Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Best Gifts in Life are Free

Phone call home (calling card), 75 cents
Xmas card (Hallmark), $2.50
Airfare home (roundtrip), $350
Unsolicited thanks (from a grown child), priceless*

Up until I was 35 years old I considered myself a coward, because I stayed too much in my comfort zone, took too few risks and gave into my fears. Then my first child was born. One day when she was three months old and I was holding her in my lap, she looked up into my eyes with total love and total trust. I realized that if she looked into my eyes that way when she was twenty and saw in me, what I saw in me, she would be disappointed. And I couldn’t do that to her.

What I was most afraid of and thus avoided was being on the spot, humiliating myself or being ridiculed. That is why I rarely asked questions— either at home or in the world (except in my capacity as a psychiatrist/psychotherapist)– up until that time in my life. On that day I started to say, “Yes” to all the things I had previously said, “No” to from fear.

Now on nearly a daily basis I go out of my way to put myself on the spot. That is why I give talks, grant interviews, write articles and books. When it goes well, it gives me confidence; when it goes poorly, all the better, because that makes me stronger and innoculates me against cowardom.

You might wonder how things turned out since my daughter is now 24. Six months ago I received the best gift I have ever received. It was an email from her:

“Hi dad, last night my friends ----- and ----- and I were out walking in Manhattan discussing how lost and confused we felt (BTW they all have jobs), when I interrupted as I often do to say, ‘My dad said -----.’ And just as often, it stops the conversation and makes it considerably better. I’m not so sure my friends could say the same about their dads. I’m lucky to have a dad who is so wise, even if he is far away. I love you. See you soon, Lauren.”

Don’t wait until it’s too late to give that kind of thank you to the people you’re grateful to.

* with appreciation to Mastercard

© 2006 Mark Goulston

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