Eight years ago I wrote a letter to my daughter as she turned 10. I listed 10 things I wanted her to know. Now, in what feels like the blink of an eye (life’s biggest cliché is also its deepest truth, I’ve found: time flies) she is staring down 18 and I am thinking about the lessons I hope she takes from her childhood into her adult life. It’s hard to distill them down, but I have been thinking a lot about trying.
Lessons for my daughter on her 18th birthday
1. Effort trumps raw talent every time. It’s great to be smart and talented, but what really defines people who succeed is determination, hard work, and resilience.
2. Your roots are deep. These last disorienting months have offered an unexpected surfeit of family time. I know many parents, and I’m among them, for whom this has been a surprise delight. I hope you can see by my words and my actions that my absolute priority in this life is you, Whit, and your father. Family time is holy to me. You guys always come first.
3. Build a life with many sources of identity. I have always made it clear that you guys are not the only demand in my life, though you are the most important. I hope you embrace the ands of this world, rather than the ors. I hope I’ve shown you that you can be a mother, a business person, a writer, a friend, a reader, a runner … the list goes on. Life is busy and sometimes exhausting in this model, but I firmly believe it’s richer.
4. Don’t complain. I know, I know, I say this a lot. You and your brother have told me my parenting motto is “suck it up.” But the truth is, while some complaining is unavoidable, it also sucks you in and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Look out the window. Think about those you love most. There’s always something to admire and to be grateful for. I promise.
5. Choose those you are close to carefully. People show you who they are through word and deed and let people near who you trust, admire, and want to be like. It’s true that we have an instinctive reaction to most people; listen to that. Those who delight you, you want more of. Those who drain you, less.
6. A broad coalition of friends is a good idea. This is linked to #3 – having relationships in a variety of groups both reflects your own wide interests and means you will encounter those whose views, experiences, and perspectives are different from yours.
7. Remember that sometimes we are wrong. I hope I’ve modeled for you and Whit the power of saying “I was wrong.” We’ve all been wrong about people and about experiences and I don’t think I’m overstepping when I say being surprised on the upside is a great joy. Try not to judge too soon or to be too wedded to your immediate impression of a person or a situation.
8. Find something that eases your mind. I’m not going to rail at you for finding your passion – this was a constant source of strain between my father and me, and I know from our conversations that you may struggle to find a single animating passion the way I did. But I do encourage you to find something that you can do to quiet your heart and mind. Something that is NOT staring at your phone. For me, it’s reading books and doing puzzles. I know I’ve shown you that both can be relaxing and quieting. I hope you find something like this for yourself.
9. Spend some time on your physical health. Move your body most days. Sleep enough. Don’t drink too much. Don’t do drugs. Eat a lot of vegetables. All this stuff: so boring and mundane. Also: so very, very important, and the habits you set now will stay with you for life.
10. Laugh every day. It is one of the simplest and best ways to remember that this life is good. Choose a life partner and close friends who make you laugh. As our holiday card last year said: “Life is short. Make it sweet.”