My heart surgery in 2012 really rocked my point of view on life as a whole. Once you start contemplating a world without you in it – beyond a hypothetical – you can’t help but feel differently about almost everything.
The one person I thought of the most at that time was my daughter Olivia. My son was just over a year old at the time and, while he and my wife were in my mind a lot, Olivia was the one I was most concerned with. The thought of leaving her at such a young age and placing the burden of tragedy on her then-three year old shoulders was a lot to digest. I kept thinking about the moments I would miss in her life and how she would have to tell people, with a sad look in her eyes, that her father died when she was very young.
It filled me with a sense of urgency regarding life lessons. I wanted to tell her everything all at once. I envisioned those sappy movies where a dying father would make a series of videos for his children to see after he’s gone. It seemed feasible in the moment, but as time passed, I realized it wasn’t. This isn’t a movie. It’s real life and I’m not Michael Keaton. That was a lot of ground to cover and no pile of outdated VHS tapes could do it all justice.
I remembered that feeling, though, and strive to teach her about life at every turn. Still, there are some lessons that she might not fully understand or appreciate yet. I hope to tell her all of them through the years, but in case I can’t, I wanted to write some of them down so I have them. And, if I’m not around one day, so she has them too.
Forgive once. Resentment eats you away from the inside and spreads to all those around you. Spend your days angry at one person and you’re sure to approach others with a distrustful eye. If you can let go of animosity, do it. It’s not worth the toll it takes on you. The old saying goes that hating someone is like poisoning yourself and hoping your enemy dies. It’s true.
But…you only really need to forgive once. If someone sees how badly you’re hurt by something they did and they do it again, then it tells you a lot about how they view your feelings. That’s not to say that there aren’t special circumstances or case-to-case examples, but by and large, someone who will damage your relationship in the same way multiple times probably doesn’t value that relationship as much as they should.
Don’t try to impress people. Their goals aren’t your goals and your goals might not be theirs. Besides that, you never really know when you succeeded. People will act like they’re amazed at all your worldly goods to your face and then sneer with sarcasm behind your back. Others might never say a word but secretly be dying with envy. In the end, you never know who really cares about what you have, so why care what they think? The things you have are for you to live with, not for anyone else. No matter how much show and tell you see on social media, the opinions and possessions of others shouldn’t change who you are or try to be. If your life exists to simply parade in front of others, then you’ll never fully enjoy what you have.
On the other side of that coin, don’t expect pity and don’t elicit it. There’s no value in making someone feel sorry for you. You won’t be the first person to experience pain and disappointment. You won’t be the last. Use your difficult moments to persevere and show others how to stand up in the face of adversity. If you use your pitfalls to inspire, it gives them a better purpose than just dragging you down.
Listen to what people are saying, not how they’re saying it. People might speak with passion, emotion, and conviction without actually saying anything of substance. Listen to the message before listening to the presenter. No one has all the answers. If someone says they do, go elsewhere. They’re either lying to you or to themselves.
You can do anything. I’m not saying that because you’re a female. I’m saying that because you’re a person. The achievements of famous women before you are something to be applauded, but they’re not your achievements. They exist to remind you that anyone is capable of anything – regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or a million other categories. The goals you reach in life will be because you’re you and you can do anything.
Never let anyone tell you who you are. They can say it. They can think it. But the only opinion of you that matters is your own. No one knows your motivations, feelings, and desires like you do. Regardless of how much you respect someone’s opinion, they’ll never have a better grasp on what makes you tick than you do. Take their opinions in stride, not as fact.
Throughout it all, always remember to be the person you wish everyone else was. If you want a world where all other people are kind and caring, be kind and caring. If you want a world where everyone is excited and happy, be excited and happy. The planet is just made up of individuals. You’re one of them. Model your good behavior to others. Motivate them to emulate your positive traits and, before long, you’ll see people begin to adopt your good qualities. Sure, you might not see it in all of the people in the world, but you’ll see it in all the people in your world and that’s what’s most important. You’ll be amazed at the changes you can create when you lead by example.
It’s a scary world out there and, as a dad, I want to make sure my children are ready for anything that comes their way. When the day comes that I’m no longer here, I really just want them both to be confident in the fact that they drastically improved my world. When they encounter days where they feel inadequate, unloved, or inconsequential, like many of us do, I want them to remember that there was at least one person whose life wasn’t the same without them. I’m grateful every day. That’s the truth and, whether I’m walking the Earth or not, as long as they know that, I know they’ll be OK.