By Karen Schlaegel
“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.”
― Walt Streightiff
Throughout my life, I have been very fortunate to have had a number of mentors and teachers in various guises come along and support me in my personal growth.
I wholeheartedly believe in life-long learning and fundamentally disagree with anyone who thinks they are too old to learn anything new. One of my main learnings has been to find teachings in unexpected places. When we open our eyes and minds, we will find so many learning opportunities in all areas and at all stages of our life.
One of my more unexpected and most amazing teachers has been my niece. From when she was a baby (at the time of writing she is 3.5 years old), her whole being in this world has taught me many lessons. She has been a role model in so many ways. I want to share some of the most poignant lessons for me (so far—I have no doubt, she’ll continue to be my favourite teacher!):
Decision making as an adult seems to be a minefield; especially in the Western world, the focus is on analytical, rational thinking. We may put together elaborate pro and con lists and are still none the wiser. Kids on the other hand are in touch with their intuition: they simply know. And on top of that, they trust their inner voice and don’t get sucked into several loops of second guessing and self-doubt.
At the heart of their decision-making is what they want and feel drawn to. While I’m not advocating being self-centered and having no regard for others, I do think that we need to re-learn to get back in touch and trust our intuition and honour our needs instead of trying to fit into societal molds.
Children’s lives are about enjoyment and it comes in handy that they find joy in so many things. This is something I discovered for myself a decade or so ago and life is so much better for it. When we train our minds to look for it, there is so much joy to be experienced in everyday living. Check in with yourself on what you focus on. Our minds are generally trained to see the problems and when we are zooming in on that, we no longer see the big picture and miss out on so much. Moreover, we often don’t even know anymore what brings us joy. We prioritize our productivity and self-care becomes an afterthought that is meant to “fix” us, once we have already become overwhelmed. I believe we would all benefit from consciously making time every day for things that bring us joy.
Receiving the gifts of the world
While it might be counterintuitive, it turns out being open to receive can be just as hard as being willing to give. We often feel uncomfortable accepting help and love, have feelings of unworthiness or fear that we then owe somebody. We might not trust good things happening to us, not being deserving or expecting people to have ulterior motives for their generosity.
Whether it’s time, love, attention or gifts—as much as we yearn for them in theory, in practice we can find it difficult to accept what we are offered. Children on the other hand accept with open arms and simply enjoy. They don’t question their worthiness and also don’t tally up.
Setting boundaries with ease
My niece knows her mind and is not shy to express it. She shares her happiness and anger. When she tells me to “go away” because she wants to be alone, it does hurt a little. At the same time, I am so proud of her for just saying what she wants. She doesn’t worry about upsetting anyone with it. She is safe in the knowledge that she is loved and that making her boundaries known, will not change the love we have for her.
As adults, we often have difficulties communicating our boundaries, we fear we might upset people or be labelled unreasonable. Besides, we can find it difficult to even know where our boundaries are to start with, as we judge ourselves in determining what “should” be okay for us. Similarly, when we are on the receiving end of somebody expressing their boundaries, we take it personal and get upset, instead of trying to understand where they are coming from and most importantly respecting their boundaries.
Discovering the world with curiosity and tenacity
There is a first for everything and babies and toddlers have so many of them every single day. Everything is new to them and they curiously discover themselves and the world around them. A lot of learning comes from practising. So much we cannot get right from day one, but at that age we keep repeating our efforts until we eventually master a new skill. They want to know everything and soak it all up like a sponge.
Many a times in my own life, I noticed how my (sometimes subconscious) attitude of believing I know it all, blocks me from growing further. And similarly, I often find myself giving up quickly when things don’t go my way. Where in your life could you benefit from getting curious again? And in what cases do we simply lack practice in order to succeed?
Celebrating successes big and small
The first smile, the first word, the first step—if you have kids, chances are that you celebrated many of their firsts. Children constantly learn new things, they and we as adults celebrate their progress all the time, and we can witness how this motivates them to keep going.
As adults we are often impatient to reach our objectives on the one hand. On the other hand, when we do, we don’t acknowledge, let alone celebrate it. When setting our objectives, it’s therefore important to be clear on what meeting that objective will look and feel like, so we can more easily recognize it when we get there, and then celebrate! Celebrate the little milestones and the big ones instead of immediately setting your eyes on the next objective and bemoaning that you are still not where you ultimately want to be.
All emotions are equal
Babies cry several times a day, and it used to break my heart with my niece until I realized how I was judging her emotions. We kind of grow into differentiating between “good” and “bad” emotions and aim to avoid the “bad” ones. Which of course isn’t possible. No matter what we do and how we live our lives, we will experience pain. For babies, crying is simply a way to express their needs.
Nowadays, my niece sometimes tells me that she cried earlier. She tells me as a matter of fact, the way she tells me what else she’s done in the day. Sometimes she remembers why she cried, sometimes she doesn’t, but there is no judgement. Equally she freely expresses her joy and excitement. Feelings just are and we need to relearn to accept them. To feel them, learn whatever lesson or message they have for us and then to move on from them.
We don’t feel worthy, and believe we need to do something or be a certain way to be lovable and worthy. Way too often we are overly self-critical and judgemental of ourselves and others. When the truth is that we are worthy of love exactly the way we are. As adults we owe ourselves to love ourselves unconditionally, the same way we would love a child.
Of course, there are reasons why we un-learned all of the above. In many situations our natural, childlike tendencies are not appropriate anymore. A lot of what we replaced them with originated from our need to keep ourselves safe—physically and mentally. Having said, it’s probably time to find a middle ground and re-access those life skills that we were all born with.
Besides, this is also a reminder on being mindful of how we raise our children. They learn so much by copying us. Be mindful of what you are modelling for your children. And lastly, a reminder that the majority of teaching and learning happens outside the classroom and doesn’t stop until we die.
As a life coach, Karen supports people in activating their strengths, identifying their goals, working toward them, and generally moving through life with more ease, happiness, and fun. Karen is passionate about 1:1 coaching and strongly believes in its transformative powers. Creativity plays an important role in her life and she loves to write. To find out more visit her website where you will also find her blog or follow her on Instagram.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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