“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” ~Angela Schwindt
When you’re young, anything seems possible. Whether you want to become a school teacher, a ballerina, or an astronaut, it all feels within your reach.
And you so easily get excited by it.
You can visualize in vivid detail what it would be like to hold your roses at curtain call, or how proud you’ll feel when you save the day—as a fireman, a soldier, or maybe even a superhero. You pretend your way through different roles and stay open to different ideas of who you are.
You might know what you like and don’t, and you probably aren’t afraid to vocalize it, but you haven’t yet learned how to get stuck in your ways. You’re too curious for that. That would be boring.
Though you knew back then that sticks and stones might break your bones but names could never hurt you, you did get hurt sometimes. You cried when a bully teased you, or you couldn’t get something you wanted.
But the next day you were back swinging and giving underdogs at the playground, smiling and dreaming new dreams again.
Then life happened. Maybe time and experience taught you to worry, fear, and limit yourself, and you slowly became a person younger you wouldn’t want to play with. You started playing by rules that no one even gave you. You stopped imagining possibilities and believing that you could meet them.
And worst of all, you started thinking that it’s something the world did to you—not something you choose, moment to moment.
You might not be able to scale buildings or become the king of the world, but you can still be that person you wanted to be as a kid. You can still see the world with wonder. You can still believe in magic, and create it.
This is how you start:
That’s how you learned back then. You explored and tried on different hats, and rarely said the word “can’t” unless your mom was calling you in for dinner. If something sounded fun, you were game.
Open up to fun again. Be silly, playful, creative, curious, excited, adventurous, and open. Give your overworked adult mind a break and enjoy experimenting. Finding new possibilities isn’t a cerebral experience. The only way to create a life that will bring you joy is to use your joy as a compass.
2. Invite the new kid to your table at lunch.
Okay, maybe you didn’t do this one. We all wanted to belong back then, and that usually meant staying with the group. But sometimes it backfired on you. Sometimes the new kid was fun. Sometimes the new kid was a great friend. Sometimes the new kid had parents who rented bounce houses for their birthdays.
If you only allow yourself to interact with people you know and trust, your world will remain small, albeit manageable. You never know what experiences new acquaintances might introduce you to—and you never know when an acquaintance may turn into a friend that feels like home.
3. Don’t ditch gym class.
It was in the curriculum for a reason: it’s good for you. Shocker, I know! Dodge ball was more than just an opportunity to knock your friends out and be the last kid standing. It got your blood pumping, gave you an energy outlet, and increased your overall health.
You can’t do anything in life if you’re too sluggish to get off your couch. This is nothing new—we all know that exercise is good for us. If you need additional motivation not to sit on the bench, consider these hidden benefits of exercise: research has shown even moderate exercise can boost the immune system and prevent chronic illness.
4. Don’t jump off a bridge just because your friends are doing it.
You don’t want to think of people you love as negative, complacent, or stagnant, but many of them probably are. Thoreau said the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation—and as bleak as that may sound, there’s some truth to it. The majority of people don’t do what they want to do, and feel most comfortable surrounding themselves with similar people.
Don’t be a similar person. Love and accept them as they are, but decide to do it differently. There’s no good reason to be quietly desperate when you can be boldly satisfied. That’s not to say achieving what you want will be easy; but you will respect and admire yourself more when you’re actively living out loud, if not yet in results, in the process.
5. Realize you really can paint your bunny green.
Back then, you picked any color crayon you wanted just because you liked it. You experimented and got creative, even if everyone else went the traditional route. You didn’t know it was thinking outside the box because you never thought to stay inside it. You just did what was fun and exciting.
You might not have the luxury of picking the green crayon in all areas of your life. Sometimes you have to do work you don’t want to do to get you from A to B. But you can keep your crayon handy, and make little changes that allow you more freedom down the line. Believe in the picture you visualize and you’ll impress yourself making it reality.
6. Do your homework first.
You might not have loved that part of being a kid, but if you got good grades, odds are you did your homework after school. You put in the time, got it over with, and then said yes when your best friend asked you to come out to play.
Succeeding in life is no different. You have to put in the time, and consistently. You can’t crack open your book once in a blue moon and then expect to win the spelling bee. That’s just not how it works. Commit to the process you’ve chosen to seize your dreams. Whatever you say you’re going to do—write, network, make calls—do it a little every day. Consistency creates momentum creates magic.
7. Ask why the sky is blue.
My mother used to have a magnet on her refrigerator that read “Ask your teen now, while she still knows everything.” Before you hit puberty, you didn’t know everything, and knew it. You asked all kinds of ridiculous questions because you didn’t think they were ridiculous. Not asking and not learning—that was ridiculous.
Don’t be afraid to ask why, when, where, or how. You might not look all-knowing or genius, but the truth is, no one thinks you are. The jig is up! You can either pretend you have all the answers and annoy people, or acknowledge that you don’t and allow yourself to learn more of them. The latter gives you more opportunities to understand the world and grow within it.
8. Find excuses to have parties.
Nothing broke up the monotony of a school day like a punch-and-cupcake party. The kind that starts at recess and bleeds into the afternoon math lesson. The type that makes kids with hall passes poke their heads in and wonder why they’re not having fun, too.
As adults we immerse ourselves in striving and wait for reasons to celebrate—to pull out the good china, the good wine, the good life. Don’t wait. Celebrate a non-event whenever you can. Rejoice when you do something well and feel proud. Involve your friends when it’s a sunny day and you can’t wait to enjoy it. As John Petit-Senn said, not what you have but what you enjoy constitutes abundance.
9. Prefer not being punished.
I know, it sounds ridiculous. No one likes missing out or feeling bad, right? And yet we set ourselves up to hurt all the time as adults. We stay in relationships and situations that don’t serve us because it’s safer than walking away, because moderately painful and familiar is more bearable than the unknown.
Don’t punish yourself. Don’t stay alone, don’t stay stuck in a miserable situation, don’t stay because you’re scared to walk away. Don’t beat yourself up for mistakes you made. You don’t deserve to hurt, and you don’t have to. You deserve to let your pain go.
10. Believe in magic.
You can’t re-convince yourself that Santa exists, or pretend the walking mouse at Disney is really Mickey. And you shouldn’t want to. Real magic doesn’t lie in creating imaginary realities; it happens when you actively choose to create miracles right here, in the world as it actually is.
Miracles happen every day. People change for the better. People change their ideas of what’s possible. People change the world. Believe in yourself. Believe in your power. Believe you make a difference. You do. And you can do it more. You can leave the world a better place than you found it. You can be the magic that lit up your eyes as a child.
We may have dreamed of castles and flying carpets as kids, but what we really wanted was a lot simpler: We wanted adventure, possibility, fun, and a few good friends to share it with. Regardless of how your life looks now, you can have those things. It starts with how you choose to be today, and what you choose to do with what you have.
Want to come out to play?
*That’s a recent picture of me swinging away in Lake Tahoe. If this post seems familiar, you may have read it when I first published it in 2010.