From the moment we become parents, it is our intrinsic desire to protect our children from the big, bad world. Perhaps this drive to shield our young is inherent in our primal existence—a mere subconscious, instinctual impulse over which we have no control. Perhaps it is a result of our own desires to be protected, safely guarded and tucked away from reality. Whatever the cause, this compulsion to safeguard our babies well into their adult lives is a strong one.
The thing is, we can’t protect them. Not all of the time, anyway. And we know this deep within our cores. So what good does it do them to paint the world with a pastel, glittery brush when they will inevitably learn the truth, the sting of which will burn even hotter under the scorching lies we’ve fed them about a world made of lollipops and gumdrops?
I believe in letting kids savor the magical innocence of childhood for as long as possible. But I also believe in preparing them for the reality of the world in which they live, and as a result, there are some hard truths I am doing my best to teach my children.
1. There are bad people in this world.
Very bad people. People who purposely harm others and reap satisfaction from their inhumanity. But there are also good people. Kind people. And it is important to be one of those people, not only for those we love, but also for complete strangers. The more kind people there are, the greater chance we have of drowning out the unkind. This is what you should strive to be above all else, even to those who have wronged you in some way.
2. Not everyone will like you.
And not everyone is obligated to. The world is a unique and curious place because we don’t all share the same tastes and interests. It’s OK if someone doesn’t like you, because for every person whose cup of tea you’re not, there are a handful of others who can’t get enough of what you’ve got to offer. Don’t dwell upon their negativity or try to change yourself to conform to their expectations. Be your best you and find joy in knowing that there are people who appreciate and love you just the way you are.
3. Life isn’t fair.
Someone once told me that the only fair thing about life is that it is unfair to everyone. These are wise words indeed. Everyone has a cross to bear in one way or another. Everyone. You can do everything right and still, sometimes, things will go wrong. This is the nature of living, and there is nothing you can do about it except continue to put your best foot forward.
4. The world doesn’t owe you anything.
From a young age, you are told that you can be whatever you want in life and that, through hard work, it will happen. While there is some truth in those sentiments, the reality is that not everyone can be a star basketball player or a billionaire. And just because you have given things the good old college try doesn’t mean the world is waiting to hand you your reward on a silver platter.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dream or put forth your best effort. In fact, that’s exactly what you should do. Instead, it means you must understand that just because you desire something and work for it doesn’t mean it will magically be. There are plenty of things at which you will excel and you will receive plenty of accolades for your industry; the rewards for these pursuits simply may not look exactly as you might have expected them to. And that’s OK.
5. Sad things will happen to you.
At some point in your life (likely several points), you will endure trials and tribulations that will shake your resolve. Someone will say or do something mean to you. A friendship will dissolve. A trusted confidante will betray you. You will lose a prized possession. Someone close to you will die. These are realities of life. They are inescapable. And in much the same way as life isn’t fair to everyone, so it is with these experiences. They plague everyone.
What matters is how you react to them and use them to shape the person you strive to be. Don’t allow them to destroy your character or your capacity for hope. Rather, learn from them. Use them to serve and help others in times of need. Take comfort in the knowledge that for every valley you find yourself in, there is a peak just waiting for you to conquer it.
6. Failure is the first stepping stone toward success.
Failure is not a four-letter word. In fact, I’d argue that without failure, you can’t truly know success. Failing at something means you were brave enough to put yourself out there and lucky enough to be given the opportunity to learn something new. For this, you should commend yourself. Failure hurts, sure. But for every success you hear about, there are 10 failures crouching in its shadow, high-fiving each other for helping the winner to reach the top. It is important for you to look upon failure as an opportunity to grow and flourish. If you do this, you, too, will know success in time.
In summary, my dear children, this is what I want you to know: This world may not be made of a dash of sugar and a cup of spice, but it is still a beautiful place to be. Knowing that hardship is merely a detour on the path toward happiness and security will help you make the most of this life, and while I realize I can’t protect you from everything, what I can do is impart this wisdom to you.
And that’s pretty damn close to the same thing.