When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up. From riding my bike down the street by myself to getting my own apartment, I was constantly counting the days until my next “grown up” milestone.
Fast forward to today, and even though I don’t always feel like it, my family, full-time job, and mortgage tell me that I am officially an adult. While my grown-up status definitely comes with its perks (I mean, who hasn’t waited their whole life to actually say fun adult phrases like, “My house, my rules!” and “Because I said so!”), I always thought adulthood would also come with more answers.
Instead, I often find myself admiring the way the children close to me approach their lives. Watching the freedom and creativity with which they embrace life has taught me these five life lessons:
1. It’s okay to say “no”
Kids really don’t sugarcoat it if they don’t want to do something. I don’t just mean when a child is having a meltdown because being 3 is hard, and putting on shoes is THE WORST. When a kid simply doesn’t want to do an activity, they don’t agonize over it the way many of us do as adults.
If I get invited out for drinks after work, but I’m tired and just want to go home and put on pajamas, I will spend at least 10-15 minutes questioning my decision. What if I offend the person asking me? What if I miss out on a really fun time? What if I never get invited to a social event again? Only once I’ve convinced myself I’m in dire need of rest, and I’ve accepted my fate as a social outcast missing the event of the season, will I allow myself to decline (most likely in an overly apologetic way).
Now, when I come home excited to read my daughter a new book and she’s just not in the mood? There’s no stressing or struggling to come up with a believable excuse. She simply says, “No, thank you, mommy,” and moves on.
We, too, should let ourselves be honest about what we do and don’t want to do. We all have limited time and energy to give, and there’s nothing wrong with politely declining and continuing on with our lives.
2. Celebrate the small victories
As an adult, I’ve always put pressure on myself to be perfect and accomplish all the big things — a perfect GPA in grad school, a promotion at work, paying off a student loan early. As a result, I tend to overlook my small successes.
But when you’re a kid, you get to celebrate your day-to-day accomplishments, like putting your shoes on the correct feet and remembering to wear pants.
While I’m not suggesting we should celebrate things quite this simple, there are things worth giving ourselves a pat on the back for in our everyday lives. You went for a run today? Remembered to pack your lunch? These small accomplishments may not seem life-changing, but allowing yourself to feel good about the small things will help motivate you to recognize and repeat positive behavior.
3. Ask for what you want
For whatever reason, I shy away from asking for what I want. I worry about the right way to phrase requests, worry about seeming greedy, and prepare myself for negative responses.
Little kids, though, don’t worry about this. When my daughter thinks she’s earned a treat, she doesn’t hold back. She simply lists what she wants. “A lollipop. And chocolate milk. And a cookie. And ice cream. And applesauce. And to go to the playground.”
While she knows she won’t get all of these things at once, she also knows she won’t get anything if she doesn’t ask. The same goes for us as adults. If we don’t vocalize what we want, no one is going to give it to us.
4. Don’t be embarrassed to be excited
Sometimes, as adults, we hide our joy. We may think it’s embarrassing to be excited over something that we’ve deemed too small or feel boastful if we’re excited over an accomplishment or an award. For me the former rang true when I began running last fall. Going from barely able to run for a minute to running over a mile at a time was a huge personal accomplishment, but whenever someone asked me how my training was going, I’d just shrug it off and change the subject. I was embarrassed to claim this as a success when many of my friends were running half or full marathons regularly.
But kids embrace excitement in their lives, especially when it’s over “the little things.” To a child, scoring a goal in soccer practice or finding the best rocks when you’re out for a walk are happenings worthy of happy dances.
So, while there may be times when you need to play it cool (a positive comment during a major presentation), let yourself feel delight when you can. We all face way too many heavy things in our lives and in the news each day to let even the smallest cause for joy pass us by.
5. Don’t let small obstacles shake your confidence
Kids don’t let small details get in the way of their confidence. If they like a song, they sing it, even if they don’t know the words. If they want to dance, they dance, even if there’s no music.
It makes me wonder, how often do I, as an adult, let small details get in the way of accomplishing a goal, or stop me from taking a leap of faith? Staying focused on the big picture and doing what makes me happy, rather than wasting energy on what could go wrong or what might stop me, is perhaps one of the most important lessons kids can offer.
We’re all likely to learn something from embracing these five life lessons from kids. The advice they unknowingly offer us has the power to remove some of our unnecessary (adult) anxieties and allow us to live our best lives.