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I’m the early riser in our house.
My son Alex is usually quick to join me and we enjoy some male bonding while mom gets some needed extra rest.
Alex like routines, but he’s not settled on one for breakfast. I coax him to eat some protein first, but his usual request is for the “Two Newtons!” that Paul Newman baked for him.
On one recent morning, he expressed a new desire…
“I want some ice cream, Dad!”
Reflexively, I shot him down. Don’t be ridiculous, son.
But rejection does not matter to people with clear and powerful desires. And little people have clear and powerful desires. He kept asking. I kept refusing.
I explained to him how he needed to eat something more substantial to start his day. I cited Pink Floyd to make my case (“How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”). While he had no idea what I was talking about, I believed my actions to reflect the gold-standard of responsible parenting — here I was keeping my boy safe and healthy while simultaneously making sure that any sweet rewards were properly earned.
While holding my ground and denying him followed the conventional thinking offered in Parenting 101, I knew something didn’t feel right. The day melted into the next and soon enough Alex and I revisited our morning routine again.
“I want some ice cream, Dad!”
This time I didn’t just reject his outlandish request. I realized what had gnawed at me the previous day. So much of my work centers on encouraging people to follow what feels better in the moment, to stop putting off their desires, to no longer mindlessly place struggle before reward. And yet here I was, fighting with my son to program him to do the exact opposite thing.
“I want some ice cream, please Dad!”
His plea aside, I allowed myself to notice what felt better and the thought of giving up my rigid stance felt like relief. My mind still wanted to lecture me on how irresponsible I was being, how the sugar would explode his little brain…
…but I reached in the fridge and pulled out the Ben and Jerry’s. Still in the dark of morning, Alex started hopping around the kitchen like a bunny in anticipation. I pulled out a baby spoon, still rationalizing how I wouldn’t allow him to overdo it.
My son took exactly two small spoonfuls of ice cream before handing me the carton and running off into the other room to play with his trucks.
I put the ice cream away (after having a spoonful myself, of course) and sat with my coffee thinking about what had just happened.
“Was the ice cream good?” I asked, wondering if somehow he was born with taste buds that could not fully register the flavors of milk fat and vanilla.
“Oh yes! I like ice cream!” he answered definitively.
One of the big reasons that we don’t allow our desires is that we’ve been taught that we can’t just have what we want. First we have to justify. First we have to sacrifice. First we have to believe we deserve. First we need to do what we learned was right. Because if we do not, well, everyone knows that monsters lay in wait for us…
You certainly can’t have your ice cream just because you want it. After all, everyone knows too much of a good thing makes you fat. Or lazy. Or destitute. Or just another one of those flaky dreamers who needs to wake up and get real.
And what would THOSE PEOPLE think if you were to allow yourself your desires now? There’s no way they’d approve of your recklessness. You can expect them to provide the requisite warnings to save you from the impending doom waiting on your doorstep.
My son took two small bites of ice cream and he’s not mentioned ice cream again for weeks. With no resistance to his desire, he didn’t binge himself into diabetes. He experienced it and moved on to his next desire. He spent no time rationalizing his desire, nor did he ever negotiate with himself. He wanted what he wanted with not a whiff of guilt (that emotion has not be ingrained in him yet). It’s worth noting that in his powerful clarity, he even inspired the people around him (me) to help him.
And yet as well-intentioned adults, so often we act in the opposite way. We deny ourselves our desires under the legitimate-sounding banners of health, safety, practicality, morality…
But desires do not go away over time and denial leads to resentment. Denying your desires just means you are denying your desires. It does not make you noble. Or practical. Or smart. It just means you’re choosing not to allow something you want due to some fear-based belief of what might befall you if you were to have your desire now.
In share this story to offer you two reminders.
1) When you allow yourself to follow what feels better to you in every moment, you live in the state of alignment. Alignment creates more alignment.
2) With regards to any potential concerns about #1, you can trust yourself. You won’t turn into the monster they warned you about. Really, you won’t.
You did not come here to sit in a waiting room thumbing through old magazine. You came for the ice cream.
So have it now and enjoy the hell out of it.
I dated a woman in grad school whose parents took care of her. Good care.
They paid her rent for a nice apartment, took care of her bills, gave her a car, and so on.
“She needs it,” her parents said.
And they needed to be good, supportive parents.
In their minds, why wouldn’t they support their daughter? Why wouldn’t they help her when they had the means to do so? This way, the thinking went, she could focus on what was really important: her studies.
And you know what? They were right. She was able to focus on her studies, get her degree, and get a job. She climbed up the ladder in her field, ending up with a prestigious job with a rock-solid paycheck. Mission accomplished.
From the outside, she’d “made it.” Certainly her parents were proud and I’m sure they felt like their efforts paid off in spades. After all, it worked.
But having been with her at the beginning of her career, there were some hidden costs from her parents’ support. The biggest being that she postponed her mastery of a critical skill, the skill of making decisions for herself. After all, why do that sort of work when it’s being handled for you? I wouldn’t.
The real kicker is that if you’re not learning how to make decisions for yourself, you lose focus on what you value. When you’re unsure on what you value, it’s not unusual to find yourself somewhere down the road, feeling lost wondering, “How did I get here?”
Ironically, what brought us together as a couple was our mutual love of freedom. She really wanted to be an artist, but nowhere along the line did she need to CHOOSE to be artist. She never had to make that choice for herself. And so she never did.
Instead, she proceeded down the carpeted path that others laid out before her. Without fully realizing it, she traded her freedom and her love of creating things for a sack of gold. Her job became her life. She had little time for anything else, including the family she desired. Her job dictated what she did, when she did it, with whom she did things. Her job determined where she lived. Our lifestyles got far enough out of sync that it no longer made sense to stay together. And so we didn’t.
Going back to those grad school years, I was on my own. My parents were not involved financially or otherwise. Why would they be? I was an adult. They had their lives to tend to and I had mine. And in my life, I had to make decisions. Did I want to live in the $350 apartment, the one I could afford, or the posh $700 apartment and take out a loan to do so? Hmmmmn. Did I want to get a side job to pay for my car and insurance or ride my bike? Hmmmmn.
When I finished my degree and my only job prospect was in Alabama, a geographic area that had no appeal to me other than the glimmer of a paycheck, I knew that it was time for me to go in another direction. The freedom of living where I wanted to live trumped taking a job just for the money.
As I look back, I believe there’s nothing more valuable than having the clarity of your own preferences. As a result of learning how to take responsibility for my own decisions, my life is aligned with what I value (freedom) and really, alignment is the whole secret to a Very Cool Life. This is the creation I am most proud of today. This is what I want for people who desire a life of freedom, ease, and connection.
All these thoughts started percolating as I’ve been hearing lots of parents talk about their teenagers lately. The common complaint is that the child doesn’t value anything or shows no direction. All they want to do is connect online, or play games, or text on their phones (which they are constantly losing and breaking).
Who buys the phones and pays for the service, I ask?
“Well, me…” they all say,
…But, they need it.”