My friend Chris and I have a history of creating top five lists. We would make lists at work, at home, on road trips – top five rock songs, top five comedies, top five things we miss about our old lifeguard jobs – lists about anything and everything.
Today, Chris sent me a list of five essential things he wanted his daughter to learn. So, I’m combining his list (and blatantly stealing quotes of his) along with many of my own.
Top 10 Things to Teach Our Kids.
1. Love others unconditionally.
Our values may not line up with what our friends, family or society believe, but it’s important that we love others no matter what. Not only is it God’s command to love each other, but it’s just common sense. We have to tolerate each other. We have to love people because, frankly, we need to be loved in return. We all want to be loved. No matter how big, bad and macho we are, inside we still crave human compassion.
2. Hugs are completely OK.
My kids give awesome and sweet hugs. There’s comfort and security when I hug my wife. I enjoy a brotherly hug from my male friends. A hug is more personal than a handshake, but not too intrusive to be inappropriate. Hugs can show appreciation. Hugs can show congratulations. Hugs can be consoling or forgiving. Hugs are quite versatile.
3. Winning is important.
I used to play recreation basketball in middle school and junior high. At the end of each year, we got the stereotypical participation trophy that basically said, “Hey, you played in a bunch of games, though you won only a couple. Thanks for the $30 season fee.” Chris is a cross-country coach and had a parent complain that the varsity team was too competitive for her daughter. This is not acceptable. Winning is important. Winning builds character and rewards hard work. Losing forms humility and identifies areas that need improvement.
Additionally, as parents, we should want to always support our kids, but not fight their battles for them. One of my close high school friends didn’t make the basketball team, even though I did. His dad was convinced that he was better than me and others on the team and demanded that his son get another chance. Luckily, our coach stood his ground and didn’t let that happen.
4. Ask for help.
Be confident in your abilities, but don’t be too filled with pride that you don’t ask for help. We need to learn to do things on our own. Our culture is becoming concierge society. We want someone to wash our cars, change our flat tires, buy our groceries, run our errands and even teach values to our kids. There are so many things I want to learn. I want to learn to paint. I want to learn to change my own oil. I want to learn how to do home improvement projects. In many cases, I’m too busy to take the time to learn and would rather pay someone to install something for me. There’s something special about learning and accomplishing something on your own. There’s also something endearing about asking for help…and receiving it!
5. Hard work is essential.
In addition to being a successful coach, Chris is also a very gifted teacher. Over the years, he has had several conversations with students that all-too-often sound like this:
Oblivious student: Why did I fail the test?
Chris: Well, did you study?
Oblivious student: A little.
Chris: So, you didn’t study, you didn’t do any homework and you didn’t actively participate in class. I have a pretty good idea why you failed.
If you want to truly do well in sports, school, work or in your walk with God, you have to put in the work. Nothing just “comes naturally.” LeBron James is an amazing athlete and a talented basketball player. He’s won four MVP awards and two consecutive NBA championships. He didn’t just pick up a ball and start scoring at will. It took work. A ton of it.
I didn’t study much in college, but I graduated with honors. As an art major, many of my final exams were actually final projects. In other academic classes like psychology or art history, I just understood concepts and remembered art pieces well enough to excel on tests. I put in the time to my regular lessons and then cruised on through the tests. But, in an American government class, I got a low C on our first test. It was nearly a D. I had never gotten a score so low. Ever. I’ve always been a stellar student. Getting a C terrified me. So, I had to put in extra work in that class so my GPA didn’t suffer. After that first test, I got an A on every other test including a perfect score on my final exam.
My Drawing 1 class was a nightmare. I had to take the class in order to meet my core art requirements. I couldn’t move on to courses in my photography concentration until I completed the core work. On the first day of class I was handed a piece of coral and told to draw it. Huh? How do you even start to draw a chunk of coral? “Just draw it,” the teacher said. “Can you help me?” I asked. “No, just draw it,” said the teacher as he sipped his coffee (rumored to contain shots of liquor.) “I’ll be transferring classes soon,” I said.
And I did. My new professor gave me a lot of help. I was not an “art kid.” I only used charcoal to start a grill, not to draw with. I’d never used Gesso or those fun erasers that you can pull apart. I struggled to learn drawing and fought all semester to earn my grades. For our final project, our assignment was to draw a still life scene our professor set up (he created WEIRD still life arrangements) on a 48×36 paper. Yes, four feet by three feet. Holy crap. I sat in our classroom and drew the still life for 18 consecutive hours. I started in the afternoon and drew through the night. I took a break only to get a soda and use the bathroom. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. Other art kids came and went and finished their masterpieces in a few hours. Meanwhile, I was burning both ends of the midnight oil. I worked incredibly hard on that piece and got a B-. For me, that was huge. I still have it today and it remains a very proud accomplishment for me. Hard work is essential to our careers and our character.
