Learning new skills is a blast for me. I’m not “young” anymore – when learning things all the time is expected, but learning new things gives me great joy, even if it might be challenging, frustrating, expensive, and just down right hard. In fact, learning it in spite of those things, is probably the most fun part.
But as I try to talk with people about my passion for taking on new challenges two things often happen.
The first is I see that look. You know the one – they’re trying to be supportive, but they’re bored. They can’t relate and they don’t really want to.
The other thing that happens is that I encounter people who start to listen to my new idea, and then tell me all the reasons why I shouldn’t even try. Ironically, these are usually people close to me. Maybe the others are thinking it, but they’re not engaged enough to try to save me from my own folly.
But it’s not folly. Lots of things don’t turn out the way I want them to, or thought they would. But it’s very rare that I truly regret trying something.
I’ve been engaging in two bigger pursuits lately. The first started about two and a half years ago when we knew we were going to go to France for a few weeks to work with some missionaries. We decided it would be helpful to us, and polite to our hosts, if we tried to learn some basic French phrases. I did some investigating and because of the beautifully connected network of home educators around the world was able to find a lovely woman in France who was willing to teach my family French via Skype calls three times per week for a few months. It sounded perfect!
But guess what? People tried to talk me out of it! They said it would be too hard. They said we weren’t going to be there long enough to make it worthwhile. They said we wouldn’t be able to practice with anyone. And craziest of all, they said that we shouldn’t attempt to do this without a teacher – and by “teacher” they meant a college professor.
Thankfully, I ignored them and said, “Why not take lessons from a native French speaking home schooling mom?”
And guess what – we learned French. My kids learned basic phrases and at least enough to show that we were trying hard to engage in the French culture. And guess what else. Even though I’m a grandmother, and everyone EVERYWHERE says you can’t learn a new language after age 40, I did learn it – and I found out that I LOVED learning it! So after our trip was over and we were all back in the States, I continued learning French, and I continue to love it.
(My efforts paid off big-time, too, when I went to a French-speaking country in Africa last year and had to get through airport security during the Ebola outbreak with only French. That was no easy task!)
The thing is – no one thought it was really worth doing. No one thought I was serious, and NO ONE really thought I would be able to do it.
But I did.
Because I just never listened to them. It’s not that I didn’t hear them – I just didn’t pay any attention to them.
My sister-in-law asked me a long time ago how my siblings and I got such “I can do that” spirits. I didn’t really have an answer for her then, because, to be frank, I never knew that our attitudes about facing challenges were anything other than ordinary. But that question has stuck with me over the years and I think I’ve come to a conclusion.
Why do we look at life and think, “I can do that”?
Because no one was ever around to tell us we couldn’t.
Now, I’m not advocating leaving your children alone for extended periods of time the way we were – we got into a lot of trouble that having an adult in the general vicinity might have spared us from. But my mom was working and we were often – usually – on our own. We didn’t really run in a pack – we each did our own things. And no one was around to tell us we couldn’t.
If we wanted to cook something we did. We burned things (and ourselves) but we learned how. And then we enjoyed the fruits of our labor — because no one told us we couldn’t.
If we wanted to build something we found a way to do it (and knew the neighbors who would give us scraps of wood and bits of this or that that could be used). I remember figuring out that I could take drawers out of discarded furniture and make miniature rooms out of them. I stacked them on top of each other and made whole houses. I used old clothing for curtain material and learned how to use an electric jig saw (God only knows why the neighbor trusted me with that on my own – I was 9!) to make decorative “roofing.” I braided rugs out of blue jean hems that my aunt cut off of her jeans that were too long. I’m sure these creations were ghastly looking in reality, but to me they were castles that any queen would have been honored to live in. I built them — because no one told me I couldn’t.
When I wanted to learn how to sew I found someone who would show me the basics and then I sewed my little fingers off using any and every scrap of fabric I could hustle out of anyone — because no one told me I couldn’t.
I was a terrible reader – actually, I still am. I have to say the words I read in my head or I can’t understand what I’m reading, so I am s.l.o.w. But I love to read. (I think I like knowing what is in the books better than the actual reading of them, but you get the picture.) I want to know, and slowness means I can’t read as fast as someone else, but I figured out along the way that I could still end up reading a lot of books in 15 minute increments — because no one told me I couldn’t.
