learn something new every day
Just for a moment, imagine that it is 1989 (for ambiance, you might want to play Alphaville’s “Forever Young” softly in the background as you read this). My hair is enormous; roughly the size of the chip on my padded shoulder.
I’m seated at dinner with my family, no doubt powering through the meal with lightning speed so as not to miss the latest episode of “Doogie Howser, M.D.” The evening’s conversation begins a little something like this:
Dad: “So, what did you learn in school today?”
Sullen Teenage Anne: “Nothing.”
Dad: [pauses for emphasis] “Then why’d you go?” [chortles, shaking his head and muttering under his breath, “It just never gets old.”]
STA: [skillfully rolls eyes while sighing dramatically] “What – everrr.”
Are you familiar with the writing exercise that prompts one to write a letter to his or her teenage self, encouraging and/or admonishing him or her to skirt those pitfalls of adulthood the writer wishes to have avoided?
I’ve done that. In my letter, I tell my sixteen year-old self to shut her smart-aleck mouth already and listen, for once. I plead with her to wear a big floppy hat and SPF 15 (I don’t think anything higher had then been invented) when she’s out in the sun. I urge her to develop good study habits — she has no idea what she’s in for once she arrives at college — and to ignore those voices that would discourage her. I tell her that most of the friends she cares so much about now won’t be in her life in five years. I remind her she is a child of God and, as such, has a responsibility to herself, to her family, and to her community to do right. My letter grabs my sixteen year-old self by the shoulders and shakes her just a little. She, incidentally, rolls her eyes and sighs deeply in response.
I realized recently that one of the pieces of advice I most treasure derives from those eye-rolling, 1980’s dinner conversations. “What did you learn? Then why did you go?” speaks volumes to me, and I try to pay attention to it every day. When the sun sets and I tuck my little boys into their bunk beds, visions of Angry Birds dancing in their heads, I’m compelled to ask them: “What did you learn today?” It’s okay if they don’t have an answer readily available, and it’s okay if, at sixteen, they roll their eyes and groan at me in response. Asking the question is enough, because asking the question forces me to consider my own response.
What I need to know is that they appreciate the nature of life’s progressive roll; the truth that we grow greater end over end, with each day’s experience snowballing onto the last, creating the sum of everything we are and can hope to be. I want them to revere learning and to understand that wasted time never returns. Moreover, I need to hold this truth close myself, to fold it up and carry it in my pocket, to keep my promise to learn something new each day.
What advice would you give your sixteen year-old self, if given the opportunity? What do you plan to learn today?
I’ll be fully present today, with my number two pencil sharpened and my eyes wide open. I’ll have a strong answer to an old question, and I’ll thank my Dad for the opportunity to ponder it. Thanks for considering it with me, and thanks for showing up.