If I inhale deeply, my lungs are filled with the freshest air I’ve ever experienced, along with the scent of pine. This forest, hundreds of acres behind my Adirondack home, is old growth, much of it never cut, with trees that two of us cannot join our hands around, some exceeding 600 years of age. Twigs snap as I walk through the trail, and I hit an occasional patch of mud from the rains, making my way carefully across, jumping from logs to moss-covered rocks.
In Japan, they encourage people to take time off work to go “forest bathing.” The combination of fresh air and the visual of dark woods, deep greens along with fresh spring greens, pine needles, peeling bark on soft, worn pathways, is deeply good for our souls. Our home, built in 1894, was built from these trees, and sits on a patch of land between the forest and the lake. Our summer life feels ideal. Fresh air, fresh water, playtime, and family around us. Our bath of forest and lake time lasts through the summer and fall, and the rejuvenation I receive lasts me through the tough winter months of life.
A Spoiled Child
At times I feel a little spoiled, with all this beauty around me. It started when I was a kid. I can look back to my childhood, when we had advantages our cousins did not have, and I once overheard my aunt say, “Those kids are spoiled.” I did not believe it at the time, but looking back, she was right.
And I’ve done a little too much spoiling myself. I can see the mistakes I’ve made as a parent, and those my parents made with us. We all gave a lot. But much of what they gave, with good intentions, probably did us no favors and prolonged important lessons on independence and self-reliance. My perspective on life was skewed because I was sometimes sheltered from painful lessons.
As boys, we were put to work at my dad’s business. I worked in the mailroom and learned to run a printing press. My brothers worked in the un-air-conditioned factory, assembling products. We put on our little suits and shook hands at trade shows. My dad would bring us into serious business meetings with clients or employees, and even at 8 or 10, would ask our opinions on things. And after the meeting he would ask, “What did you learn?” As a result, business came naturally to me as an adult. None of us liked it, but it was smart of him to do this.
Problems = Growth
Yet I never grew up until I had problems. My dad funded my first serious business venture, which speedily got me into the business world. I became privileged and a little too arrogant and full of myself, when in reality I was only born lucky. But when problems arose, he stepped back. Problems belonged to me, and I could get advice, but if I needed money, I was told no. I was told, “You have to figure this out.” It made me mad. But I actually had to figure it out.
Where Addicts Come From
Talking with some acquaintances who are coaches for addicted people, one told me, “Most of my clients have addictions because they never had any problems, or had all their problems solved for them. They weren’t allowed to make mistakes on their own. As a result, there is a giant addiction problem. These kids have low self-esteem because they were never allowed to solve their own problems. Parents mean well. But when you can’t solve your own problems, you have nothing on which to base your self-esteem.”
Parents Who Protect
“We make lots of threats as parents,” said this coach, “but the minute we should get tough, we break down and don’t let our kids suffer, just because WE don’t want to see them suffer. Yet the parents who let them suffer are the ones whose kids are less likely to end up dealing with problems their entire lives. Sadly, most get nervous, step in and solve the problems again, and their kids end up with problems for life.”
So many of us had parents who were hard on us, made us do things we did not want to do. From that, we went in one of two directions. We either suffered and realized it was good for us, and we passed that on to our kids. Or we suffered and told ourselves, “I’m not gonna do that to my kids.” That second one is why so many young people may be overly sensitive, easily wounded or hurt, and don’t know how to deal with pain. There is no telling how that might impact kids who end up struggling with their identity. When the kids whine about raking leaves or taking out trash, too often we give in so we don’t have to fight them or keep hearing the complaints. Soon they are doing little or nothing, and not suffering enough.
I was a numbskull. I kept repeating mistakes, and my parents kept bailing me out. Had they gotten fed up with helping me sooner, I would have learned sooner. And I’ve repeated a lot of that behavior with my own offspring.
It’s All About Me
My self-esteem came when I was responsible for myself, when I did things for myself, when I no longer looked to anyone else to save me. Then I had good reason for a healthy self-esteem, instead of having everything handed to me and being overly impressed with who I was when I had done nothing on my own.
Often I’ve suggested that pain is good, though we never look forward to it. Pain is the first step toward growth. It’s true in life, and it’s true for our kids.
Surviving on Peanut Butter
I look backward and see where I was let off the hook, too many times and too easily. I see that when I was forced to work, forced to struggle, forced to suffer, I experienced growth and became a man. When I called my folks with a sob story and was told, “I’m sorry you don’t have any money for food, but I have confidence you’ll figure it out,” I was angry, but I never called and asked again. And I figured it out. I learned how to make my money last. All it took was a week living on a jar of peanut butter for me to learn to manage my money, and learn how to make more of it, which stimulated me to work three jobs. For several years straight I worked as an evening radio DJ, ran a wedding photography business on the weekends, and was also the DJ at the weddings I photographed so I could get a couple hundred extra bucks.
What was the moment you grew up?
What was the tough love you experienced that hurt, but made a difference in your life?
What did it take to find your own self-esteem?
When did someone say no and it benefited you?
What were you made to do that you did not want to do, that helped you grow and impacted your self-worth and self-esteem?
Parenting is hard.
But the hardest part is to stop sheltering them as soon as possible, to give them chores and make them work, to resist their whining, and to let them gain independence in spite of their objections. Our kids had to do their own laundry, starting at age 7. We had to battle them for a week or two, and they had to go to school with dirty clothes, but they finally got it.
Kids without problems don’t grow up — until they have problems.
We have had some very difficult days when we worried because we wanted to bail a kid out of a problem. But bailing people out is the coward’s way. Great parenting allows them to suffer, and suffering along with them because you would rather not watch them struggle. But giving in is actually hurting them. Don’t give in, Even though it’s easier in the short term, it will be harder in the long run.
It’s never too late. It takes us time to grow, it takes us time to get fed up or tired of the battle. Sometimes it happens when you run out of money because you gave it all to help your kid. They can be 6 or 60, but the moment you say no and let them figure it out on their own, they will protest. But stick to your guns and let them experience pain. They will test you, they will pull at your heartstrings, and you’ll want to help them, but helping is hurting.
Embrace the struggle.
PS: This week I spoke to an old friend who started his business about a decade before I started mine. We talked about the recessions, the times we had to shut down or almost went out of business, we talked about all the problems we had to invent solutions for, and we both realized that the struggle is what made us. It’s not easy at the moment, but when you’re going through it, just know that you will get through it (or you won’t), but everything will be OK, no matter what.
When COVID hit and I was facing closing down my company, I should have been more frightened than I was, but I had had enough challenges and struggles that I had confidence that we would figure it out, and if we didn’t, I could always start something up again.
What we came up with was a series of online conferences. When the pandemic ended, we wondered if these would end. We considered stopping them, but the people who attended told us how valuable they had been and that they were a gift because they often did not have the time, money, or circumstances to allow them to get on an airplane. So we’ve kept them going and they remain strong. Oh, we lost a few people who went back to work, but we picked up some others to make up for it.
My next big online conference is Pastel Live, starting in mid-August. It’s turning out to be the biggest we’ve ever had, even though one would think it would be smaller because people have less time on their hands. But in fact, last week we had record registrations. And we will again be presenting the biggest pastel event in the world. The Super Bowl of pastel painting.
If you want to learn to paint, or learn pastel, this is the perfect opportunity. You can join us by going to PastelLive.com, and we even have a money-back guarantee.