I hear myself say it every time. As they walk out the door, I try to stop myself but it still comes out. It’s almost compulsive. I know it’s not logical, but somewhere deep in my brain something is telling me, “If you don’t say it, they’ll be in a ditch somewhere shooting heroin by this afternoon.”
It’s not just my kids, mind you. I say it to just about everyone in one way or another. My wife gets it. My friends get it. Sometimes even my clients get it. But is it the best message? Is that the last thing I should say as I separate from someone and send him or her off to face the day? Should I spend my last few words reminding them that the world is a scary place and you have to keep your guard up?
What scares you?
Tossing this “be careful” message on people as they walk out the door doesn’t do much to help them. Nobody has ever turned around and said, “Oh good, thanks for reminding me. I was about to go 100 miles per hour down the interstate. Backwards. And blindfolded. That was close!” The message is for the messenger. It calms us in some way by attempting to give us the illusion of control.
Whatever we’re afraid of at that moment doesn’t exist at that moment. Fear lives in the future. It’s about what could happen more often than what is happening. Fear is about that next moment. The “what if” question keeps us awake at night because we don’t know how to answer it until we get there. The problem here is that we only exist in the present. Trying to control something that exists in a world beyond our reach is futile unless of course, you’re Dr. Strange or God.
A Brave New Message
“Don’t borrow trouble,” the old phrase goes. Existing in this present moment is enough. There’s no need to go grabbing fears about the future and dragging them into the present. We can’t really live by playing defense against an unknown enemy. Doing so robs us of the joy of what’s right in front of us.
So maybe it’s time for a new kind of message.
- “Pay attention.” Notice the world around you and be dumbfounded or awestruck at least once today.
- “Be courageous.” Do something difficult today. Something that requires that you really show up and bring your best effort.
- “Be grateful.” You’re freaking incredible. The odds of this particular mixture of molecules coming together in this very moment to make you are nothing short of a miracle. Act like it.
- “Get weird.” Folks that do normal stuff don’t change the world. Do the weird thing. Do the thing that nobody else thought of doing. There’s a weird idea out there that may change history. Go find it.
Whatever the phrase, allow the message to be one that encourages life to the full instead of one that only plays it safe. As Howard Thurman reminds us, “Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Living only happens in the present. Let your words remind those around you to stay present, and maybe practice doing the same for yourself today.
I’ll be doing the same.