As the father of two beautiful little girls (ages five and three), I've spent a great deal of time thinking about if it was possible to give them both a gift that they will value for their entire lifetimes. After a lot of self-reflection, I finally decided on exactly what that gift should be:
I want both of them to have a healthy fear of death.
Wait ... what?
Yeah, I said it. In reality, we should all fear death, but not in the way that you may think. What I'm referring to is dying before we're dead. Sadly, many people die thousands of little deaths before they finally make it official, and that is not the life that I want for my two little girls.
I've experienced those tiny deaths far too often in my life, and not only was it excruciatingly painful each time that a piece of me died, but I know that each of those tiny deaths also have the power to send my baby girls to the grave much sooner than necessary too. That's why I am sharing this gift with them now.
Below are five ways that many people experience death before reaching the grave.
I'm not naïve. I understand that many of the lessons below may be ignored by my daughters until they're much older, or that they'll need to experience the pain of these silent killers in order for the message to truly stick. But hey, it won't stop a loving dad from trying anyway. My hope is that when my daughters are old enough to fully understand the importance of this blog post, they'll use these lessons to fully claim their best lives possible.
1. Keeping Toxic People in Your Life
"The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them." -- Maya Angelou
This silent killer is listed first because it can wreak havoc in so many areas of our lives if we don't handle it quickly and with ruthless precision. Toxic people are the ones who are hopelessly negative, consistently drain your energy, they intimidate and manipulate others, they can be abusive (emotionally or otherwise), and they have little regard for the feelings of anyone else besides their own.
This might sound harsh (and I hope it does), but I want my girls to think of toxic people like a disease. Seriously, there's no need to sugarcoat this for a minute longer. If there has ever been a topic in this world's history that needs realness, it's this one. Speaking of keeping it real -- very few people would ever allow cancer, or any other toxic illness, to roam through their bodies untreated, right?
My hope for my girls is that they view toxic people in the exact same way. Just like cancer, the best solution and hope for recovery with toxic people is complete removal. Sure, this is a lesson that may have to wait until they are both old enough to date (shudder), but once they've determined that a person in their lives is toxic and deeply harming their lives, then I hope that they will have the strength and wisdom to walk away and never look back.
It doesn't matter who it is either -- it could be their future boyfriends, a long-time school buddy, or anyone else -- they need to be removed from their lives without apologies or hesitation.
Simply put, some people need to be loved from a distance.
2. Believing the Naysayers
"Someone's opinion of you does not have to be your reality." -- Les Brown
Haters, dream stealers, naysayers -- it doesn't matter what we choose to call them, their deadly effect is still the same. Dealing with these people is a fairly simple process, but it's important that my girls are aware of how much harder it can be if the naysayers are "well-meaning" people who they actually like or love.
My goal is for my daughters to think of this "well-meaning" stuff a little deeper than most people normally do.
What if they could have become astronauts, professional tennis players, or physicians, but they didn't fully go after their dreams because they believed the well-meaning experts who advised them to dream more "realistic" dreams? Once they get older, what if they could have left a dysfunctional relationship and found true love, but they believed their well-meaning friends who told them that all of the good men/women are already taken?
I hope that they won't be too far into adulthood before they realize this life-affirming truth: Advice from anyone (yes, including from me or my wife) that would drive them in the opposite direction of their dreams isn't "well-meaning," it's dangerous. I want them to know that their dreams are in their heads for a reason. They are their lifeblood. They don't belong to their future significant others, their friends, their teachers, and even to their mommy and daddy -- their dreams belong to them. I will urge them not to try to silence that persistent voice inside of them (and inside of all of us too) that is nudging them to go after their best lives, because it will not work.
It will never work.
Doing so will only cause them to die a little bit inside each time they try to smother its impassioned cry to choose more for their lives. It's never too late (or too early) for them to listen to that voice. My gift to my girls is to help them to follow that voice, starting today.
3. Being Happy Later
"Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present." -- Jim Rohn
Too many people (myself included) have spent too many years of their lives with the happiness formula backward.
They wait until they leave their loveless relationship and find true love before they give themselves permission to be happy.
They wait until their bathroom scale, bank account, or amount of Twitter followers displays a certain number before they give themselves permission to be happy.
They wait until their bully boss either gets fired or quits before they give themselves permission to be happy.
Sadly, that is not how happiness works. Not even close, actually.That is what I want my daughters to know. The truth is, chasing happiness outside of ourselves is like eating cotton candy for energy. Sure, it might make them feel energized or happy temporarily, but it will never nourish them as deeply or for as long as they wish it would.
So, if they keep chasing happiness, it will be just like stuffing their faces with cotton candy for a temporary high -- and predictably, they'll keep slowing dying in the process.
There is a much better way.
As they progress in their life journey, I desperately want them to fully reject the delusion of "I'll be happy when ..." and make the life-affirming choice to be happy now. True, long-lasting happiness doesn't have to wait for anything, and more importantly, it will never be found outside of ourselves. That's because real happiness is, and always will be, an inside job.
And I want my girls to know that for this job, they will always be the boss.
4. Chronically Complaining
"You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas." -- Shirley Chisholm
There is no habit in the world that is more useless and destructive to our overall health and wellbeing than the soul-destroying act of chronically complaining. As a former chronic complainer myself, I'll do anything that I can to help my daughters to avoid traveling down the same dark, dead-end road that I did.
Not only is it a habit that's bad for their health (mental and otherwise), it will negatively affect their ability to creatively solve the problems in their lives, it will make them dumber, and maybe worst of all, it is also damaging to the health and sanity of the people who are stuck listening to their whining on a daily basis. In the case that they do become addicted to the life-stealing habit of chronically complaining like their daddy did, the best gift that I can give them to break the addiction is the gift of "Complaining Detox."
It's a life-changing exercise and I hope that they will try it often. All that it requires is the willingness to go 24-hours, a full weekend, or even an entire week without complaining -- and I hope that my daughters will be up for the challenge. Speaking from experience, I can say with confidence that not only can a "Complaining Detox" positively change their lives quicker than they ever thought possible, but it could even save it too.
5. Failing to Take Personal Responsibility
"The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. The gift of life is yours. It's an amazing journey, and you alone are responsible for the quality of it." -- Dan Zadra
The most important point of all for my daughters, and quite possibly the hardest one to master, has been left for last. There is little to no hope of them avoiding a slow death at the hands of the previous four points above if they fail to master this one.
Most people would agree that nobody lives a flawless life, right?
I'm confident that in less than five minutes, most people could list at least 20 issues that they would like to improve, change, or remove from their daily lives -- I know that I could. Truthfully, that's okay. What's not okay though, is choosing to make excuses or blame others for why those issues are in our lives in the first place. Doing so is basically stating that those things and/or other people have power over the quality of our lives.
This is the most powerful life-stealing force that I want my daughters to avoid.
Throughout their lives, they will either choose to give their power away by making excuses, or they will keep their power by stating confidently that they are in full control of their lives. One option is life affirming. However, the other option will kill their lives and their dreams faster than they could have ever imagined. Accepting 100 percent responsibility for the awesomeness (or lack of it) in our lives is what true heroes do every day. After nearly 30 years of doing the opposite, it's now what their daddy has committed to do every day. That commitment comes from remembering that we may not be able to control the events in our lives, but we can always choose our responses.
Just like Andy Dufresne said so brilliantly in the epic movie, The Shawshank Redemption, we can either, "Get busy living or get busy dying."
As always, the choice is will always be ours. Luckily in this case, the choice is a very simple one, and it's the message that I want to give to my daughters more than anything.
Choose to live.