Life Advice for My Daughter ... And Myself

baby and grandma

My husband and I recently visited the Montessori school our little girl will be attending after she reaches her 6-month birthday. And even though the environment was lovely and peaceful and joyous, I couldn't stop my mind from wandering to those early "first day of school" moments in my life. The little kid anxiety associated with starting a new school, meeting new people, and hoping to make friends and fit in.


Now I know/hope that it will be years before our little one has to worry about fitting in, if ever. That's my baggage, not hers. But I'm already starting to feel protective about the people, places, and things our baby will encounter when we're not around.

This made me start thinking about the lessons I've learned in my 44 years on this planet thus far. Lessons I'd like to impart to my daughter.

I've actually been keeping a list of the things I'd like to make sure I pass on to her. Not an "I'm dying of cancer" kind of list. More like an "I'm starting to forget things unless I write them down" kind of list. And I figure that being a mom gives one the right to occasionally give unsolicited advice, so I'm going to take full advantage of that.

So here's the first 10 on the list (which is actually much longer), in no particular order ...

Take time to breathe deeply and often. I'm a shallow breather and often forget to take those deep, cleansing breaths that are so healing. I sometimes also forget to take some deep breaths before reacting to a situation or making an impulsive decision. Oxygen is good medicine, and it's free. Go on, take a deep breath right now. See what I mean?

Commune with nature every day. The days I set aside even a little time to be totally off the grid -- no computer, no phone, no devices -- and take a walk in nature or sit outside with the birds are good days indeed. It's a forced slow down, and good for the soul.

Don't keep secrets. Rather than carry around a secret, no matter how terrible you think it is, tell at least one other person. If you tell someone else, it's no longer a secret. Chances are, you'll get feedback that helps you, or find out you aren't alone. Either way, you'll be set free.

'No' is a complete sentence. I am a people pleaser from way back. I have a lifelong habit (that I'm working on) of seeking the approval of others to my own detriment ... saying yes when I really mean no. Over-committing myself. Taking on projects for others while neglecting my own. I also tended to over-explain when saying no, not realizing that no is an answer in itself. The times I've been honest and simply said, "I'm not comfortable with that" or "I don't have time for that" have proven to be WAY less stressful and complicated than the times I've endeavored to be the pleaser.

Avoid bad energy. We all encounter those people in our lives who drain us. Emotional vampires. They take and take and take without giving anything in return. They are exhausting. I've learned that the best relationships are reciprocal relationships, where you each give and receive fully, openly, and equally. Those friends you can call at 3:00 in the morning to talk about something on your mind ... and the friends whose call you will take at 3:00 in the morning. Listen to your gut about the draining ones. If they make you feel bad or tired or frustrated more than they make you feel good, cut them out. Life is too short.

Hurt people hurt people. There will always be bullies out there. Kids can be mean, and so can adults. But typically those bullies are only passing on what they learned, likely from being bullied themselves or watching authority figures in their lives bully others. Have compassion for these people, but also do not sit silent. Tell someone. Do not accept unacceptable behavior, from bullies or anyone, including those with whom you choose to be in relationships. It's not okay. And if you see someone being bullied, be a friend to this person. Let them know they are not alone.

Take care of your body ... it's the only one you've got. We used to slather ourselves with baby oil and lay in the sun for hours. And smoke cigarettes and eat junk food. And skip dental appointments and not wash our faces. These things all catch up with us. Treat your skin, eyes, teeth, bones, muscles, and organs with care. Think about what you put into your body. Get regular check-ups and physicals. This body is a gift ... treasure it.

Don't be afraid to fail. There's a great Michael Jordon quote about failure: "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." I, too, have tried and failed at many things in my life. But I have learned so very much from my failures. I would not be the person I am today without them. So, I honor the misses as much as the hits. They are an invaluable part of me. I've never regretted failing, but I have regretted not trying.

Practice patience. Patience is something with which I have struggled my whole life. I don't like to wait. I want to know, now. Having cancer has been an extreme lesson in letting go of the illusion of control and of being patient. Waiting for the answer to become apparent. I've learned that if I do not know the answer to something, it's probably not the right time for me to know. Another great quote is "don't just do something, sit there" when you don't know what to do. The decisions I've made in haste generally have proven not to be the best ones.

Forgive. Another thing I've learned is that forgiveness is a gift I can give myself. Not carrying around a grudge or a resentment frees me, not the other person. If I look for the good in others and am always willing to look at my part in any given situation, it is easier to forgive. If I decide instead to carry around a resentment, I'm only weighing down and hurting myself.

Enjoy the journey. About four years ago I took a solo trip to Ireland to, as my mentor said, "clean out my gills". Traveling alone wasn't something I had done before and was far out of my comfort zone. But I knew internally that it was something I needed to do. So I did it. I didn't create an itinerary or make reservations. I had no preconceived notions. I just bought a plane ticket and rented a car and let the pathway evolve. I wandered from one town to the next, all across both the Southern and Northern sections of the country. I stayed in homestays, and with friends of friends. I ate alone in restaurants and talked to strangers. I asked people where they thought I should go next. I followed my gut. And it was the most amazing trip of my life so far. The best experiences I had on that trip were not related to the destinations; they just happened along the way. Walking in the forest and taking a nap on a mossy bed; meditating among the ruins of an old monastery; sitting on a bluff and watching sheep; watching fishermen arrive in a fishing village with their catch; listening to street musicians ... you get the picture. When I let go of plans and schedules and decided to just "be," the journey became the trip. And it was magic.

I just realized that this list is for me as much as for my daughter, if not more. Thanks to her for the reminder.


Image via Erica Montgomery Photography

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