Career Day: The Lessons Children Taught Me

As we age, the braveness and boldness of childhood are challenged and tainted to such a deepening degree that it immobilizes some of us today. The greatness and the complex simplicity of the daringness of the innocent ways of our childhood were progressively juxtaposed with the defeating feelings of shame, guilt and self-doubt.
05/01/2014 09:57 pm ET Updated Jul 01, 2014

Childhood was a period of purity and wonder. It is where our true character was built and our core values took shape. It was a time where we were free and wrote on our blank slates, way before we were infected and paralyzed by outside expectations or the thoughts others had of us.

As we age, the braveness and boldness of childhood are challenged and tainted to such a deepening degree that it immobilizes some of us today. The greatness and the complex simplicity of the daringness of the innocent ways of our childhood were progressively juxtaposed with the defeating feelings of shame, guilt and self-doubt.

Having no children, I never really gave these notions a compressed thought process until a few a weeks ago. My youngest niece asked me to speak at her school on career day and I said yes, because how hard can it be to speak to kids in kindergarten -- eighth grade, right? Wrong.

As a trained therapist and certified coach, I decided to simply lump my career as being a "helping professional." I focused my talk on my work with seniors and how I was responsible for supervising programs that ensured that hundreds of low income seniors had a hot meal to eat each day, and provided them with health and wellness opportunities that improve their quality of life. I also talked about my writing.

The morning of, on my walk to the school I felt as if was being tossed to the lions. Was I ready for the brutally honest and unfiltered ways of children? Will I hear crickets and see eye rolling instead of the chest puffing caused by the thunderous applause I envisioned after my speech?

"You are a writer?!" yelled one in shock.

"Yes, I just co-authored a book. And I write for different publications."

"OMG," mused another, "that is so cool." Oh, I thought to myself, it is.

How much do you earn? You went to college?! What is a master's? What's the best part of your job?

Worst? Seniors exercise?! What's your passion? What's your dream job? What celebrities have you interviewed?

My favorite, because it stopped me on my tracks and prompted me to begin finding the lessons of the day, was from a kindergarten.

"Did you...ummm barr...ush your teeff today?"

"Yes," I smiled, what da... damn, I know I should stop drinking coffee but, "umm why do you ask?"

"Beeee...cauusse my mom says it's impooooortant."

In all her splendor, I practiced my patience, because it took her about 30 seconds to utter each syllable. I got it. She was teaching me the lesson that she was taught.

Towards the end, depleted and not sure if my work was as interesting to them as the local TV celebrity to the left and the coloring book-giving, bullet proof vest showing policeman to the right, one beautiful little third grader mumbled to herself "you are a light."

I looked at her confused. "Excuse me" I said cordially, "can you repeat yourself."

"You are a light," she said matter of factly.

"A light? Why do you say that?" I countered, confused.

"Because we are learning in the bible that when you help people, you are a light."

I felt my soul smile. "Thank you. I never thought of myself as a light before." This reminded me that at the end of the day we simply want to feel like we matter.

The questions where thought provoking, inspiring, hilarious, amusing and intrusive. But I didn't mind because I was there to tell my story. After the day was over, I realized that the kids, with their hunger for knowledge and eagerness to understand a period of life that they will be responsible for creating, were the ones that unearthed in me lessons that I learned so long ago and forgot I possess. I offer you to consider being conscious of applying these simple approaches and challenge yourself to create yet a bigger world of possibilities and reclaim your inner child genius.

Be Inquisitive

When we move through life without wonder and queries we enable stagnation and pacification. Like children, ask questions without reservations and trepidation as there is no such thing as a wrong question. Challenge others and particularly yourself to ask the important and tough questions because answers, simply be aware, is what guides our paths in life.

Have Audacity

Be a prisoner of your own confidence. A 3rd grader told me he wanted to be a teacher, oh and a race car driver, oh, and a paleontologist. His audacity to believe that he actually could was infectious, because why couldn't he? Children live in a space where all and anything is possible. And they are. As children, we lived in that space too and we need to remind ourselves of the possibilities that audaciousness uncovers.

Be Willing Not Able

At times when opportunities present themselves we refuse to engage because we either do or don't have the ability. Like children who don't possess much experience, move through life with the willingness to participate as opposed to leaning on your ability to do so. After all that is how we learn, by being willing and open to opportunities for growth.

Laugh More

At each class I spoke, I at 6'4", looking like a pretzeled jolly giant sat in the teeny tiny chair the youngsters use as well. And almost always the entire class erupted in laughter as they saw me struggle to sit and get up. The halls of the school too were pregnant with laughter. It changed my day's trajectory and reminded me of the contagious life and mesmerizing light that innocent laughter provides and carries. Be intentional about laughing more, at yourself and others without malice, and simply for the joy of it.

Stay Present

Children do not focus or even understand tomorrow, they are cemented in today and the present and because of it live in a stage of wonder, not anxiety. As such, being past or future driven is counterproductive to the power and gifts that living in the now provides. If you believe that time passes quickly, meditate and be still, you will realize that time is abundant.

Dismiss Perfection

After career day I realized that these kids were not looking to me, or any speaker, as a model of perfection, or for the right answers, but rather for clues, information and inspiration that will help them determine the person they want to become. Curiosity and acknowledging and accepting our imperfections allow us to color outside the lines of our lives and thus opens up one of unimaginable possibilities.

Marianne Williamson said it best. "Children are not children. They are just younger people. We have the same soul at 60 that we had at 40, and the same soul at 25 that we had when we were 5. If anything, children are wiser. They know more than we do, and have at least as much to teach us as we have to teach them."