Dear Ivy: Enjoy

My Dear Ivy,

Yesterday I wrote about creating – which is something you already love to do. Today I want to follow up, and urge you never to lose the sense of wonder and enjoyment about the things you create.

I think, at your current age, you’re still in that wondrous phase when nearly everything you do is for the joy of it. As you grow older – perhaps even by the time you read this – there will be pressures, expectations, obligations, and things that just have to get done. That’s part of growing up, but My hope for you is that – in the midst of all that – you always find the time to do the things you love, simply because you love to do them.

This is another one that’s really, really hard. There will be people – including me – who ask you to do things you will decidedly not enjoy. Again, that’s just part of life. There will also be things you enjoyed once, but which no longer bring you the joy you once did.

As these things come to you, I want you to bring to mind some advice I got once, from a friend and mentor of mine:

“Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.”

That is: Don’t live from a place where your every action and interaction is governed by that pesky voice in your head that tells you “this is what you ‘should’ do.”

Instead, live from that place that says, “This is the thing that brings me joy.”

How do you do that, and still keep up with the things that just have to get done in order to have a functional life?

Here’s an example: Your brother and sister hate cleaning. And as I tell them every time we set to work cleaning something – so do I. But what I notice is that, once their space is clean and organized, they have so much more joy using that space to play and create and explore and experiment. I’ve tried to have this same conversation with them, that I’m having now with you: You can approach a task like cleaning out the basement play area one of two ways: (1) “Ugh, I hate cleaning, why do we have to do this?” or (2) “You know, I really don’t like having to pick up all this stuff, but I really do like having a clean basement to play in.”

It makes a difference.

Aside from the “have tos” of life, I also want to urge you to take time each day to just – enjoy. Maybe it will be something you’ve created or accomplished. Maybe it will be observing the work of someone else. Maybe it will simply be the warmth of another person’s presence. Whatever “it” is, just don’t get so wrapped up in the “stuff” you’re doing that you miss out on the joy of the results. The process we’ve talked about in previous letters – the experimentation and iteration and trying and failing and trying again, and getting better, until you finally succeed – that’s all really, really important. But don’t lose sight of the end result, either. When you have a victory, savor it for a moment before moving on to the next challenge. Enjoy the struggle for what it teaches you. But enjoy, too, the sense of accomplishment that comes with pondering something you achieved, and saying “I did that.”

This is another one where our culture is, in some ways, set up to make life harder. We are taught that “pride goes before a fall,” and that this means we should be reluctant to value our achievements for their own sake. But I think there’s a big difference between the satisfaction of a challenge met, and the haughty sense of superiority that comes with genuine pride – the same sense we talked about earlier in which some people need to feel “more” by making others feel “less.”

Value your achievements for their own sake, rather than for how they stack up against someone else. There is value in doing hard things. Sometimes the hardest ones are the ones which, once you accomplish them, bring the most joy (Your mom can speak to that one much more than I can, having given birth to three children). But your “hard” and someone else’s “hard” don’t have anything to do with one another. Each of us is on our own quest to find fulfillment, and I promise you that your fulfillment doesn’t ever depend on denying someone else their own.

Do the thing that brings you joy, and then take the time to enjoy it.
And I’ll be right here, enjoying it with you.

I love you.

Love,
~Dad

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