“Sometimes the most valuable lessons come from people who didn’t intend to give them.” — Unknown
I’m nervous, anxious, and unsure of myself.
“Who am I to talk and give advice?”
Over the past year, despite what most would consider a successful year, I’ve felt like an impostor and unworthy of anything good when it comes to life, love, and the in-between.
I was on my way to speak to an inner city high school. I’m far removed from high school and much behind the current times of today.
I’m expected to provide some hope and inspiration to a group of kids who unfortunately didn’t have much of it in their daily lives.
These kids have been through a lot—from depression, low self-esteem, lack of support in their dreams, and emotional and verbal abuse. I was nervous because what could I share that would help them.
I didn’t grow up in the inner city. I was at a loss for ideas. I thought about canceling last minute, pretending to be sick, or make up some family emergency.
I didn’t want to let the kids down nor my friend who recommended me.
Feeling empty and at a loss, I had one option left—reveal my true self (something I have a hard time doing) and share my story without worrying about the end result.
Unlike kids, I was the one who wore a mask for the majority of my life and pretended to be someone who I wasn’t. I was the one who pretended to be an avid lover of sports but really preferred the arts. I was the one who was more sensitive and wanted to find one quality woman to meet instead of going through a laundry list of women.
Instead, I went around with false bravado pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
I understood their situation where you have these dreams and aspirations but your environment doesn’t understand you nor think it’s possible since it’s never happened around them.
I shared my story of how I left medical school to pursue my dream of being a writer. I shared how I always wanted to be a writer but didn’t follow my dreams for so long because of fear and what others would say.
I shared my lowest moments and assured them that they’re not alone. I assured them to never lose hope and to always choose the light over the dark, the possibility over the impossible, and love over hate.
The talk ended and I nervously asked them to share their stories along with some of their hopes and dreams. I didn’t expect much participation. After a minute of silence—the first child raised her hand. Then the next and the next.
As they kept pouring their hearts out and displaying the vulnerability that I could only wish to have—the roles started to reverse. I’m supposed to be the teacher, but soon after, I became the student.
At that time, something inside of me awakens and those kids reminded me about the true essence of life. I’m as guilty as the next adult when it comes to being ultra-serious and forgetting about the simplicity of life.
Here are 6 lessons that kids taught me about life, love, and creativity:
Lesson #1: Stay curious and create “just because”
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso
One of the kids who spoke up shared how he creates something every day. He tries out new ideas with his paintings despite the lack of likes he gets on Instagram or validation from his peers.
As a creative myself who suffers from self-doubt at times and secretly craves validation for his work at times, I ask “how and why do you keep up with this daily activity of creating despite the lack of fanfare?”
He looks up, smiles and states, ”because it’s fun to create new things and you never know how it’s going to end up—why would I stop doing this?”
Exploring the unknown and using the power of imagination is always on the frontier of being a kid.
The sense of wonder that we had as kids start to dwindle as we get more comfortable with our routines and habits. We play the game of life safe.
Instead of taking the leap and pursuing a dream job, many talk themselves out of it. Instead of pursuing the romance that we truly want, we’ll stick with what’s comfortable.
But to show up in the world as the best version of ourselves, we need to stay curious. Curiosity leads to expanding our horizons and creating the potential magical moments of life.
Besides the hands-on work, asking questions and challenging thoughts are two of the best ways to learn and grow as an individual.
The answers and help we need to go places won’t get answered unless we ask the questions first.
Lesson #2: Keep going no matter what
Kids don’t pout, stop playing nor take themselves too seriously when something doesn’t go according to plan the first time around. They brush it off and keep trying. They don’t hold on to things and let them linger over the long-term.
From salsa dancing to pursuing jobs I wanted to ask the woman who I’ve crushed over for a long time—this fear of rejection and embarrassment has prevented me from living a complete life.
As adults, we lose this ability to put ourselves out there, risk failing or looking incompetent in an activity.
Instead of taking the leap, we’ll keep our words, our paintings, and emotions to ourselves. Many of us will tell ourselves that our work isn’t good enough, worthy of appreciation, nor ready yet.
What if no one likes our work or thinks we’re stupid? What if she says no or laughs in my face?
Big deal, life goes on.
Most of the events we worry about and overanalyze are trivial matters in the grand scheme of things. When things go wrong with kids, they laugh it off. They’re too naive to even understand that perfection is such a thing.
