or the music I enjoy. Other times, the “advice” is about more serious life decisions: what career to pursue, who to marry, or even which side of a moral fence to stand.

In the noise, it’s easy to lose confidence in our own decision making. It’s even easier to follow the advice of someone just to make them happy, even if it’s not what’s truly in our heart.

I tell my daughter that when making a decision, it is wise to seek out opinions of others and weigh all options. But in the end, we must live our own life, and in doing so it’s important to be true to ourselves, free of the expectations of others.

Simply put: live the life you want, and don’t care too much what other people think. Those who truly care about you will understand and support you.

Choose wisely, and choose for yourself.

Simplify your life

kayakfront

“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand….”
Henry David Thoreau

 

 
Even before she was a teenager, my daughter’s closet overflowed with clothes. It was difficult to see everything because clothes hung on top of clothes. It was only after cleaning out the closet, discarding old blouses and pants and shoes – and reducing her total clothing count – that we could fully see and use her entire wardrobe. Less actually became more.

Sometimes, life is the same way.

We often overflow our lives with so many things, not only material possessions, but activities, personal commitments, professional responsibilities, hobbies, people, pets, worries and other items. In some ways, the concept of decluttering runs counter to our culture of making ourselves incessantly busy and acquiring stuff.

Simplifying our lives is a wise alternative. Doing so frees us to spend time and energy on the truly important, which often comes to light when the noise is stripped away.

Declutter your life. Simplify.

Less will be more.

The importance of perseverance

OspreysupercroppedFall down seven times, stand up eight.
Japanese proverb

 

 

 

 

One evening, my daughter was growing frustrated with her math homework.

She had tried several times to solve an equation but couldn’t get the correct answer, despite working intently on the problem.

I watched her struggle a bit – but she didn’t give up. She took a deep breath, worked on it some more and eventually found the answer.

She persevered.

For most of us, life frequently brings simple frustrations, and occasionally, far more complex problems. Our willingness to continue to try our best, even if we don’t succeed at first, goes a long way in determining not only our immediate success but our long-term happiness.

One of my daughter’s favorite book series is the Harry Potter saga written by J.K. Rowling. The author sent her manuscript for the first book to 12 different publishers before one accepted it. Imagine how easy it would have been for Rowling to give up trying to find a publisher after her first rejection (or her tenth). She could always say she tried but didn’t succeed. Instead, she persevered — and went on to write a total of seven Potter books, the best-selling book series of all time.

Life knocks all of us down sometimes. Some people choose to stay on the ground and quit. Other people stand up, dust themselves off and try again. Those who rise give themselves a new chance to succeed.

You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish if you persevere.

The importance of attitude

j0433335“What you think you become.”
– Buddha

 

 

I once challenged my daughter with this question: why do some people seem happy all the time while others are always so grumpy?

She correctly identified the one key difference in some people: their attitude.

Everyone faces challenges, even people who live a seemingly charmed life. Often, our success is not determined by the challenge itself but how we react to it.

Some people let simple annoyances bother them to no end. Other people face daunting challenges yet always seem in a good mood. We frequently hear of people battling a life-threatening illness do so with a positive attitude, and many such patients credit it with helping them win the battle. Imagine how powerful a good attitude can be in overcoming life’s simpler problems.

Having the right attitude in almost every situation can make a huge difference in anyone’s life.

I often remind my daughter: don’t underestimate the importance of your attitude.

To learn about life: travel and read

reading“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
– Mary Anne Radmacher

 

 

 

 

Since my daughter was a little girl, I’ve encouraged her to attend college. Equally important, I’ve strongly recommended that she travel to new places and read regularly.

Traveling domestically (and abroad, if possible) exposes a person to new cultures, ideas, customs, religions, food and music. Most people return from a trip a different person than when they departed, as travel provides perspective on their own culture and life.

