Wisdom (May 2012)
My son became a teenager a couple weeks ago. The transformation took place over time, but it sure seems like it happened overnight. I wanted to do something meaningful for this milestone. So I looked up “gifts for boys, 13th birthday” on the Internet and one idea, deep down in a stream of listserv messages, stuck out: share wisdom.
I believe in the saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” so I sent an email to a long list of people who have been involved in Alexander’s life. I asked them to share what they wish they had known as a teenager. I wasn’t sure what kind of answers I would get or what I would do with them when I received them. The response was inspiring. Teachers, neighbors, scout leaders, coaches, faith leaders, family, friends… all shared wonderful nuggets of wisdom from their own life experience.
I bought an 8x8 scrapbook. For each person who responded, I created a page with their words of wisdom and a photo of them with Alexander. I included photos from all different ages throughout his life so far. Some people wrote him letters. Others included advice for the teen years and beyond. Some messages were funny. Others profound. It was a great mix and I could not have made up anything like it on my own. Page by page, the book filled up with personality and love from all sorts of people. The message to Alexander was clear: “You are well loved. All of these people care about you and want the best for you.”
In the midst of colorful pages, personal messages, fun photos…here are just a few of the many reminders shared:
PLAY a little every day. BE TRUE to yourself. ACCEPT others for who they are. How you handle success and winning is easy and mostly fun, but how you RESPOND to ADVERSITY defines you. Your BEST EFFORT is something to be proud of no matter where it places you at the finish line. Bring a POSITIVE ENERGY to each day. RESPECT your mother. THINK before you speak. LAUGH. Say PLEASE and THANK YOU. Make a DIFFERENCE. Keep your FAITH. Have a COMPASSIONATE heart. I wish I had known my peers FELT THE SAME WAY I did. Never be afraid to LEAD or too proud to FOLLOW. Choose your FRIENDS well. LOVE your family. Trust your own GOOD INSTINCTS. Stand up for what you BELIEVE in. WORK HARD and create your own luck. Know that GOD LOVES YOU. Remember, there’s a reason pencils have ERASERS. Keep your HEART OPEN to the LOVE and WISDOM God shares through all the different people you meet along your journey.
Wouldn’t it be great if we all received little wisdom books as we grow? Reminders of new ways to think about a situation, messages of hope and encouragement, shared experience without always learning it the hard way. Photos of people who care about us right there on the page with us. Personally and professionally.
We don’t often receive a formal invitation to share wisdom, as in the case of Alexander’s gift. But we all have the option to share our wisdom with others and to be open to the wisdom others share with us.
One of my friends leads a business workshop and one of the activities is to create a professional timeline. Along the timeline, you write your jobs and major life experiences. Under each of those, you write the name of someone who had an influence on your life during that time— a boss, coworker, neighbor, mentor, etc. Then you write down something you learned from that person. Before you know it, your timeline is filled with the wisdom shared by various people throughout your life.
Sometimes we aren’t aware of the impact our sharing has on others until they point it out. This month, I’m receiving feedback from military families for the new edition of Surviving Deployment. I’m hoping to cull bits of wisdom from their recent experience to share with other families. One young wife from North Carolina has gone through deployments with her Army Special Forces husband and their three children. She wrote me an email last week about her initial reaction to the book: “I only read a few pages last night and was already in tears. I’m not someone that cries much but I’m realizing that my emotions from deployments and military life remain fresh and unexplored. In the process of me helping you, unknowingly you will be helping me.”
We all have questions. We all have answers to someone else’s questions. By sharing what we know, we might end up helping ourselves, too.
I have lots of questions. About being a stepmom. About marketing books. About organizing my office in a pattern other than piles. About dinner menus that all five of us can get excited about. About raising teenagers. About iPods and tweets and the best new sneakers for my aching feet. I could go to any of the millions of web sites out there to find out more. But I think instead I’ll go for a walk with someone in my life right now. As I learned from my new teenager, there is a village out there of people on my journey who have wisdom to share.
Share your wisdom. And open your heart to the people in your life. Little books of wisdom aren’t just for teenagers.
* * *