Back when I was in college I spent a couple of years working in a preschool classroom. It was one of the most rewarding yet challenging experiences of my life.
One question I wanted to ask my students again and again was “why?” Why are you you doing that? Why are you reacting that way? What is going through your mind? Because let’s face it — sometimes children seem like crazy people. (Let’s not forget, however, that occasionally they’re smarter than every adult in the room.)
Growing up is tough. Looking back a lot of it can seem like a series of stumbled mistakes – oftentimes the same ones again and again – until something finally clicks and you started figuring out how to make things work. (More or less.)
These slow-coming lessons are wide ranging, involving everything from practical everyday issues to complex social problems. A lot of the time the solutions are rather straightfoward, but you couldn’t identify them because you simply hadn’t been alive long enough to learn how yet.
The hope is that as you get older you become increasingly aware of how to navigate life, and therefore encounter less and less accidents, difficulties, and heartache. It’s called gaining wisdom.
Wisdom comes in all sizes. Here are a few tidbits that I think every child should grow up learning from an early age:
Fill up ice cube trays.
This is a simple, two-second task that is worth making into a habit. Because when you want ice and don’t have it, waiting for fresh cubes to freeze feels something like watching a pot come to a boil.
This is a point that obviously goes beyond ice cubes. Learn to make the little things in life routine, and you’ll encounter much less frustration.
Nick Offerman is right – a handkerchief is very handy.
A couple of years ago I began carrying around a handkerchief, and shortly thereafter I saw a Nick Offerman standup bit where he explained the value of a hanky. He’s right – it saves the day in a dozen or more little situations. It’s a matter of cleanliness and convenience.
And kids are drippy little messes about half the time, so anything you can teach them to solve that problem helps everyone involved.
As a side note to this, keep in mind that oftentimes the people who are making the most jokes are also telling the most truth. There is a reason why the jester is always one of the most trusted roles in the court.
Some of your teachers are your best friends. Others are definitely not on your side. This goes for pretty much anyone in a position of authority. Learn to recognize the difference and appreciate the allies.
A handful of your teachers are going to change your life. They’ll inspire and motivated you, and give you chances when no one else would. At the same time, teachers are people just like anyone else, and some of them are horrible. Just because someone is in a position of authority, it doesn’t mean that they’re right. A bad teacher can really screw a kid up, if given half a chance.
The bottom line – learn to spot a teacher who is interested in your success, and to avoid those that are self-centered, cruel, bigoted, or just plain crazy.
This goes for bosses, politicians, law enforcement, and sometimes even parents, either yours or those of your friends. There are some people who use a position of power to lead and support — others use it to control and self-aggrandize.
On that note, learn to recognize your allies in any situation.
Throughout your life help will be extended from seemly unlikely directions. Learn to accept help, and to recognize (and appreciate) those who are willing to give it.
Also, be one of the people who are willing to help.
Sometimes your enemy is your friend, you just haven’t recognized it yet.
It can be easy to view someone as an “opponent” or “enemy”, when really they’re just another person who happens to share a set of circumstances with you. Usually you have the same passions, the same motivations, and a similar outlook. Your opposition is likely due to mutually-defensive pride — both of you want to come out on top of the situation. But by joining forces you are exponentially more effective.
If you haven’t noticed a trend, a lot of life is about recognizing who is helping you and who is harming you. Usually your closest friends have the best intuition about these things.
Your friends are usually the people with the best perspective to judge your life and the people you bring into it. If they’re warning you about a relationship, they’re usually right.
Your recklessness isn’t a bad thing, but it can be dangerous.
Understand that there is nothing wrong with being impulsive, but that it can get you into some dangerous situations. Use your impulsiveness wisely.
Danger is good but foolishness is not.
Danger – whether physical or emotional – isn’t bad as long as you are willing to accept the risks that go with it. In fact, danger can be a useful tool for building character.
Foolishness, however, often involves ending up in a dangerous situation when you haven’t considered the risks and are unwilling or unprepared to cope with the consequences. And it is how we react to the consequences of our actions that proves who we really are as people.
Listen to Patti Smith and Tom Waits.
Just trust me on this one.
There are some secrets you’ll keep forever, both good and bad. That’s okay.
It’s up to you to decide what you do and don’t want to share with the world. Whether it’s a matter of sparing someone else’s feelings, or holding onto a pleasant memory that you want all to yourself, some knowledge is meant for you and you alone.
Your grandparents have awesome, weird shit hidden in their houses. Hunt it up. Someday it will be yours.
Dig around through your grandparents’ stuff and ask them to tell you the stories behind the bizarre things you find. You’ll learn a lot about how people lived in the past, and about your grandparents. They won’t be around forever, so it’s good to discover what you can while you can.
If anyone tells you that your dream is unrealistic, be wary – they are often jealous of your passion.
There are going to be people in your life who are thrilled about and supportive of your dreams. At the same time, there are those who will be jealous and envious of the simple fact that you are passionate about something. Ignore detractors. If anything have pity for them – they’re just sad because they can’t or won’t get excited about anything they truly care about.
Pain goes away and wounds heal.
When you’re a kid, physical and emotional pain seem like they will never go away. The truth is that scraped knees heal, and that people will say and do things to hurt your feelings, but with time you’ll forget about it and move on.
In fact, the ability to withstand pain, discomfort, and distress is highly useful. Someday it can help you accomplish incredible feats in the face of adversity.
Nothing will teach you more than wandering the world and seeing what it has to offer. Dedicated travelers are usually the most capable, open-minded, friendly people you will meet.
Shakespeare was right — all the world’s a stage.
Don’t take things too seriously. This is all an act, and we’re all just playing parts.
Singing and dancing will make your feel better almost 100% of the time.
Do it with friends. Do it alone. Just do it. Trust me.