Now being without any parental supervision wasn’t the best for us for a whole host of other reasons, but one good thing that came out of it was that (when my grandmother wasn’t around at least) there was also no one being critical of us. We had the freedom to dream and experiment and fail and try again. We made colossal messes (yeah – we got in big trouble) but that never seemed to deter us from trying the next great idea that came into our minds. If something sounded like a great idea the only question that ever came up was, “Why not?”
So when I became a mother I decided early on that I was going to ask myself “why not?” when my kids wanted to do something rather than just say “no.”
Sometimes there are good reasons not to do something – but mostly there aren’t.
Fear of failure, of what others will think, of doing something unnecessary or “foolish,” or even of making colossal messes – none of these are good reasons to say, “no.”
And I’m going to shock some of you by telling you that even “safety” isn’t always a good reason to say, “no.” Scrapes and bruises are part of the learning process. Falling down and failing are part of the learning process. Dealing with disappointing results, frustrations, defeats, and even losses are all part of the learning process. OK – I’m not talking about the life-and-death things you really do need to say “no” to – I’m talking about the things like climbing trees and swinging on rope swings out over the pond and sitting on the porch roof and shooting BB guns kind of stuff. Why would we want to keep that from our children? Why not walk through those things with our children instead?
Giving my kids the freedom to dream and try and fail and fly was good and right. It taught them to keep working at things even when it was hard. It taught them that hard work and tenacity pays off in expected and unexpected ways. It taught them to be courageous enough to take the right kinds of risks, and that failing at something is not the same as being a failure.
But most of all, I believe it taught them that I love them not their performance. They knew that I would be there to rejoice in their successes, but that I would also be there to pick up the pieces when things fell apart – and that tomorrow I would encourage them to try again. Isn’t that how God loves us?
You see I believe with all of my heart that God gave us an imagination so that we could dream big thoughts and then do big things. We were not created for the ordinary only – we were created for the extra-ordinary, too. Our created world is full of wonder and brilliance that a stifled, critical, “safe” childhood will never allow to be revealed.. I have made lots of mistakes over the years to be sure, but I do not regret having a “why not?” attitude while discipling my children into young men and women.
I wouldn’t change that for the world.
And now that my kids are almost all out of the house and grown, it doesn’t need to end – I can still live life in a “why not?” kind of way.
My latest adventure? Starting my own soap-making business! Lovely Bee Soaps (in French lovely bee is La Jolie Abeille — because I know you were wondering and it’s WAY cool that I know!) began as a way to bless my neighbors last Christmas. Making hundreds of little bars of lovely, luxury, oh-so-beautifully-smelling soaps was not a business idea at all, but an affordable way to give something hand-made to our whole neighborhood.
But after we gave them out to neighbors and family and friends, people began asking me to sell them some. Truthfully, at first I was inclined to say, “Oh no – I just did that as a little hobby sort of thing… just to be nice.” But after years of training my mind I caught myself and said, “Why not?” instead.
Going from hobby to business is much harder than I thought it would be. The work that needs to go into learning things that I never dreamed I would need to know is crushing sometimes. Trying recipes and fragrances is great fun, but labeling things so that the FDA doesn’t come and shut me down, or so that my customers know what they’re getting and want to come back – are all new things! The website needs work – a LOT… (www.lovelybeesoaps.com – if you look and it’s not up yet you’ll know I’m still learning that, too!), and marketing is a new game… and accounting and pricing…. It’s all brand new to me. But why not?
If this works it will be a way to earn income without me leaving our home. If this works I have the opportunity to enrich people’s lives through the small luxury (or la petite jolie) of really, really nice soaps. If this works I’ve created at least one job (mine) and maybe more! If this works it could be GREAT! And if it doesn’t, oh well. I tried and failed. I’ll still get up as long as I have breath and pour myself into whatever it is the Lord has in front of me to do. It won’t be the end of the world.
Love your kids enough to let them dream and try and succeed and fail. They will love you for it.
And if you know anyone who is looking for shaving soap, no lie, I found the BEST recipe ever — everyone who uses it raves about it and comes back for more! (Seriously – I tested the foam on this stuff and it was still stiff and luxurious after 20 minutes!) Send me a note and I’ll hook you up!
And the next time inspiration hits you (or one of your kids!) stifle the urge to protest and give the gift instead of asking, “hey – why not?”