This morning, when you woke up,1 you asked to watch Sesame Street on television while you ate breakfast. As I scrolled through the DVR, you suddenly changed your mind and asked for Peter Pan instead. This wasn’t the Disney cartoon movie; this was the live performance that NBC aired a week or two ago, even though their first foray into the live musical realm, The Sound of Music, was a colossal flop. Peter Pan might have been slightly better, but not significantly. You have your parents’ genes, though, which means that you’re drawn to musical performances and, since you seemed to enjoy Peter Pan, we kept it for you.
When I left, I ended up having to deal with a difficult work situation almost immediately. The details aren’t really important; the morning went on, as it always does. I found myself thinking afterward, though, about why I had been so affected by what happened. Essentially, I had expected a certain result, and things ended up happening differently because of the other people involved. This wasn’t the first time things had worked out this way, either; based on previous experience, I probably should have expected the morning to go the way it did. And yet, I got my hopes up that things might be different this time around, despite having considerable evidence to the contrary. Was I being open to the possibility of change or simply acting out the definition of insanity (doing the same action and expecting different results)?
I’m choosing to believe that I was being open to a new experience. Perhaps it was a mistake; after all, I was left feeling disappointed when the people I was depending on did not follow through. Even so, would things have really been different if I had assumed the worst? I still would have had to put in the same amount of effort and the situation would have still turned out negatively.
(You may be wondering what my work experience has to do with Peter Pan. As the great philosopher, Elle Woods, once said, “I have a point, I promise.”2)
The world in which we live is full of disappointment. You’re not always going to get the toys you want or the best grade on a test or hit the game winning home run. You’re going to expect things from your friends, your teachers and, especially, your family. Hopefully, most of the time they will come through for you. Your friends won’t forget to invite you out with them, your teachers will challenge you to think about more than just the test material and your family will always be there for you. Sometimes, though, you’re going to be let down. People aren’t perfect and they do not always live up to your expectations (and yes, unfortunately, your mom and I fall under this category too).
Here’s the thing, though: you’re not Bart Simpson and I’m not Homer. The lesson here is not “Can’t win, don’t try.” I don’t want you to grow up thinking that the right way to go through life is to constantly reminisce about how much easier it was when you were younger because you didn’t have to deal with adult problems. Things might have been easier in ’83, as it were, but I think there’s a way to grow up and still be open to new experiences. Peter Pan is beloved3 because of his ability to lead the Lost Boys and inspire people to use their imaginations, but he is a flawed character too; he’s stuck in a state of arrested development, constantly looking for someone else to take care of him (Wendy) while maintaining an ongoing mistrust of adults (Captain Hook). Never allowing himself to grow up means that he never becomes jaded, but it also means that he’s choosing willful ignorance over engaging with the world around him.4
I’m a clinical social worker. Part of my job involves helping people to change their behaviors to improve a given set of circumstances. I have to believe that people can change; if I believe otherwise, I would have to choose a different profession. My hope for you is that you will be able to view the world through an optimistic lens. I hope you’ll believe that things will actually turn out for the best and that people will live up to the expectations you set, even when all of the evidence states otherwise. As painful as it is to be disappointed, the feeling of satisfaction that you will get when you push someone to be better and they show you that they are is going to be worth the wait.
1. At 7:30, by the way, which is late for you and was perfect for giving me time to get everything ready for you for school before I had to leave for work. Thank you!↩
3. See? I told you I’d get there.↩