In some ways, reading is another form of travel: a good book can transport the reader to another time or place, revealing new ideas and perspectives. Not everyone can afford college or is well suited for it. (Abraham Lincoln did not attend college and said everything he learned, he learned from books.) But anyone can read, and it’s like traveling without having to leave home.

I continue to tell my daughter that regardless of her formal education, the dual pleasures of traveling and reading will bring the mysteries of the world a little sharper into focus.

Find time to read. Find a way to travel.

Asking questions about faith

DSC00872

“Faith is a gift….”.
Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks in the film Angels and Demons

 

 

At age 11, my daughter asked if God really existed. She also wanted to know if Heaven was real.

I have always been honest and candid with my daughter, but my answer probably was not satisfactory to her: I said that only she could answer these questions.

My daughter was attending Christian church services each Sunday and heard the pastor’s frequent messages about Jesus and his teachings, and about God’s relationship with humanity. His sermons never called into question God’s existence (although he was far less clear about the nature of heaven). My daughter was attentive, and she wanted a concrete, iron clad assurance about God.

I told her she was really asking a question about faith.

My daughter’s pastor once gave a sermon about Blaise Pascal’s philosophical “wager,” which says that every person must bet if there is a God or not. If you believe there is a God and you are correct, then the payoff is huge; if you are wrong, then you don’t lose anything important. But if you bet there is no God and are wrong, your penalty is eternal damnation, which is the ultimate lost wager. The thought, then, is to go ahead and bet there is a God.

But I don’t want my daughter to come to religious faith out of fear.

I also don’t want to spoon-feed her answers to these questions. Instead, I  encourage her to examine her own life and come to her own conclusions.

When it comes to faith, I cannot give my daughter the answers. But I am glad she’s asking the questions.

In life, keep your eyes focused forward

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Every exit is an entry somewhere.” 

       – Tom Stoppard

 

 

 

While driving a car, 99 percent of the time your eyes are looking in one of two places: in the rearview mirror or through the windshield.

The rearview mirror only shows where you have been, the past. The windshield shows what is in front of you, including all your options for which road to choose next.

It’s a good idea to look in the rearview now and again, but if you fix your eyes there for too long, you’ll crash.

This is true about life, too. You have the choice to focus on what’s behind you, or you can look forward at what lies ahead, including all your options for what road to take next.

Where do you spend your time looking?

Go ahead: Chase your dreams

ReachfortheStars_009Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. Then go and do that. Because what the world needs most is people who have come alive.”

– Anonymous

 

 

While visiting Universal Studios in Orlando, my daughter and I watched a fun animal show at the theme park. Afterward, we approached the stage to speak with one of animal trainers, a young man who told us that he loved his job. As a child, he said, his hobby was teaching tricks to the pets of his family and friends, and he spent all his free time playing with animals. Now, he couldn’t believe he was being paid to do something he loved and would do for free.

This young man had found a way to marry his passion with his career. It wasn’t much money, he said, but he didn’t care because every day felt like play. It was clear this guy was living his dream.

This is a great lesson.

It is easy to focus on making money, thinking this is the key to happiness. And while a certain amount of pragmatism is wise – we all have bills to pay – it’s a shame so many of us abandon our dreams when choosing a career.

My parents were both children of the Great Depression, and during my entire childhood they told me repeatedly that finding steady work at a good wage was the key to success. Yes, enjoying my work was a nice benefit, but the most important consideration was making a good living.

It’s easy to see why they were so pragmatic. My father was born three months before the 1929 stock market crash. My mother was born the next year in London and was a child during the most brutal WW II bombings of that city. Both grew up at a time when the key to life was simply providing for yourselves and your family. After college, I was speaking to an older family friend – from the same generation as my parents – who told me to try to get a job at the post office. It didn’t matter I had no interest in the post office, he said; it was steady work, and what could be more important?

When it comes to my daughter, I’ve encouraged her to pursue her dreams. Yes, I’ve also explained that there is a practical side to choosing a career path, including earning enough money to pay the bills. Some balance is important.

