Dear Fiona: Be Yourself

Dear Fiona,

In my last few letters, I’ve talked a lot about the fact that, while I hope to raise you to make wise choices, I also know that those choices will not always coincide with mine.

And that’s a good thing.

Too many parents try to raise their children up to be younger versions of themselves. Too many parents try to hold their own choices up to their children as a moral “good,” and insist that any other choice is therefore wrong.

That’s not what I want for you. I don’t want you to be a mini-me.

I want you to be yourself.

To be honest, that’s a harder road to travel than the alternative – for both of us.

It’s harder for me because there are going to be times when I want what I want . . . when I want you to do something that makes my life easier or less complicated. In those moments, having a daughter who is trained to act on my behalf and do what I tell her to do right away without questioning or hesitating would be . . . advantageous.

It would also be doing you a disservice. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t want you to learn to rely on external motivations – to be guided by fear of punishment or desire for reward. I want you to act out of what you know and believe to be the wise course of action.

I want you to be yourself.

But I can tell you from personal experience that it’ll be harder for you, as well. Living for other people is easy. It sucks, but it’s easy!

It’s easy because you don’t ever have to think. You already have all the “answers” right there in front of you, or if not, someone will be more than willing to tell you what they think your answer should be.

And when you’re driven by extrinsic motivations, you’re more than happy to let them.

I know . . . I’ve been there.

It sucks, because if you do that long enough, you lose the sense of yourself. You begin to wonder if you have any preferences, any desires, any motivations that are truly you . . . or if they’re merely a reflection of the people you’ve allowed to speak into your life.

You begin to feel like you’re not really there at all . . . like you’re nothing more than a conglomeration of other people’s thoughts and opinions.

I’ve been there, too.

Please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that you shouldn’t ever trust or rely on anybody else’s thoughts or advice. I’ll get into that a bit more in another letter, but I’m not saying that at all! To the contrary, I hope you surround yourself with the voices of people who know you, value you, and want what’s best for you, enough that they’re willing to offer you candid and sincere advice for those times when you need it to make a better decision. And though I’m sure you’ll choose such people for yourself, I hope to always be one of them.

But there is a difference between relying on the advice and experience of others who have been where you are, or who have insight into the decision you face, and relying on others to tell you what you ought to do, simply because they believe you ought to do it.

It’s a tough balance to hold onto . . . relying on others who might have more insight than you do in a particular area, without relying on them to make your decisions for you . . . without giving your self over to their control.

It’s a balance I’m still learning, and one that I’ll probably continue learning for the rest of my life. I hope that by starting you out as young as I possibly can in learning how to think, do, and learn for yourself, I’ll save you many of the heartaches and heart-breaks that I’ve had to deal with in this area.

And if not . . . because at some level heartache and heart-break are a necessary part of human experience . . . I hope to help you learn how to deal with them, take them into yourself, learn from them, and come out stronger on the other side.

I love you.

Love,
~Dad

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