There are several things on my bucket list that have yet to be completed. For example, I want to finish my PhD, write a cheesy but successful fantasy/romance novel, and visit South Korea where I can chase down my K-drama crush, Jang Keun Suk. I’m sure those will happen in due time. Just takes persistence, right?
I am glad to report there is one thing I was able to cross off my bucket list as of last night – doing a TEDx talk on stage. It is now the following morning and as I sit here sipping my coffee watching my dogs eat their breakfast, it just hit me. I did it! Now what do I do?
I’ll tell you what I do. I need to do exactly what I tell my students to do after every presentation. Take some time and reflect on the experience and think about what you learned. So, here are some lessons learned from my first date with TED:
Having a date with TED is an exhilarating and exhausting experience. Everything from applying to an event to picking the outfit is emotionally draining, but it is so well worth it. If I had to do it all over again I absolutely would! I hope to get the chance. As a matter of fact, I’m pulling out the spreadsheet and starting the process all over.
When your kids are babies, you can’t wait for them to become toddlers because you think it must get easier. When they become toddlers, you can’t wait for them to begin elementary school because you think it must get easier. Then, middle school – it must get easier. Then, high school – it must get easier. Then, college – it must get easier. WRONG!
Looking back, each stage seemed as if having a child that age was the most challenging thing in the world. When your 7-year-old comes home from school and cries because he thinks he’s “stupid” because he’s not reading or writing quite like the other kids yet, you struggle with what to say and what not to say. When your 13-year-old cries because her body is developing way faster than the other girls and she has these curves the rest of them don’t have, you struggle with what to say and what not to say. When your 17-year-old comes out of the proverbial closet to you and tells you she’s gay, you struggle with what to say and what not to say. When your 20-year-old tells you he’s joining the military, you struggle with what to say and what not to say. Every one of those scenarios happened to me. I’m supposed to be the communication expert. I'm supposed to know what to say. Yet, I felt like an amateur each time.
What I have learned over the years is it’s not so much the talking that is the biggest challenge – it’s the listening, the staying quiet, the letting them make mistakes and the letting them struggle. As your kids grow, they are continuously bombarded with emotional and mental and physical challenges throughout each stage of their life. As a parent, it’s so hard to decide when to step in and try to solve the problem for them and when to let them struggle through it. The desire to protect them from everything cruel and mean in this world never ceases because the world is cruel and mean. And they must learn how to navigate through it successfully.
The biggest challenge of parenting? Learning to let them fall and figure out how to get back up again. To guide them through the challenges, but not solve them for them. To help them see the tough choices, but not make the choice for them.
I’m watching my daughter struggle right now. We learned she didn’t get as much financial aid for school this year as we thought she would. This means she cannot afford to live in the dorms. The cost is absurd. Paying rent for an apartment (provided she has a roommate) is cheaper! So, the search began.
She is quickly finding out how hard it is to search for apartments from hours away. She’s having to determine how much rent she can afford, how to factor in the cost of utilities, the commute to school, the commute to work. She’s learning about that thing called “credit” and how it impacts the down payment required for a place to stay. Yesterday, I sat and watched as she called apartment after apartment, struggling to ask questions about things she’s never had to experience before. About four phone calls in, that’s when I saw her break down. Through the tears, I could see the stress in her face and hear the desperation in her voice.
“All I want to do is go to school,” she said. “I want to be in Atlanta.” It was heartbreaking to hear.
I gave her a hug and a kiss and told her I know, it’s not fair. She loves school. She takes her role as a student seriously. She studies and makes good grades. She’s a professor’s dream student. This child belongs in school. And she’s now having to struggle with finding a place to stay or she won’t be able to go to school there. We will help supplement as much as we can, but she has to take the lead on this one. If she can’t find a place, she will have to stay home and commute to a school in our area. The thought of possibly not going back to Atlanta made her cry even more.
Life is full of tough choices. Life is unfair. Life will always find a way to throw a brick wall or a road block in her way. I have to force myself to stay back and let her get through this harsh lesson. She must do the apartment hunting herself. She must figure out the budget herself. She must make the tough choices herself. I will always be here to cushion the falls and to help kiss the bruises left by life’s punches, but these are growing pains. They never get easier.
Jennifer Furlong has 25 years’ experience in the communication field and teaches communication and public speaking courses in the Savannah area. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in Communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She currently resides in Richmond Hill, Ga. with her family of canines, felines, and humans. Let's be social! Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Just look for Professor SpeechLady. See you in cyberspace.
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