I was recently regaling a close (and willing!) friend with a few stories of funny things my children have said and done of late. For example, my seven-year-old daughter who loves to read Dog Man has taken to exclaiming “Oh boy, this is gonna be great”, which is hilarious given her cut-glass English accent. I was also recounting how, when my four-year-old son colours, he does so as if his life depends on it: the tongue is sticking out, he can’t keep from standing up on his chair, the concentration is so intense it’s almost audible. “Ah,” sighed my friend, “”We should all be a little more like Sam, I think – so enthusiastic and wholehearted.”
Her words got me thinking. I could definitely do with being a little bit more like my children – in many ways. One day, I will surely need them to teach me how to type a document using only my brainwaves, or to configure whatever we’re using instead of smartphones 20 years from now. The mind reels. But for now, there is already a lot I can learn from them. It may be the adult’s job to teach our children to read, swim and cross the road safely, but we can definitely benefit from taking a leaf out of their wise little books now and then – both in our personal lives and the professional sphere.
Here are my top seven life lessons we can take from children – our own and other people’s!
- Live 100%
Despite the fact that I devised my slogan “life with purpose and on purpose” years before having children, it is only since having them that I have witnessed someone truly putting this into practice. When my son is building with Kapla, his focus is absolute. It’s a full-body experience that absorbs all his attention. When my daughter is sewing, you can call her for dinner 10 times before she even looks up. Whatever children do, they do it wholeheartedly. Applying this lesson to my life – seeking out what’s known as “flow” – never fails to improve the quality of my experience. Coaching is already an activity that requires full presence, but when I consciously try to “be more like Sam and Alice”, I seem to take it to another level and am truly absorbed by my client. When I’m writing, turning off the phone and closing email makes it so much more enjoyable. Even if I’m just cooking supper, doing so with music on and a clear intention to nourish and care for my family add both value and fun to the task. In essence, this tip comes down to: be here now.
- Ask for what you need and want
If supper is served late, kids have no qualms about manifesting their displeasure. If they need to pee during a train ride, the whole carriage will likely know about it. Children ask for (ok, demand) what they need and are vocal about what they want. I think we’d all benefit from being a little more like this. So often, our resentment, anger and sadness are linked to unspoken needs and desires. Of course, the remedy is not to stamp your foot and throw a hissy fit, but if we all expressed ourselves more, and more clearly, we’d definitely boost our chances of reaching our goals and gaining satisfaction. In the workplace, this might mean making sure the boss knows you aim to achieve director status by the age of 40, or that your long-term goal is to move to the US office. At home, maybe you ask for help with chores, or create a family rota rather than sighing loudly as you fold laundry alone. With friends, it might simply mean daring to say “Actually, tonight I really fancy Thai food” rather than the usual “I really don’t mind where we eat – what’s your preference?”
- Own your feelings and show them
When children are sad, they cry. When they are joyful, they laugh. When they are young, at least, there are no feelings that are off-limits or shameful, and demonstrating their inner state comes naturally. As adults, to add insult to the injury of unpleasant emotions like sadness, anger or disappointment, we also experience meta-emotions. We have feelings about the feelings we are having, for example feeling ashamed of being lonely, or irritated that we feel envious, and we force ourselves to hide what we’re going through. We could all benefit from allowing ourselves to feel what we feel, without judgement and – when appropriate – to express it too. One way to facilitate this in the workplace might be for managers to be more vocal about their own emotions – perhaps frustration at a budget cut, or overwhelm at an extra project the team has been assigned. When they do this, they give their team permission to feel and share some of what they are experiencing too.
- Marvel and wonder
On the walk to school, my children are able to find way more than seven wonders of the natural world that will cause them to stop and exclaim, “Mummy, LOOK!” These marvellous findings might range from the grid patterns made by airplanes as they crisscross the sky to particularly large snails and solitary magpies (“Hello Mr Magpie and how’s your lady wife today?” they chorus). Despite my best adult instincts, I have now learnt to embrace these moments and seize the opportunity to look hard at what’s going on around me. To notice the carpet of conkers, kick up the russet leaves, smell the jasmine bush overflowing from one front garden on our route, laugh at the mini dog wearing a Father Christmas coat. The walk takes a little longer, surely, but it is a richer sensory experience, and the day starts on a note of enchantment and delight.
- Enjoy the journey
Further mining the rich seam of learning that is the school run (or the slow school walk in our case)… My children’s appreciation of our conversation and the things we notice on the way to school serves as a constant reminder to me that the journey is part of the adventure. This is fairly easy to keep in mind when your destination is a beach in Hawaii, but more challenging during a business trip. However, when on my way to coaching clients in Toulouse, Geneva or Lyon, I always try to make the most of the travel time, which could otherwise seem like dead time. Flights are a chance to read. Train trips with my computer give me time to write. Even a simple trip on the Paris metro can provide opportunities to check out posters for new films and exhibitions, notice changes in fashions, and (more often that you might imagine) observe random acts of courtesy and kindness performed for strangers.
- Put yourself centre stage
Have you ever noticed how often children say “I” and “me”? They are constantly talking about themselves – what they think, like, want, need… When they are recounting something that happened at school, they are very definitely the main character. If they are deciding between the pink sparkly t-shirt and the multi-coloured unicorn, the only taste they take into account is their own. Children live their lives centre stage, eschewing the kind of comparison with others that plagues us as adults and causes us to “should” on ourselves. All too often, we pay more attention to what others are wearing, doing, buying, achieving, than what we like, want and need. We can learn much from children’s ability to be the focus of their own attention.
- Let it go
As adults, we hold on to so much emotion and carry around so much baggage, thinking today about what happened yesterday, last month, last year, or a decade ago. Children, on the other hand, make like Elsa and just let it go. When the school day is over, it is over. When a Mr Hyde-level tantrum has been calmed, they switch back to their Dr Jekyll face in seconds. This ability to let things go is invaluable to our professional lives. Too often, we ruminate on a conversation with the boss, or mull over an upcoming presentation when we should be focusing on a hobby, a friend or our family. The more we can learn to leave the day behind when we walk out of the office (or clear the computer from the dining table/home office), the more we can contain our worktime and be present for our personal time.
Do you wince whenever you hear someone described as “living his best life” or “winning at life”, conscious that you don’t feel that is the case for you? Do you feel, deep down, that while life is fine, it could be so much more fulfilling and joyful? Working with a supportive, dynamic and insightful coach can help you make the big and small changes you need to ensure you enjoy a life and career built with purpose and on purpose. Contact me to find out how we can work together.