- @ photo by Lisa Labon
I promised my daughter I would write a letter explaining why I think she ought to finish the ski season despite her frustrations with her performance and a litany of other insults in her life. I didn’t promise that I wouldn’t share it. It’s a work in progress. As am I. I hope I’ve made the right decision, to insist she finish the season and honor her obligations.
Here it goes…
You turned 13 in December. It isn’t easy to be 13. My dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was 13. I didn’t have very good friends when I was 13. You’ve lost far too many of your closest friends to school and town moves. Without a close BFF, I can see that you feel like Tina Fey without Amy Poehler, or Cagnie without Lacy (you probably have no idea who they are), or Thelma without Louise, or Agent Ashburn without Agent Mullins (the Heat). Strange that we don’t have more female buddy pairs to reference. I couldn’t find one female superhero pair. That’s just not right.
So right now, you are feeling a bit like the defeated super heroine. All alone. No one understands.
Your super power is art. When you were just four years old your English teacher at the Lycee, who was also an Artist and teacher of art, raved about your natural talents at every parent-teacher conference. You continued to show this ability throughout your primary school years. At every student art show your work would stand out as miles ahead of your peers. You were drawing unusual perspective when others were still drawing profile.
In the last year or two, you’ve doubted your talents and withdrawn in your classes. Your current art teacher is mystified because he knows you have amazing talent and yet you are busy chatting and leaving your work unfinished. The self-doubt has a hold of you in a way I’ve never seen before.
Self-doubt is part of being a teenager. I get that.
And yet you’ve used this superpower of yours to communicate with me how you are feeling right now. I found your comic strip message on my desk.
“I love skiing but I hate ski team. I don’t like my coach. I don’t like waking up early. I miss my friends. I miss free time. I hate “sucking at everything.” I hate that “everyone hates me.” I hate being afraid of everything and everyone.”
Well. That does suck. No way around it. And I can EASILY counter every single statement with a very different reality that I see and hear from your teachers, coaches and peers. I get that you don’t feel it.
Here’s the thing. Your feelings are yours. You have every right to feel how you feel. But you are your own worst enemy. Your kryptonite is not your coach or your homework or your overwhelmed brain. Your kryptonite is believing life should be easy or that you can’t handle challenges. Your kryptonite is thinking you are a victim of your life. Your kryptonite is resisting the rite of passage that you are facing – maturation.
You are being stretched across the precipice of childhood to adulthood. And it’s not a whole lot of fun.
I guess every teen goes through this somewhat. It might be worse now because the media+culture images really sell this carefree life where beautiful people sail through. It is very alluring. Absolutely. Many adults are up to their ears in debt and misery because they still cling to that illusion.
But here is the truth. Every dream is an intoxicating drug. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning, stretching our creative problem solving muscles and stimulating every nerve ending to reach and grow. It’s what is known as the “call to adventure.” The call comes exactly when we need it, when it’s time for us to go into the wilderness and claim our birthright, our gift to the world that only we can share. It comes because our journey is an active, evolving experience of testing our boundaries, our beliefs, our perceived limitations. Our reward is often more than we imagine when our adventure begins. We may begin for one reason and end up finishing it for another.
Many heroes refuse this call and end up footnotes in their own lives. How many times do we feel the rush of adrenaline as we are tantalized by the possibilities of something grand and exciting? We feel in our bodies the pulse of creation, manifesting something with our own imagination, creativity and action. But it’s not enough to imagine. We have to get up off the couch and move into the world. That’s not always easy. Not every one moves beyond the daydream.
The first and hardest act of the hero is to begin.
