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7 Life Lessons I Learned From My Son

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7 Life Lessons I Learned From My Son

As much as I would like to think that I am a great shining influence on my son, imparting golden nuggets of sage-like wisdom from high atop my throne of adulthood and responsibility, I realize something every day; that little guy already knows way more about life and living than I could ever teach him.

Sure, he is full of all kinds of beautiful nonsense. He has an encyclopedia-like knowledge of the entire Pokemon universe, and he has decided that every car ride we take is a perfect opportunity to explain to me the nuances of that world. He can regurgitate an endless stream of Minecraft facts with such gravitas and sincerity that he sounds like he is reciting holy scriptures and ancient commandments. He is a normal kid in those ways. Children are mostly filled with useless crap that means the world to them, but doesn’t matter to the grand scheme of things, and they like to take every opportunity they can to tell everyone they meet about it.

Yet, every so often, if you are really paying attention, children are freaking brilliant! I mean, yogi-zen-sage-jedi brilliant! They say and do some shit that adults have no idea you can say or do and I love that part of being a parent; the fact that I get to learn as much as I teach. Parents and children are in a symbiotic relationship, just like any other, where we make each other better or worse based upon the things we see the other do and say. It’s a reciprocity of lessons, and if we take the time to pay attention, and filter through the crap, there is a lot we can learn. This is what I have learned so far:

Every rainy day is a good excuse to splash in some puddles.

Never be so tightly tied to a plan that, if it doesn’t go your way, it is the end of the world. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to stop the universe from conspiring to throw you some curve balls. Instead of cursing your luck, use it as an excuse to get messy and have some fun!

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I am a control freak. A planner. I hate when plans change or when something derails my plans. I plan to go to the zoo. I have exhibit maps, timetables, concession stand funds allocated, line length calculators memorized. I have this shit optimized. I have the freaking migratory patterns of the zoo crowds mapped out so that we can hit every exhibit without a crowd. I have committed to NASA-space-shuttle-launch amounts of preparation. And… then it rains. Of course. I throw a shit fit and my son just shrugs and says , “Ah well.” He doesn’t know or care about all the planning I did and all the hard work I put into making this zoo trip absolutely epic and mind blowing. He was able to forget about the zoo as soon as the rain came. He just wanted to splash in some puddles.

He didn’t tie everything into the zoo trip and therefore, when that plan was derailed by circumstances beyond our control, he saw another instant opportunity for some fun in something he didn’t even expect. His mind was free to just go with whatever came up. The time you spend cursing your bad luck because something out of your control happens could be time you spend splashing in the rain puddles of life and kicking up a storm of impromptu fun you never expected. As a general point of fact, non-metaphorical splashing in puddles is literal fun as well. You need to go do that!

There is no race, religion, political affiliation, gender, sexual orientation or other stereotypes. There are only people who are nice and people who are mean.

The only thing my son sees about people is their propensity for certain actions. He does not give a damn what race, what religion, what sexual orientation, whatever anyone is. All he sees is people who are mean to him and people who are nice to him, because people really have no more powerful identity in this world aside from that. He does not judge, he does not ridicule, he does not care. All he wants is someone willing to watch him play Minecraft and listen to his never ending diatribe of monsters you can kill and things you can build. If you do that, you are nice and you rate highly in his book.

Judgment is an adult disease, contracted in our teenage years, that typically spreads as we get older. It erodes our ability to see events and people clearly and to remember that each individual should be taken on their own merit of ability and action to be good or bad. I can not believe this lesson still has to be learned in this day and age and that children are the primary ones teaching it.

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Everyone is a friend. Unless they are mean.

This is related to the lesson above. As an adult my human radar is always set on paranoid mode. I am skeptical of people’s intentions and keep them a safe distance away so they can’t peek behind the curtain and see the crazy man running the show in my head. Children’s human radar, on the other hand, is always set to acceptance mode. They think everyone is worth getting to know and could be called a friend. As long as they aren’t mean, of course.

