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4 Life-Changing Lessons My Toddler Taught Me

I resolved in the reflective minutes after witnessing a human being's first laugh that being there formoments is what I wanted my legacy to be. Since this transformative lesson, I've kept my mind open to the lessons my little life guru is teaching me.
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Laughing baby in highchair
Laughing baby in highchair


Photo by Alicja Colon (CC0 License).

My son taught me more about life in five minutes than I had learned in 32 years.

He was three months old and I had the pedal to the floor trying to be the best Ph.D. student, best entrepreneur, best leader, best dad and the best husband I could be.

I became so obsessed with "success," that I started micromanaging every aspect of my own life to optimize my productivity, including my time at home.

As Archbishop William Temple once said, "Your religion is what you do with your solitude."

My religion had quickly and stealthily become myself.

One Monday evening, I arrived home, mindlessly ate dinner, found my spot on the couch, and started plugging away again on work. Meanwhile, my son and wife played, cuddled, and failed in multiple attempts to communicate with me; to which I nodded and stormed on with my to-do list.

Then, I looked up. It was 7:30 p.m. -- my son's bedtime.

That's when the miraculous happened.

Wedging itself between my self-centeredness and the rest of my life was a sobering thought: I had not held my own son that day.

I slowly put my work down and walked over to my son's nursery where he was on his changing table getting ready for a bath. My wife saw me coming and quickly exited the room giving me some precious alone time with him.

As I was looking down at him, he started acting in a way I had never seen over the first three months of his little life. He was squirming, contorting his face, and making gurgling sounds with a huge gum-revealing grin.

He had something he wanted to share.

As I started making some funny faces at him, all of his squirming and smiling built up and exploded in a big, amazing, and humbling belly-laugh.

He had laughed for the first time... ever.

I am so glad I was there.

I resolved in the reflective minutes after witnessing a human being's first laugh that being there for these moments is what I wanted my legacy to be.

Since this transformative lesson, I've kept my mind open to the lessons my little life guru is teaching and documented some of the most amazing lessons I've learned about life from him so far; starting with the one he taught me that night.

1. Your Future is Composed of "Nows"

I realized in those three minutes of my son laughing for the first time that moments are irreplaceable and unrepeatable. Your future, then, is really only a collection of "nows."

After this moment, I had to ask myself this difficult and leveling question, "What was I collecting?"

So often we try to meticulously plan the future and in the process overlook the very moments that will comprise it.

Part of your future is right now. Are you paying attention?

2. Rain is Amazing

I live on the front range in Colorado and we don't see consistent rain all that much. So, during the first year of my son's life, he'd never seen the rain.

One morning while I was loaded up with a diaper bag, daycare supplies, and a squirming baby and trying to rush out to make an appointment, I opened the door and there it was: drenching rain. I cursed the weather to myself and begrudgingly prepared for the trudge out to the car.

That's when, like the dramatic ending to a Hollywood film, my son smiled, laughed and reached his hands as high as he could into the air to feel the rain falling on his face. He was amazed.

Then, I thought, "He should be amazed! Water is literally falling from the sky."

Too often, we go through our lives with our heads down, charging on to the next thing. But really, everything is pretty amazing.

Existing is amazing. Rain is amazing.

3. It's Okay to Celebrate Small Accomplishments

One of my favorite things to do is to watch my son play -- especially when he thinks he is using his square, wooden blocks to build the next architectural marvel. At his age, his maximum tower height is somewhere between two and three blocks high.

What I love most about watching him play, though, is how he celebrates every small accomplishment. When he gets that second block to stay atop the first, every time, he quickly rises up and gives himself a standing ovation, usually with a loud, extended, and excited scream.

His pure joy in his accomplishment is inspiring. No matter how imperfect his little block tower is, he always takes the time to celebrate.

Whether it's just getting through the day, going to the gym for the first time in a while or doing something out of your comfort zone, remember to celebrate.

We all need a standing ovation sometimes.

4. Say "Hi!" to Anybody

One evening, a few days after my son had learned to emphatically say, "Hi!" we were taking a walk downtown. Up ahead there was a man who appeared unkempt, dressed in an odd and eccentric outfit, coming toward us on the sidewalk.

We had seen other people out walking ahead of us try to avoid the man by moving to the other sidewalk or stepping onto the grass to wait for him to pass.

When the man was within five feet of us, though, we had no option but to interact with him. My son had made eye contact, smiled and let out a long and loud, "Hiiiiiiiii!"

The man stopped, gave us a huge smile back, waved and said "Hi!"

I could feel his joy.

Sometimes, all people need is to be acknowledged, and we'll never know the power of a simple "Hi!" to someone who's spent the majority of their day being avoided.

So, today, try savoring the moment, recognizing the amazing, celebrating, and saying "Hi!"