As adults, we expect perfection and if we fail or aren’t good at something, we won’t try again.
Let go of perfection and stay moving forward.
Lesson #3: Stay away from time travel
When kids are playing in the park, that’s all they’re doing. Nothing else is on their mind except playing in the park. Whatever happened yesterday at school or what they have to do tomorrow isn’t on their mind.
There is no such thing as multitasking as a kid.
As adults, we’re working, but also texting and emailing. We’re at the gym, but also texting about work and taking the perfect selfie.
We’re at dinner with friends, but surfing Facebook.
As adults, we forget the act of staying in the present moment and focusing only on one task at a time.
We’re either regretting and trying to change the past. Or, we’re stressing ourselves and becoming anxious over the future, which hasn’t even happened yet.
We drown ourselves with our to-do list and forget to enjoy the present moment. We’re chasing after the next goal and then the next. This becomes a continuous cycle that has no ending in sight.
Instead of worrying about the past and future, focus on the present moment, which is the only moment that is one-hundred percent in your hands.
Lesson #4: Approach life from a “why not” perspective
George Bernard states “I hear you say ‘Why?’ Always ‘Why?’ You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say ‘Why not?”
Kids are the true embodiment of living this quote to its fullest. When children approach new endeavors and situations, there isn’t fear or hesitation of the activity. Instead, they dive head first into the activity.
Kids ask questions and challenge the possibilities of the world with their imagination and outside-of-the-box thinking.
As adults, we become rigid with our thinking and lose our sense of imagination and play. We self-impose ourselves to the world where creativity takes a back seat to practical, logical, and sensible thinking.
For kids, the future is full of infinite possibilities.
During some of my worst days, I feel into this trap of limiting myself inside a box. You have to write this way because all the top experts and popular people do it this way. You have to date this way because that’s the rules of today’s society.
But, only once we free ourselves can we truly let our utmost creative selves thrive to its fullest capabilities.
I challenge you to not restrict yourself with possibilities. That idea that you want to try for your art or that chance you want to take by building a dream business—take a step towards that (small steps are perfect).
Embrace being unorthodox. Become unmistakable, step out from the herd, and let yourself standout—even if others give you looks.
Lesson #5: Persistence is important
Whether it’s playing video games, little league football, dancing silly, or playing in the park—kids display a never quit attitude.
Kids don’t care if they’re not an expert, highly skilled, or the best at their activity. Kids aim for enjoyment and fulfillment at the activity first and foremost.
As adults, we can learn from kids to not let a lack of qualifications, connections, or fear stop us from going after what we want.
How many times have you told yourself that you can’t do something because you’re not qualified, not enough money, not pretty enough, or not enough knowledge?
I challenge you to start, even if you don’t feel ready because you’ll never feel ready enough.
Chasing after a creative life, a dream job, or a fitness goal—start before you feel ready.
You learn by doing. Momentum manifests from taking action.
Remove all expectations and pressure from the activity. Commit to the act of the process, which is in your control, everything else isn’t.
Lesson #6: Leave your ego at the door
Kids are not good at most activities in the beginning. But, they also don’t have an ego that prevents them from being vulnerable and seeking out help when they need it.
As adults, we sometimes deem it a negative and a sign of weakness if we don’t know something or aren’t good at an activity.
As adults, the ego can get in the way and prevent us from reaching our true potential. Instead of seeking out help, we’ll sit and suffer by ourselves because of the ego.
But, seeking feedback is how you become the best version of yourself.
Whatever setbacks, struggles, or past failures that you’ve experienced in life, love, or creativity, you’re going to be ok.
Instead of thinking like an adult, the best thing you can do for your life is to start thinking like a child again. Thinking like a child helps reduce the chaos of the everyday world while also invigorating your spirits.
Which one of these lessons resonated with you the most? And how are you going to implement that lesson into your life?
Julian Hayes II is a health & fitness consultant and founder of The Art of Fitness & Life whose mission is to help busy and ambitious people get fit and healthy while helping them engineer a life designed on their terms. He’s also a columnist for Inc along with contributing to publications such as Entrepreneur, Success, & The Chicago Tribune. And lastly, he’s the author of the book Body Architect, which is a real-world guide to help you ignite your fitness and quiet the voices of self-doubt.
Image courtesy of dimitrisvetsikas1969.