This I Believe

Sherrie - Saint Paul, Minnesota
Entered on December 22, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe there ought to be a how-to manual for life. And each of us should be required to read it at an early age.

We know how to walk on the moon, cure diseases and develop bombs capable of wiping out entire cities. Why can’t we develop a “successful life-skills” curriculum and make it required for young people? I know, I know. It’s the job of parents to teach these skills. But what about parents who don’t have these skills themselves? What happens to their kids?

For some of us, it has meant that we live life unconsciously. We don’t know that we don’t know. We are asleep and don’t realize it. And we raise our own kids to be sleepwalkers too.

For others of us, we begin to realize that we have been asleep. Perhaps it hits us during the pain of a dead marriage or divorce. Maybe we’ve been jolted back to life by a nagging depression. Or a decade doing work we find unfulfilling. We may just be tired of envying others who seem more alive than we are.

When and if we decide to wake up, we then face the difficult challenge of change. Can I un-learn the unsuccessful habits I developed so long ago? We try self-help and therapy. Some turn to religion to guide them on the dark path of the unknown.

I’d like to think there’s a better way. If we taught our youth basic life-skills while they were still forming their “how to be in this world” views we could prevent their subsequent need for divorce, depression and therapy later in life. Not to mention how much more and earlier they would benefit society. They would already have the framework of what to do, and if they got off track, they could just remind themselves of what they already know.

I would much rather have taken an hour a week at the age of ten to learn how to delay gratification, regulate emotions, control impulses, respect myself and others, eat healthy foods, exercise, be creative, set goals, manage my time, know my values and live by them, understand the joy of helping others in need and generally how to be a productive, joyful member of society – – than have to spend an obscene amount of money and an hour a week with a therapist trying to learn the same things at the age of thirty-three.

I know that every healthy and happy person has their own unique path to success. But there are some common threads to which everyone, regardless of their race, gender, religion or socioeconomic background should have equal access. I would like my 18 month old daughter to already be who she wants to be by the age of thirty-three. I’d like her to learn successful skills early in her life so her adult years can be spent looking outward to the world wondering how she can help others rather than inward wondering how to help herself.