On things I want to tell my daughter, revised

05 August 2016

A couple of years ago, I wrote a list poem of things I wanted to tell my daughter. When I reread them now, there’s a desperation and forcefulness to them that makes me uncomfortable. Of course, this piece wasn’t about telling my daughter at all; it was about telling myself, things no one had ever told me and which I needed, deeply, to hear. I felt weaker than I do now, and, in that weakness, I feel an overcompensating aggression. Hence the discomfort. But that doesn’t mean the idea of what advice I should give and take is not still something I like to think about. So I went through and made a slightly revised list of things I want to tell my daughter.

  1. Have your own money. This is still number one. It will always be number one. Have your own money, your own place, your own name. What you decide to do with any of that afterwards is up to you, but make sure you know you what it is to have it first.
  2. Say yes, then figure out how.
  3. Understand that in order to protect your ability to say yes, you sometimes will have to say no. These times will increase the more successful you are, and while I know you had to say yes to anything to earn that success, it’s not sustainable. The trick is to know what you want and what you stand for, and use your nos and yeses to define and express that.
  4. You are never obligated to give anyone the answer they want to hear. Even if they really, really want to hear it. Especially if they take it for granted they’ll hear it.
  5. Own your accomplishments. They’re yours. Talk about them as naturally as anything else.
  6. Don’t be afraid of being alone. Sometimes it’s necessary. Often, it’s beautiful.
  7. Empathy is difficult. Do it anyway. It makes you smarter and stronger, and calmer.
  8. Don’t mistake empathy as a tool you use to force others to focus on your feelings. It’s not just a word, it’s a constant demonstration. It’s not in the grand gestures but in the little, human moments.
  9. Expect empathy from others. Gently let go when and where you don’t get it.
  10. Don’t be afraid of silence or stillness. Break the habits of reactive movement and distraction.
  11. Understand that bad habits are very hard to break, and good habits even harder to form. Believe in the small action, repeated consistently. It takes years, but it works.
  12. Go for a walk. Yes, now. Or, at least when you’re done reading this.
  13. Don’t get too tied to your expectation of someone or something outside your self, but also don’t forget to hope. Hope is good. Forgetting how to hope will end up hurting worse than the occasional disappointment will.
  14. There are no shortcuts. In all things—professional, personal, emotional—you will have to buckle down and do the work, and sometimes you will have to do it for a long time before it pays off.
  15. People will not always see, or will often misinterpret, your value, so make sure you know it yourself. Know what you’re good at, know what you’re not good at. Know how to improve. Know what’s not worth it. Know that sometimes you’re going to have to prove yourself. It’s okay. Do the work.
  16. Some people will never see your value. That’s okay too. Have empathy where they don’t. You’ll be happier for it. Gently, let go.
  17. Be eagerly, foolishly sincere. Enthusiasm is nothing to be ashamed about. Take time for yourself when you need it, but don’t hide. Remember to stretch and grow and challenge.
  18. It’s never too late for anything, to mend what’s broken, to right what you did wrong, to start down a new path.
  19. Use what you were given to make the world more just. Help whenever and wherever you can. And listen first, before you help.
  20. Ask for help when you need it. Being open to kindness is nothing to be ashamed about.
  21. I did not raise you to have an easy life. I was never interested in tailoring your world to suit your needs, and for most of your life, I couldn’t have even if I wanted to. Out of both circumstance and spirit, I raised you to be a warrior. I raised you to fight to make the world better. And I promise to keep aspiring to that myself, as an example.
  22. Keep growing. Always.
  23. You are utterly free.
  24. Someday, make your own list. Even if it’s just for yourself. That’s mostly what writing is for, anyway.

See all essays