“True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” ― Leo Tolstoy
Sometimes you have that nagging feeling that you are leaving a special time behind. You can see with absolute clarity that one phase of your life is over and another is about to begin. You hope that the next era will produce something close to the opportunities, experiences, relationships, and memories you have just lived. There may be an overwhelming sense of relief; you’ve rung the bell, checked the box, weathered the storm, dodged the bullet, or whatever metaphor applies. You look back with appreciation, while looking forward with some combination of excitement and trepidation.
The fact is, change can be scary. We’ve observed this time and again through the eyes of our children. At the start of each school year we dealt with some form of anxiety – new teachers, new subjects, new surroundings, new classmates. It always seemed to take about two weeks to realize that everything was going to be okay. By the conclusion of the school year, despite the excitement of summer, they lamented the end of daily interactions with favorite friends and activities. This predictable routine became a type of annual rite of passage.
Overcoming the fear of change is a way that we, as humans, grow. Our daughter, for example, wrestled with mastering her environment through her interactions food. In kindergarten, her great challenge was with vegetables. She didn’t eat them, so she didn’t know their names. She flunked a unit in school because she couldn’t identify or differentiate between broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus. She even got to a point where she didn’t want to go to school for fear that she would be forced to eat one of the detested veggies. Her childhood diet was restricted to macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers, or cheese quesadillas.
In college, however, our daughter began to display more confidence in unexpected and subtle ways. During her junior year, she traveled to Prague for a semester of study and travel. Having seen the movie “Taken,” we were traumatized by the thought of our ‘little girl’ making her way alone in a foreign city. But, she arrived, found an apartment, and quickly learned her way around. When we visited, she proudly toured us through ‘her’ city and to her favorite haunt, The Bake Shop. We were shocked to learn that she had become infatuated with Pumpkin Soup – the child who wouldn’t eat a single vegetable during childhood. And, she suddenly loved Sriracha sauce on everything – the girl whose diet was as bland as could be. She miraculously had found her way; creating new routines and defining a new form of familiar.
I hope that part of the confidence to embrace change comes from the knowledge that she can always come home. Sometime after buying a new car last year, my wife and I noted that our GPS placed dots on the map. At first, we thought these markers highlighted where we were going. Later we realized that this was not the case. It turns out these dots denoted the proverbial ‘bread crumbs’ that were left to mark where we had traveled before. While a trail of crumbs can show the way to safety, it’s far more important to focus on where you are going. Relish the memories you created, but look forward to the new ones yet to come.
This weekend we are in New Orleans celebrating our daughter’s college graduation. By all counts she has had a truly wonderful college experience. She enjoyed all that the city has to offer. She excelled academically. And during her first few weeks of school she met a great group of friends – the rare type with whom you know you will share not just four years, but many future memories.
It is from this incredible experience that she will leap into the future. At times of great change, we often have to leave cherished things behind. We leave the familiar for the unknown. But, difficult as they may be, transitions are times when anything and everything is possible.
To our dear daughter: As you pass through this milestone, we hope you will embrace the opportunities that lie ahead. We are proud of what you have accomplished and the type of young woman you have become. We’ve left crumbs along the way, so you can always find your way home, and hope that this knowledge will give you the confidence to take risks and know that everything will work out in the end.
Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”