Kids are just not as jaded and cynical and mistrusting and they approach people in a way that gives them the benefit of the doubt. It usually makes their interactions with others more open, honest, raw and enjoyable. Now, I am not saying there are not bad people in the world. There are plenty. Be vigilant of them, but don’t assume the worst of everyone. It’s like never approaching any dog you see because you think you might get bit by one. Yes. Some dogs bite, but I would rather get bit by one bad dog than give up the joy of petting every crazy, fluffy, slobbering monster I meet!

The toys I paid a lot for, that are just for him, are never as fun as the cheap ones he can play with everyone.

Quality time is a valuable commodity these days. We have thought to replace the acts of simple togetherness with the constant, proximal isolation of technology, but if you look at most children, and you watch how they play, it will get you thinking.

It is usually the silly thing that they made up, but can all do together, that is the most enjoyable thing for them. They don’t care how much something cost, how well it is designed, the replayability. They only care if they can all be involved and all have fun, because they know that doing stupid stuff with a bunch of people is a lot more fun than doing stupid stuff by yourself. I don’t need to spend so much of my money or time on things or experiences that cost a lot and only I value. The things and experiences I spend my money or time on can be cheap, but made priceless, if the value is shared with the people I care about.

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Sometimes, you have to have dessert before dinner.

Because, stuff the rules! You can’t just go through life following all the rules and expect to have enough fun to satisfy your soul. Sometimes, you just have to say screw it and do something totally crazy, like having dessert before dinner. I just want to be clear that, I am in no way sanctioning dessert before lunch or breakfast. That is not cool under any circumstances. Although… breakfast dessert does sound pretty awesome…

Anyway, some rules are arbitrary and we only think of them as rules because somebody else told us to think of them that way. If you can look at all the things you do and ask yourself why you really do them, you are going to find some really arbitrary reasons for doing some stuff that you really don’t have to or want to do. Learn to break some rules and have fun with it. Just because it has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it that way.

A hug fixes everything.

I wish that hugs were a recognized currency among adults. I wish that I could hug my boss when I mess up at work. I wish that I could hug the lady at the DMV – who is so annoyed by a simple question that her face turns red and the vein above her eye starts bulging. Hugs make almost any sadness or anger or pain or wrongdoing smaller, because there is just no way you can hold on to it while you’re arms are filled with someone else. Physical contact of any kind is a mood stabilizer and antidepressant. Spread that medicine around, and get closer to the people you care about and who need you.

Why and how are the greatest questions there are.

Why can’t I go play outside? Uh, because there is a tornado warning and we are all going to stay in the basement and constantly refresh every weather app we have to make sure we are safe. But why? Because tornadoes are dangerous and they can seriously hurt people. How? They hurt people by moving at really high speeds and destroying everything in their path. Why? Because that’s just what they do! I don’t know why! Do I look like damn meteorologist?! Go play outside!

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Kids want to soak up as much as they can about everything. The world is a place to be discovered; to be questioned and probed and understood. How and why are two incredible questions that can foster a lifetime of learning. I secretly love when my son asks me how and why, because it forces me to think deeply about things that I always just take for granted and rarely consider. If I can’t answer a question that he has on his mind, I typically go find an answer, because every excuse is a good excuse for learning something new and learning new things is what life is all about. Why is life all about learning new things? Because I said so!

The most important lesson of all.

My son has taught me a lot and I am grateful for that. He has also taught me a bunch of useless junk that sometimes spills out when I am talking to adults, but the good of his lessons always outweighs the bad. And of course, I have passed on valuable lessons to him that he will not appreciate until he is old and wise like me, just as I did to my mother. Aside from these lessons we have shared, I also realize something else that I really need to give him. Something that my mother gave to me, and something that every parent should give to their child.

I need to give him the ability to hold on to all his brilliant plans, ideas, questions, lessons and knowledge before the world strips it all away and replaces it with the standard, stock, work-till-you-die and do-as-you’re-told, just-make-it-through mentality that tends to settle in when you are not paying attention. The best gift I can give that boy is an open ear for all his crazy ramblings, an open mind to understand the genius of them, and an open heart to help him follow through with them. No matter what other lessons we share, this one is the one that will make the most lasting difference on his life and the one that should always be passed down.

Featured photo credit: Brookie via commons.wikimedia.org

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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