I've Lived In Chico, CA 9 Years Now. Incredible.
The Power of the Question: Going from 0-10
A few weeks ago, I led my Chico State Business students in a Strengths Finder workshop, which I was able to do thanks to a grant I had received to support the purchase of supplies. Now this seminar can be led in a number of ways; for college students, I emphasize areas in which they are naturally strong (strength here defined as natural talent +experience), and how to match up their strengths with the needs of the world through their professions and avocations. Naturally I caution them about their strengths having a flip side to be aware of, but for the most part, focusing on the good their strengths bring to life would help them handle weaknesses, as long as focus on their strong capabilities was maintained.
A student raised his hand, offering the kind of question I and probably most instructors who love their work live for: “Someone told me that every ten years, we become entirely different people. What do you think?”
Wow. Although I spent a fair amount of my life asking a variant of that question, I never thought of human growth in terms of decades. I mean, we know we don’t wake up on our fortieth birthdays suddenly physically, psychologically, emotionally different than the night before, when we were 39. Still, looking back, I can agree that life trajectory on many levels can be measured pretty well in decades. We can see this in our photographs: we become different people. Some of this can be attributed to age, naturally, but I am convinced not all of it, not by a long shot. We think differently, we carry ourselves somehow differently, we reflect differently. Ten years changes us a lot. Plastic surgery and endless dieting and exercise may alter us, but every decade we are, all of us, pretty clearly ten years different.
My master’s thesis project was a book I wrote entitled “Not the Person I Was.” My student’s question was an extension of earlier life inquiries. My project reflected the idea that people change as much, if not more, on the basis of their response to loss as in response to their natural strengths. Arguably, the manner in which we choose our responses to pain and loss may have more impact on the quality of our lives, as we perceive them, than our natural strengths, which can be cast aside if not buried.
His question, once I had a few days to reflect, helped me see that my engagement in the process of loss found its origin in the first ten years of my life. I saw this clearly when I began to break down my life in 10-year segments to derive my decade-specific lessons learned list.
I’ve already written and talked plenty about my childhood, so to offer up too many details would be redundant. Since my blog is written with my kids in mind, mostly, I’ll cut to the chase on the period of my life, from 0-10, and what life had taught me by then. It was much more than I think I gave life full credit for in the past. Each lesson here reflects back to an innocent question, the kind kids ask.
The following is in no particular order of age or significance.
- There is a loving universe, but it can be very hard to see God especially on a cloudy day. (3.5 years)
- Hell must be more like the back of a garbage truck than fire. (I am not sure why I thought of this around 4 years of age, but it would become the seed of my propensity to think of hell in real terms).
- Although I didn’t understand why my mother and father acted as they did, they were mine, my family was mine, they were important to me and I could not imagine life without them. (Around the age of five, I came to this conclusion when my father threatened to give me to the garbage man on Tuesday morning because of something I did or didn’t do the day before).
- You could not trust nuns completely but they were trying to make you better.
- You cannot get married at the age of eight years old, nor should you be looking for a husband.
- All priests were as close to perfect as people could be, and you could not marry them. (I refined my thoughts considerably later of course).
- The concept of purgatory was ridiculous, and you should not burn in hell (or its equivalent) for committing a mortal sin if you forgot or had no intention of doing anything bad but accidentally participated in a bad thing, or someone forced you to. (Remember, many fairly minor acts were considered “mortal sins” in the Catholic Church a way back).
- Fathers didn’t have to come home if they didn’t want to.
- It was possible to love something one day, and be sick of it the next. (Fish sticks and some people).
- Grandparents could save your life – or at least, make it feel worth living.
So, that is my short list of lessons I learned from one to ten. I believe that the book I wrote in my fifties was an extension of something I intuited from my earliest years - questions are redemptive, perhaps more so than resolute answers. In any case, questions comprise the universe I dwell in.
Where were you from 0-10? If anyone knows what or where they were before then, I am REALLY interested!
Next up: 10-20.