I stood on the top of that 6 foot wall in Spain and I felt on top of the world. I was high on nothing but sunshine and a couple of tins of San Miguel. I looked down at my daughters and partner, who were already safely on the concrete pavement below and I thought to myself: they think that I will be scared to jump. I saw partner’s outstretched hand, offering me a safety net that I just didn’t want. I wanted to show them all that I could do it and not only that, that I could do it better than them – that I could exceed all their expectations.
Three hospital visits later: one broken foot, a broken finger and a severely dented pride, I have learnt that lesson that you would have thought I may have grasped in my 20’s, perhaps even in my teens. That lesson that we teach our kids about not needing to prove anything to others. That the people who we want to impress, just want us to be ourselves. The day after I jumped onto the concrete pavement, daughter 2 said to me: you are acting like a teenager. It wasn’t a compliment. She wasn’t telling me that I looked young and vibrant. She wasn’t high fiving me for my energy and enthusiasm. She was saying that I was trying to be someone I wasn’t and that I should stop.
With the start of the new school year this message is a poignant one. One of our main concerns as parents when a child starts a new school, is not their grades, but more that they will make friends. We tell our children to be themselves. We talk to our older children about not changing so people will like you, but rather to be yourself and quickly the right people will love the real you. My kids and partner didn’t want to see me jumping confidently off that wall. They wanted to see my vulnerability, because that is the real me. I am not a teenager, I am not the person who I stood at the top of that wall and decided, in those few moments that I wanted to be. I am vulnerable and that is why my partner offered me his hand. That is why my daughters were looking up and gently encouraging me to get safely down.
I think that standing on that wall was actually a metaphor for my life. So often I try to live up to my perception of other people’s expectations of me and then to try and exceed those perceived expectations. Yet what I am actually able to achieve is not what others think I am capable of, but what I choose to do: how I choose to use my time and energy. So I should stop worrying about what other people think and live for me.
What we should be telling our children is not to lose sight of themselves by just doing what they think other people want them to do. They must follow their own path and be their own person. Life is not a race: we grow on our journey, not by reaching the destination and there will be fuck ups along the way – that is ok. That is how we learn. We have nothing to prove and you know what? The older I get, the more I realise that you can never please everyone anyway and so the most important thing in life is to please yourself, to find your own happiness.
As Marc Chernoff says in his article: 7 Reasons to Stop Proving Yourself to Everyone Else, “Care less about who you are to others and more about who you are to yourself. You will have less heartaches and disappointments the minute you stop seeking from others the validation only YOU can give yourself.”
Standing on the top of that wall, I didn’t need to prove that I was able to jump. I didn’t need to prove anything and you know what I have learnt – that life is a lot less painful when you embrace who you really are.
Feet and hand on ice, but toasting the real me!
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