Yesterday I took my 89-year-old most dear and splendid friend, Sister Doris, on a driving tour to the Berkshires, to visit her childhood home of Williamstown, MA. It was a gorgeous, leaf-peeping day. So caught were we in the splendor that surrounded us, on our return trip we inadvertently took a road much-much-less-traveled and entirely unrecognizable to us and inaccessible by GPS because I had no signal.
We were lost. As Sister Doris put it, we were “Babes in the Wood”.
It was a little unnerving. But as I learned to do in childhood (growing up around seemingly endless acres of woods), I tuned in to my instincts. I kind of went with my gut. It was a little thrilling, to be honest, the freedom and adventure of being off the map. And in very little time (too little, maybe) combined with the physical compass on my dash, that inner compass eventually landed us back on Route 9, and home again. Turns out, getting lost made for a day even better than we’d planned.
We all have one, you know. An inner compass. Me, you, our kids, our neighbors. Everybody. It is an incredible and oft underutilized thing… innately programmed within each of us to detect more than just physical direction. To the extent that we learn to hone and use it, our inner compass is uniquely calibrated and incredibly astute in detecting the direction toward our personal purpose and fulfillment. In short, our compass knows its North.
For instance… Have you ever experienced a moment when what you logically should do is at odds with what you illogically feel led to do? When what the world says is the “right” next step or path makes your stomach clench and your mind go numb? When a wild hare of an unconventional idea is whispering in your ear and quickening your pulse? In situations such as these it’s quite likely that your inner compass is at odds with some neatly planned and mapped-out course to which you “should” be adhering.
As a parent, I’ve seen this play out time and time again: The Following Of The Well-Planned Journey to Our Children’s Success. It comes complete with checkpoints, bottomless caffeine, and supplementary materials (all you want! Glossy, with photos!). It’s so pervasive, it’s almost impossible to avoid. I’ve been vulnerable to it. Leary of it. In my weaker moments, I’ve caved to it. In my better moments, I’ve doubted, even rallied against it. In the pied-piperish cultural pursuit of guaranteed “success”, children routinely are corralled by well-meaning adults and peers into the “right” program, course, sport, class, volunteer opportunity, school, etc…. all following (and trampling over one another in the process) a neatly-planned and calculated path.
But here’s the thing: There. Isn’t. A. Formula.
Every child has his own map. Yes, a unique map for every child – because contrary to the tale of the well-beaten path, this isn’t a competition. Every child has his own journey, his own streams to ford and mountains to climb and flags to plant. And, yes, his own unique, deeply fulfilling and authentic definition of success. Only imagination, freedom, determination, his innate inner compass – and lots of love and support from you – will help him masterfully master that journey. And in doing so, he’ll uncover his own one-of-a-kind way of making a difference in this world. In short, he needs to relentlessly follow his North.
So, go ahead. Go off the map with your child. Ask her to go with her gut… What does she love to do, what does she care about, what would she like to try, and why? Most certainly, be responsible for her essential needs, her education and her respect of self and others. But be brave, and for the love of the child, forget the “should”s – please forget them, to the best of your ability.
Seek her compass and let her lead. Chances are, encouraging your child to blaze her own unique trail will make for a life far better than anyone could have planned.