6. Try everything once.
My mom had a rule for me while I was growing up. I had to try every food once. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to have it again, but I needed to try it. I follow that rule still today. I’m a very adventurous eater (the weirder the better). But, I keep the same mentality with experiences. I want to enjoy life for what it is, a collection of moments that are gifts to us. We’re only around for a small amount of time. If God places an opportunity in front of me, I want to act on it. I want to be available to experience his glory.
7. Stop and relax.
Life gets busy. Too busy sometimes and it is important to recover and relax from the stresses of the world. God knew this and that is why the Sabbath was so important. Chris has coached many runners who continually pushed themselves harder and harder. The human body cannot do that without getting injured. Recovery runs and rest days are just as essential to a good runner as a hard workout.
I struggle with this concept. I was training for a 5k at the end of last year. If I ran for three straight minutes one day, I wanted to run for four the next day. If I ran three miles one day, I couldn’t understand why I shouldn’t be able to go do three-and-a-half the next day. One day, I ended up running/walking over 6.5 miles. This was quite a feat for me. My body is not built for running, despite my multiple attempts at doing so. I never ran that 5k because I developed bursitis and couldn’t even lift my legs to get into the bathtub. I needed rest.
We need rest from our schooling and our work. If we push and push and push, we will burn out. We need to reduce the noise and relax.
8. Expression is crucial.
We all need a release. For me, I need to create. I need to be taking photos or writing or something. I wish I had more time (and money and space) to have a studio where I could paint, sculpt and photograph. I am absolutely fascinated by abstract painters. I love watching them create and assessing the psychology of what they do, where they place their strokes and what colors they use. Check out this video of Asheville, NC painter Jonas Gerard.
He’s amazing and inspiring. He is completely free and spontaneous, but controlled and deliberate. I have a huge desire to paint huge pieces, but I’ve never tried it before. These are the things I think about when work gets chaotic. This blog has helped immensely with organizing my thoughts. We should never be hesitant for our self-expression whether it’s music, cooking, writing, painting, yoga, drawing or basket weaving.
9. Encourage others.
One legendary coach said to praise three people a day as one key to a happy life. Chris says he is much happier when he’s focused on encouraging others.
Last year, I wrote letters to the five people who influenced me the most in my Christian life. It felt great. I wanted these men to know how much I appreciated their prayers, their example and their involvement in my life. I get a thrill out of telling the people who have influenced me how they have helped change me. I found a former high school teacher online a few years ago and sent him an email thanking him for encouraging me to change the way I thought and approached life. He was all about the “carpe diem / O captain, my captain” movement from Dead Poet’s Society. He encouraged us to write and explore new music and ask ‘why?’
One day, shortly after my family moved to Florida, all the high school guys I taught during Sunday school texted me at the same time on a Sunday morning. I missed them so much and appreciated the encouragement. As a manager, I try to build up my team. I hope they know that I appreciate all their work, though I know I probably don’t tell them often enough. I respond so much better to one sentence of encouragement than a tirade of tearing down.
We should also observe others. As a husband, father, Christian, employee and manager, I learn from everyone. I have observed all the managers I’ve worked for and worked with to see how they handle their staff and approach their goals. I take away all the good things and learn what things I need to leave behind.
For the last 17 years, I’ve been observing the world through a camera lens. When I travel, I enjoy documenting everything. I remember my experiences through my photographs. I might not remember all the details, but I remember my photos, which remember the details in turn. We should observe the world around us as if we won’t see it again. God’s creation is beautiful, one of a kind and amazing. Observing our environment, the smells, the feels, the sensation of the breeze, it all helps us appreciate what we have.
We need to look around with curiosity.
11. Extras are OK, too.
I want my kids to know how special they are. They should never doubt for a second how much I love them. They should never wonder if I will forgive them for something they did (or didn’t do). They should know how much I love their mother.
My daughter should know she is beautiful, no matter what some girl at school says or what some magazine/tv show/music video portrays. She should know that it’s OK to be tough and competitive. She should know that no boy will ever be good enough for her, but God will pair her with one anyway.
My son should know that he will always be my little buddy, no matter how big, tough or old he gets. He should know that I’ll always love watching him play and compete, even when he plays poorly or loses. He should know that I am so incredibly proud of him every single day. He should know that it’s OK to love his mom publicly and protect his sister.
They should both know that they are prayed for every day and loved unconditionally. They should know that they are blessings and the answer to many prayers.
Sometimes extras are OK.