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Friday, February 27, 2009

Lessons from a Precocious (Almost) Three Year Old

(This is from my Improvised Musings E-Zine. Sign up for it now!)

Kids can be devious buggers, can't they?

I don't have kids, but I had a funny experience with my best friend's (almost) three year old daughter that made me a) realize how precocious kids can be and b) made me think about the automatic reflexes we all have in place as adults that may be holding us back (I know, all that from an (almost) three year old!)

I was over at my friend Mike's house watching TV. His daughter, Katherine, was in one of those large plastic cars that she can sit in and drive around the house. Or more correctly, one of those plastic cars that is so large it tends to get stuck on everything so her parents have to keep dislodging it (whoo-hoo! fun...) This night, some of her toys are strewn on the floor making it impossible for her to drive around.

Mike says to her, "Katherine, you know the rules. You have to pick up your toys if you want to drive your car."

Without missing a beat, this (almost) three year old looks at me me and sweetly says, "Uncaboo, will you pick up my toys for me?"

(Side note: Yes, she calls me Uncaboo. No, I will not explain why right now. Yes, there is a story. No, it is not nearly as interesting as whatever you mind is currently thinking of)

I have to tell you, when this ridiculously cute, (almost) three year old asked me that, I wanted to say "sure." What can I say, I am a giant softy.

Before I could, Mike says, "No Katherine. You know the rules you have to pick up your toys yourself." He then laughs and says, "I appreciate what you are trying to do, but you have to pick them up yourself."

Now this is a well behaved kid, so she gets out of her car and cleans up her toys, no problem. To me, this was just about the cutest thing ever.

Afterward, it got me thinking about my own childhood. I remember multiple times asking adults for things that had my parents correcting me, or stopping me, or lecturing me afterward about. Sometimes they were mortified, so much so that I really got in my head that it was impolite to ask people for things. This sense carried on into my adult life, where rather than directly go after what I wanted I would sit quietly and wait my turn and hope people would notice me or give me what I want.

Let me tell you, this is not what one calls a "life success strategy." Especially as an entrepreneur. People don't come knocking down your door until you let them know what you want! (I will avoid drawing the parallel to my dating life here, *ahem*...).

Not only did I not overtly ask for a lot of things, but I would also find myself getting irritated at and disliking those direct people who would boldly ask for things that I thought was inappropriate. And you know what? Sometimes, they would get it! And that would make me more mad and annoyed at the unfairness of the world and how me, a guy playing by the rules and being polite would not get ahead, but some jerk who pushes himself forward would!

I have gotten better about this, and it is a work in progress. But now I know that while being polite is important, it is not necessarily rude to simply ask for what you want. In fact, that people who really succeed are the ones who know what they want and then take steps to get it, whether that means calling someone up on the phone, introducing themselves to a stranger, or asking to be let in to a store after the "closed" sign is hung.

The point of this story is not to question your parenting skills or to indict my parents for raising me to be passive. But you should be aware of the way you automatically respond to situations, whatever the reason.

When Ding! Happens, what is your response? Do you sit passively back and wait for someone else to fix things? Do you get flustered and angry and lash out? Do you laugh? Do you get motivated to fix it? Your response is a conditioned behavior, whether it's from your parents or through some other stimulus. The key is that if it is not serving you, you you can change it! The first step is noticing it.

So even though your parents may have raised you to "clean up your own toys," maybe now it's time you started asking for what you want, when want, and how you want it.

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