“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ~William Arthur Ward
Ahh, my heart skips a beat at just the sound of his name.
In 2018, a tiny human being arrived on the planet, one who would change my life. In the short nine months my nephew Oliver has been in my life, I’ve learned a lot. I’m not talking about changing nappies and bottle-feeding, although I’m getting to grips with these essentials too. No, Oliver has taught me valuable lessons about life itself. Here are nine of the biggest.
1. Love and be loved.
Those who meet Oli can’t help but love him. He has big, beautiful, blue eyes and a smile that you can’t help but reciprocate.
Although he’s beautiful on the outside, it’s his spirit I love most. He’s gentle, innocent, and curious. I see the good in him, and even though I know he’ll make mistakes as he grows up, I also know it won’t change my unconditional love for him.
Loving Oli in this way has taught me to be more loving and less judgmental of others because I recognize that in every adult there’s an innocent child who’s just trying to do their best.
This has also helped me better open up and receive love. I feel how deeply I want to help Oli, and how much it means to me when I can, which makes me more receptive when others want to help me.
2. Make time to play.
Oliver’s social schedule is impressive, better than most adults! He goes to birthday parties, visits family, has trips out, not to mention the numerous baby classes he attends. Regardless of where he is, whether it’s a class with friends or a rainy day spent at home, I can count on one thing—he’s playing!
One morning, while watching Oli play, I asked myself, “Do I make enough time to play?” Adulting can be a serious matter at times, but that’s not to say we can’t pass time in a way that lights us up. Maybe I’m a little old to play with toy cars (or maybe not). Still, it’s important I make time for fun.
So I now make time to play piano and watch movies instead of telling myself these things are unimportant, and I try to infuse a spirit of play into everything I do instead of taking it all so seriously.
3. Praise ourselves.
Recently, my sister taught Oli the song “If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands.” He’s always a little out of time, but he’s mastered clapping itself. It melts my heart to see him clapping away with his mini hands.
I hope when he’s a little older, he’ll clap for himself after all his accomplishments and learn to praise himself for a job well done. Children are usually great at this. Sadly, when we become adults, we become more critical of ourselves, and words of praise become words of criticism. We become our own worst enemies, which makes it hard to ever feel happy, proud, or successful.
I formed a habit at the end of last year, to praise myself for three achievements at the each of day. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. I simply praise myself. I’m a lot less critical of myself since starting this ritual—and a lot happier as a result!
4. Give encouragement.
“C’mon, you can do it.” This seems to be my catchphrase when I’m spending quality time with my nephew. He’s forever on the move, grabbing on to the side of the sofa and pulling himself up slowly.
Rather than helping him directly, I sit back, smile, and encourage because I want to support his growth instead of just doing things for him. If my family are in the room, they’ll join in and it begins to feel like we’re a group of cheerleaders rooting for our favorite sports team.
Oli loves encouragement. Don’t we all? Life can be challenging sometimes, and hearing someone say, “I believe in you” can help us push through when we’re tempted to give up.
I now put more energy into encouraging my loved ones—and myself. Replacing my inner dialogue from negative, doubtful messages to pure encouragement has been life changing. Our thoughts determine our feelings, which influence our actions. For this reason, even a little self-encouragement can dramatically transform our lives.
5. Express how you feel.
Another important lesson Oliver has taught me, and taught me well, is to express how you feel. When Oli is hungry or tired you know about it! He doesn’t hold back. And he always gets his needs met as a result.
For a long time when I was living with anxiety, I wore a mask and hid my real feelings, putting on a “brave face.” I was afraid of being judged and I falsely believed that “real men” shouldn’t show weakness or ask for help.
I’ve gotten better at expressing how I feel, though there’s still room for improvement. As a result, I’m also better able to move past my challenges and get what I need.
6. Be determined.
One of Oliver’s cutest idiosyncrasies is his growl. He’s one determined little man, and his determined actions are always backed by a “GRRRR.” He’s advanced for his age, and I bet it’s because of his determination. If he fails the first time around, he tries again.
As adults, we’re sometimes too quick to form conclusions about what’s possible and what we’re capable of doing. Babies don’t have this kind of internal monologue—they just keep going when they have a goal in their sights!
Watching Oli has inspired me during recent challenges to really dig deep, get determined, and keep on going.
7. Know when to rest.
As playful and determined as he is, Oliver knows when it’s time for a nap.
In the past I’ve been guilty of pushing too hard, working too long, and not resting enough. I sometimes think I’ll get more done if I work harder and longer—probably because I often heard growing up “You can be successful if you work hard.” But I’m actually more effective if I allow myself to stop working and rest when I’m tired, since I can then come back stronger and recharged later or the next day.
I may not require as much sleep as a baby, but I do need to listen to when my mind and body is saying “enough.” It’s not about working harder, but smarter.
8. Try new things.
The last time I saw Oliver, my family and I took him to the English seaside for the first ever time. It was a cold and windy day, but we didn’t let the weather prevent us from having a great time. We walked for hours along the coastline, breathing in the salty sea air and listening to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore.
Having a baby in the family is the perfect reason to go and experience all the world has to offer, to show them its wonders for the first time.
As adults, our lives can get routine. We drive to work the same way, eat the same foods, and see the same people day to day. According to Tony Robbins, one of our six core needs is the need for uncertainty—or variety. Without new experiences, life starts to get boring.
There’s so much joy to be had when we enter the realm of the new with a curious pair of eyes. Trying new things also helps us discover new things about ourselves—new interests or strengths, or traits we didn’t know we had.
After this outing with my family, I made a list of new things I’d like to experience, from foods to devour to countries to explore. I may be far beyond Oil’s age, but we’re never too old to try new things.
9. Live in the present.
Perhaps the biggest lesson my nephew has taught me is to live in the present moment. He has no concept of time. The past and the future don’t exist in Oli’s world; he lives completely in and for the present, which ultimately, is the only time we can ever live in.
Oliver hasn’t yet learned how to remember. He hasn’t learned how to worry. He is pure. Like we all were at one time. If he falls down, he forgets it quickly and goes right back to playing, completely connected to the joy of what he’s doing.
It’s never too late, I believe, to return to living life in the present. Although over the years, thoughts may have pulled our focus like a tug of war rope, back and forth, between the past and future, we can always return to the now, right now.