Just like in your favorite stories, often the heroines get a supernatural push: a vivid dream; a phantom tap on the shoulder; an insight during history class; the lyrics on the radio. Here is a little nudge from the radio ethers…
Wake Up Time – Tom Petty
“You follow your feelings, you follow your dreams
You follow the leader into the trees
And what’s in there waiting, neither one of us knows
You gotta keep one eye open the further you go
You never dreamed you’d go down on one knee, but now
Who could have seen, you’d be so hard to please somehow
You feel like a poor girl, a long way from home
You’re just a poor girl, a long way from home
And it’s wake up time
Time to open your eyes
And rise and shine”
Eyes wide open, the dream pulsing through our bodies, the heroes get to work. She is often afraid but knows that her destiny is at stake. She must cross the first threshold. It’s often a road filled with trials and obstacles. Even if she fails each trial, she can move forward with insights and tools for the next test. If she’s lucky she will fail often and miserably. Because in failure, we learn. We find out what doesn’t work so that when it counts, we are prepared.
You’ve heard me say that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become excellent at anything. No one is born skipping this critical process. Those you see excelling have worked hard to gain those skills. They may have some natural talent, like you do in art, but that talent languishes without time spent failing. Over and over again. Your struggle is your ultimate gain.
You feel like you are failing at everything: school, friends, ski team, art, conquering ADD, your own health goals. You are in the midst of a perfect storm. You are learning more than you realize right now. Adrift in your own life, you are seeking out anchors, allies, assets to help you continue through this difficult period.
You are a beautiful failure, my sweet daughter.
While I worry about you as your mother and friend, I know that through this intensely difficult time, you are forging inner strength and wisdom about what makes a true friend, being true to yourself, taking responsibility for your obligations and commitments, being honest about and facing the consequences of your own actions, as well as learning the hard lesson that not everything in life is fair.
Like the pearl in the oyster, the diamond in the coal, struggle and determination forge the assets that will make this journey more splendid, above the peaks of mere mortals. Nothing can be honed to perfection without opposition, friction, and pressure. Whether the pressure comes from outside or inside, our journey demands sacrifice. The trial of initiation must weed out the pretenders to the throne in order to call forth the true heirs, the noblest of the contenders, the purest hearts and fairest of the warriors. The battle will not be easy and to be won, our heroine must answer the call with all her heart and mind.
If the dragon just gave up the treasure, how valuable would it be?
The heroes and heroines of this world do not roll out of bed without a care in the world. They are motivated to create change, to challenge themselves and others, to carve into the flesh of mortality a divine influence. People who try to just coast through their days generally do not get much farther than the old sofa in the basement.
I want you to fail. I want you to get knocked down.
I want you to feel like your dreams are impossible, because in those black caverns the seedlings struggle to find the light. Through this dark night, you will have to battle your own demons. Those negative voices telling you that “everything sucks.” Those voices that tell you to quit and that you are worthless. Those voices, as hard as they are on you (and me because I love you so much), are your first test. Will you let those voices throw you off course? Or will you see them for the sirens on the rocks?
At 13 you are far from the end of your journey. You have many trials left before you reach the treasure and claim your greatest prize. My hope for you right now is that you will see around you the visible and invisible arms of love and support. While you feel so very alone and misunderstood, you are loved so deeply. I realize that it doesn’t feel like love when your parents give you boundaries and requirements. It would be far easier to rescue you and keep you in childhood where you needn’t risk yourself in the world. When you are sobbing and wailing we question our resolve because we do not like seeing our children suffer. But we love you so much that we must be strong in the face of your torment knowing from our own travels across the abyss that this is a journey you must take.
All we can do is help you pack your bag and insist that you go.
Learning to Fly – Tom Petty
“Well I started out down a dirty road
Started out all alone
And the sun went down as I crossed the hill
And the town lit up, the world got still
I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing”
My hope is that you will hang on to the steely core of your being, the fire of hope and faith in your destiny. You are all that you need to make this journey. You are strong and brave and smart. I know you don’t feel these things which is why I must nudge you out the door. If I allowed you to stay here, sheltered from the storm, you would never know the distant shores of courage that await you.
When you fall asleep tonight, dream of your kingdom, the place where you conquer every fear and every dragon guarding the secrets of your soul. Your destiny calls you there. The universe awaits her Queen.