But mostly, I want her to spread her wings and fly. I want her to pursue her dreams.

A little rain in your child’s life is a good thing

Littleraincropped “Thy fate is the most common fate of all, into each life some rain must fall.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

 

As a parent, it is natural not only to protect your child from harm but also to keep her free from worry or problems. We want our children to be happy and successful – all the time.

As a good parent, we have a responsibility to do something a little different, because what happens to the child who never knows even the slightest disappointment or failure? What if she wins at everything – or always gets her way? She is not prepared to be a successful adult.

This is true because in the real world, your child will not always get what she wants. At some point, she will be disappointed – and at some point, she will fail: it is a function of being human. But it is not the disappointment or failure which will help decide your child’s happiness; it will be her ability to react to it.

Of course, all good parents will protect their children from any significant danger or terrible mistake, and we will do everything we can to help them be successful. But a child who never has to face any disappointment or failure is unlikely to develop the skills needed to cope with these realities as an adult. If a parent gives in to the impulse to allow a child to win at every little game or contest, to cure for them every little struggle, to intervene at every little problem, we are simply not preparing them to handle life.

No good parent would allow his child to be battered by a storm, but letting just a little rain into your child’s life is exactly what good parents do.

Honesty is still the best policy

Holdingcandle

 “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

– Thomas Jefferson

 

 

I guess you’re never too old to be reminded that honesty is the best policy. Consider this story:

My 84-year-old father called to say it was time for him to give up driving a car for good. His memory had started to fade, and he’d begun forgetting things, such as the route to get home from the nearby store.

He asked my help finding a buyer for his car, which Dad seemed relieved to let go. (He also was happy to be rid of a car payment, insurance, gas and maintenance.)

We checked the Internet to get an idea of how much to ask for his car, then took it several places to get the best deal.

At one dealership, the used car manager offered us almost exactly our asking price. We immediately agreed. The manager then handed us a form with a few basic questions and left the room to do some paperwork. We scanned the form and had no issues, until we saw this question: “Have the air bags in this car ever deployed?”

Dad thought for a moment – you could see he was struggling to recall some not-so-distant memory – and then told me, “I’m trying to remember, but I think the air bags in this car did go off once in an accident.”

I was surprised. Dad had said that very morning that he didn’t remember ever being in an accident in this car. Now he seemed to recall an accident that set off the air bags. After some deliberation, his memory cleared and he was certain: a few years ago, he indeed had been hit head-on in this car and the airs bags had deployed.

This was significant because this dealer had a policy not to purchase any car if the air bags had ever deployed, even if they’d been professional repacked. And if this dealer would not buy the car, the next best offer we could find from another buyer was $1,000 less than this dealer was offering.

The sales manager was not in the room when Dad recalled the accident, but he was certain to return shortly. We had a choice to make when the manager walked in: admit the air bags had gone off, lose this sale and eventually end up with $1,000 less for the car, or not mention the accident and make the sale and our full profit.

It’d been a long day and we were ready to sell the car and go home. But Dad and I agreed that we needed to admit the truth about the air bags. If we’d been buying the car instead of selling it, we’d want to know the truth about the car’s history. And it didn’t feel right signing a form we knew to be false.

We told the dealer about the accident and the air bags. He immediately said, “I’m sorry, but that means I can’t buy your car.” After a moment, he added, “Thanks for being honest. I actually could have gotten in some trouble if I’d bought this and the dealership found out later about the air bags.” He also told us that if someone had bought the car and been injured in an accident because of faulty air bags, my Dad’s signature on that paper could place him in a difficult legal position.

In the end, we sold the car to another buyer for the $1,000 less. Driving home, I thought for a moment whether or not we made the right decision, but I didn’t have to think long. I know Dad got less money for his car, but we had something more valuable: peace of mind, and knowledge we had done the right thing.

For us, honesty is still the best policy.


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