I wrote you a letter last year with the idea I would do it again every birthday.
As I said a year ago, there is nothing I can say about my love for you that has not already been said. For yet another year, every cliche has rung resoundingly true – it goes by far too quickly, you have changed so much and so fast and brought us the most profound and fulfilling joy. Experiencing life through your little eyes and legs is like running a gauntlet of steroid-induced emotions every single day – marvel, joy, frustration, nostalgia. We are far better people for having you and it is the greatest privilege to be your parents. I am so very proud of the little girl you are and wish I could trap every magical moment in a bottle to preserve and place on my non-existent mantelpiece.
I could go on. But today, I want to start putting down in words some of the things I want you to know about life.
A good friend, Auntie Ciara, wrote a blog this week called ‘Keep on Dreaming Even If It Breaks Your Heart‘.
Ciara and I have been friends since high school. Apparently I terrified her for most of it, until the very end when we struck a bond because we were both headed to the USA on sports scholarships. That opened the door to many late night conversations and hundreds of e-mails about life and how to live it. It turns out we were kindred spirits.
One of my favourite memories was a family dinner at the Hartleys. The two of us ganged up on straight-edged Uncle Strachan who had recently been denied entrance into medical school. We lectured him about non-conformity. Told him life was a blank canvas and that even though ‘they’ told you to draw a blue line across your page, it was actually about splashing different colours all over it. We urged him join the Coast Guard, travel to far off places, play more, study less and get a B+for once in his life. By the time dinner was over he had labelled us the Children of Stars, which we embraced with pride.
We ended up spending every summer together throughout University – one at home, one each in Connecticut and Colorado. There is no way to count the adventures and misadventures that ensued, but I will likely share them someday to your disdain in order to prove I was once cool.
Of everyone I know,Ciara has painted her life canvas the most colourfully. She has traveled the world, has 5 million friends, amassed 3 Masters Degrees, built and sustained a business for 10 years and played professional soccer in 6 countries. At the ripe age of 34 she continues to chase the dream of playing soccer at the highest level and has built a life that allows her to do just that, against many odds and most conventions.
Her blog talked about how failure is a necessary ingredient in true happiness and urged people not to fear it. She opened with a story about how children your age live with refreshing abandon. It is true. You approach everything with gusto, are quick to try things and don’t know yet how to worry. You never anticipate a bad outcome and if it happens, you simply walk away.
Fear comes later in life.
Ciara quoted the biography of a 95 year old:
“Something weird happens to a lot of us around midlife. We suddenly stop trying stuff. Not because we can’t do it, necessarily, but because we imagine we can’t. Studies show people’s interest in any given task peaks when the risk of failing at it is around 50 per cent. And from around age 30 on the odds of failing at “it,” whatever it is, seems to tip in favour of the house. So we opt out. And our horizons shrink. That fear of failure also ages us. We stop putting our whole heart into life – and the moment half-heartedness becomes a habit, something dies in us.”
I can tell you what weird thing happens around midlife – you happen.
For many years, I feared very little and followed my heart many places. I swore money would never matter and pitied people who believed otherwise. Now my heart is 2 years old and tries to ride her bike into traffic when I look away. What used to fit in a backpack requires multiple bedrooms, insurance and school. We own Christmas decorations, for shit’s sake.
If I have come to fear failure it is because it is no longer my own. Now, I take the house down with me. The other house; the real one, with my children and their futures in it. My mistakes could cost you the platform you need to live your best life. It is terrifying.
That said, deep in my heart and away from many excuses, I know our most important job is not to protect you from hardship, it is to set an example of the life we want you to live. You bet I want you to ‘keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart’. In fact, if you find a dream that can strike fear into or break your heart, that’s how you know it is a good one. I am glad that you have people like Ciara to look up to and urge you to latch on to these examples. But I also hope when you are old enough to read this it all seems obvious because we have given you an example of what it means to opt in and live wholeheartedly.
I am not suggesting we head into the jungle with you on our backs. I have grown to understand that life is not necessarily about using the most colours, it is about finding the best fit. As much danger as there is in conforming, there is a similar risk in becoming preoccupied with living ‘outside the box’ or being so afraid of settling that you become addicted to the chase. Straight blue lines fit beautifully for some people. We will continue on our journey towards our best selves if we learn to balance decisions that are both passionate and responsible. For the record, your Uncle Strachan did not have a problem with conforming; he was just remarkably focused on a dream powerful enough to break his heart. He did end up traveling the world. He also suffered through a boring Master’s Degree to better his chances of getting into medical when he applied a second time. He succeeded. Once there, he radiated. I have never known anyone happier or more certain about their path.
All this to say that I hope you get to see me fail a lot more before our time is up. And that when I let you do the same, you understand it is not because I like to see your knees scraped or your spirit broken, it is because I love you more than I can ever express.