Hi, Peanut. It’s Daddy.
I’m writing a letter to you because you’re almost eight- which means that you’re seven, which means that you don’t listen to a word I say, generally speaking. I remember seven, vaguely. I was too busy trying to figure things out on my own to listen to any grown-ups, so I know what it’s like. I don’t blame you, but I’m circumventing the problem by writing a letter. When you write words down, they last, so you can keep them in your pocket and pull them out when the opportunity presents itself. So when you’re seventeen, and we have a rare moment of silence and reflection together, be prepared to hear these words.
Do you want to know the hardest thing about being a dad? It’s having little nuggets of wisdom tucked away from years of living. It’s waiting for the right time to pass on that wisdom, because there’s never a right time, so you tuck them all away. You keep those nuggets in your pocket, waiting. Waiting. Then it comes- you have a problem, a dilemma- and I know how to fix it!
Wait just a second- hold that thought- I have the answer right here. Just give me a minute to pour through- ahh! Here it is: Daddy’s going to fix it. All you have to do is listen.. I’m going to make you wiser, more socially savvy. You’re going to be a better person for having heard this, and I... Peanut! Where are you going? But I have the answer! I can help! Okay, I guess you can go outside and play. Are you sure you don’t want to hear my advice? It’s pretty epic. Okay. Yeah, maybe later.
See, I’ve been through all the problems that you’re facing. I’ve been there, and I have the gift of hindsight, so I have it all figured out. Well, I have seven-year-old stuff figured out, anyway.
I have to wait for you to ask, though. When you’re ready to listen, I’ll be here. In the meantime, here are some things that I’ve learned.
Self-awareness is the greatest quality you can look for in someone. Friend, boyfriend, colleague- it doesn’t matter what role they will play. If they have a self-aware bone in their body, it means that they are capable of change. Those are the people you want in your life. To be incapable of change is perhaps the most damning of fates, because the world around you will constantly change. Good people change with it. Great people initiate the change. Darwin (who we’ll talk about later) comes in handy here. He’s the guy that “discovered” evolution, and his words are often misconstrued into something like “only the strong survive.” What he actually said was that it’s not the strongest that survive; it’s the most adaptable to change. Surround yourself with people who are capable of change. Self-awareness is the Litmus test.
That’s really just the starting point, though, because self-awareness in and of itself does nothing. It simply means you are capable of looking at yourself in the mirror and asking a simple question:
How can I be a better person today than I was yesterday?
I think of nationalism when I think about this mirror. Nationalism- basically- is the belief that one nation is superior to another. We’re especially prone to it here in America, and it’s a very dangerous thing. Nations are comprised of people, and at birth, no person or people is better than another. The ideals a nation is founded upon may very well surpass the ideals of another, but the people here now didn’t found this country. So, a nation is only as good as the people in it, and people are so diverse, such a myriad of qualities, that no one can say that one nation is better than another.
But we do. We say it all the time. And make no mistake: there are plenty of people across the world who would vehemently disagree with us. Why? Because they can look at our body of work- what we do, what we say, how we behave- and reflect on those things objectively. We, as a country, can’t. Others look at the fact that, by many traditional measures, places like Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden are the happiest countries in the world. Most Asian countries put us to shame when it comes to education. We are scarcely willing to admit that our attempt at being a country is an ever-evolving experiment, and we haven’t yet got it right. We are not at all a self-aware country.
I want you to model exactly the opposite behavior. You’re going to have flaws, sure- we all do. And those that truly love you will not only accept those flaws, but embrace them, so you need to recognize those flaws that are an inherent, indivisible part of you. Other stuff, though, you can change- things like always procrastinating, or not knowing how to cook, or constantly interrupting people when they speak. It’s simple, sweetheart, but it’s not easy. Be better tomorrow.
You’re going to screw up. A lot. I want you to know that that’s not only okay, but expected. Welcome, even. There is such a stigma on making mistakes, and few people ever really question it, but that stigma’s a very harmful one. No one is perfect. We all know that, but from birth we’re taught to avoid mistakes at all costs. Mistakes cost us a perfect score in school. They cost us relationships. But that’s okay. What no one tells you is that that’s the price of doing business- the price of life, and it’s a wonderful price to pay. People who screw up learn, and the only way to grow is to learn. To spend your life being afraid of screwing up is a horrible way to live. Imagine only ever eating mac and cheese because you’re afraid you’re going to screw up veal parmesan. You’re missing out.
I think about MySpace v Facebook when I think of this (I know you don’t know what MySpace is, so I’ll tell you). MySpace was the original Facebook. It was started by a guy named Tom Anderson who grew MySpace to be huge, then royally screwed up when he tried to monetize the site too early and neglected his users. He made millions, but now MySpace is the laughing stock of the web.
Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, invented Facebook when he was three years old (I think), and grew and grew and grew the site until it became what it is today (almost 15% of the planet uses it, and I think he plans to expand to Mars by 2015). He’s now a late 20-something billionaire who’s never known failure. The only thing he’s ever done is the biggest success story the digital world has ever witnessed.
Now, ask me who I’d trust more with the future of the Internet- the guy who screwed up big and faded into the woodwork, or the guy who’s basically been king of the world since he was eighteen? Yeah. You guessed it. Give me the guy who’s failed, thank you very much.
So don’t worry about mistakes, dear. Embrace them. Learn from them. Love them, even.
I suppose that’s all for now, but I may write to you some more later. And remember- whenever you’re willing to listen, Daddy’s here to impart some wisdom. It’s right here in my pocket. In the meantime, have fun being a kid, and when you scrape your knee, or someone takes your iPod on the bus, or you get caught shoveling your dinner into the trash can, don’t worry. Daddy will be here to clean it all up.
I will always be right here.
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