Written by: Christopher Sell
Primary Source: The Wednesday Wake Up
I was recently reading the script for a commencement speech given by critically-acclaimed author George Saunders to the graduating class of 2013 at Syracuse University. His message serves as a poignant reminder about letting go of the trivial things we so often become enamored with – things like accomplishment and success that seem anything but trivial in our early days of adulthood – in favor of bigger things like kindness and love. I really liked how he described the somewhat innate circumstances in which we find ourselves that often times make it difficult to embrace kindness, despite all of its apparent benefits to the human soul:
Saunders went on to posit that as we age, we grow more kind, and for those who have children, parenthood stands to expedite the process of replacing our egos and thirst for success with kindness and love.
That part really struck me.
As a first-time parent, I think it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of messages first-time fathers hear about what they stand to lose once they become parents.
Date nights, pub crawls, frequent restaurant visiting, Man Time and Man Hugs, spare cash for expensive things that nourish our quest for accomplishment. These are the things – among others – that we understand to be our concessions for signing the dotted line and entering into the world of fatherhood.
But as a first-time father, I completely underestimated the amount of joy being a dad would bring to me. Fatherhood has helped me loosen my grip of my expedition for accomplishment. I don’t care nearly as much about what happens to me, as long as my daughter is good. I care more about spending time with her and providing for her, and less about myself.
And it’s such a liberating feeling.
I still want things for myself – rightfully so, on occasion – and I still look for ways to nourish my own soul (movie dates included), but to a much lesser extent. I used to be so preoccupied with what my friends were doing in their lives and how my life stacked up next to their own. I was so concerned about the career milestones I was supposed to be hitting like clockwork.
Things have changed. I still have a thirst for career accomplishment, but it’s lessened now. I still have a thirst for success, but my definition of success has shifted. I’ve been freed of (some of) my own gluttony, all thanks to my daughter. Maybe it’s because I don’t have time anymore to fret about the things I used to be so concerned about. Working full-time and devoting your time and energy to your partner and child doesn’t leave time for many self-interests, much less time for worrying about how I stack up next to my peers in terms of accomplishments.
I suspect, however, that part of my liberation is because my soul – publicly or maybe secretly – craves the kindness we develop as parents, learning how to continually put our kids first.
And yes, being a parent can be hard. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine and unicorns. Sleep is harder to come by. Stylish and rugged Subaru crossovers are traded in for the perennial minivan. Friends are seen less.
But I also think parenthood steers us in the direction of kindness, like Saunders eloquently suggests, and as we do those things that incline us toward the important things, our souls will burn brighter. We’ll shine with kindness.
And we’ll be happier.