I am frozen in fear.
What if I make a mistake? What if this turns out awful and I’ve wasted all of this time and effort?
What if I fail?
Nearly fifty-years-old, I’m still haunted by ‘what-ifs’—the crippling terror of being wrong—and I’m sick of it. This is not the adventure I once dreamed of living.
My father-in-law once convinced his young bride that she was a terrible cook. She was so inept in the kitchen, she couldn’t even make Jell-O. After mixing up a batch, she’d stick it in the fridge and later discover a panful of colored water.
Just four months before the release of my book, X-Plan Parenting, my wife and I awoke to a living nightmare on a beautiful February morning.
Our teenage son was gone.
Not left early for school (as he sometimes did). Not asleep on the couch instead of his bed (another norm).
Left behind was a note, telling us not to worry, that he would be okay, but he just couldn’t take this life anymore.
As another school year winds down, I find myself remembering those teachers who taught me far more than their subject matter—lessons about an unknown world full of challenges and possibilities, and things about myself which they saw but I couldn’t.
My college-age daughter once shared with me a handwritten letter from one of her high school teachers. She’d held on to it, not just because the words are precious and true, but because they came from a man who remains passionate about stirring the hearts and minds of young people.
That’s something we should cherish.
I’m sharing this letter (with permission) because it offers something we need more of right now. It’s an awesome reminder for teachers, parents, and students about the lessons that are—ultimately—most important.
“You’re going to get shot at your coffee meeting,” my oldest son, Ben, texts me.
“Maybe,” I reply.
He’s been following my dialogue with a stranger on Twitter. I fired off a snarky comment about a local news story that was getting national attention, and this guy challenged my knowledge of the situation.
“This is my hometown,” I shot back at him. “I know everyone.”
He immediately returned my volley (like any dehumanized bot). “Mine too, big deal.”
At that point, I had him. He couldn’t be a local—I just knew it!—so I called his bluff.
Anxiety and depression haunt most families. We try to exorcise the demons with therapy, prayer, prescription drugs, physical activity … you name it. However, the numbers don’t lie. Things are getting worse, and our kids are suffering the fallout.
Anxiety is now the most common form of mental illness in the US, affecting 10% of young teens. That number swells to 30% by the age of eighteen, until we find upwards of 40% of adults suffering from anxiety.
Anxiety and depression often hang out together, and our technologically advanced, postmodern lifestyles (including our warped online realities and social media melodrama) only seem to be dragging our kids deeper into this mental/emotional hurricane.
My family is rich with the world’s beauty. Among my loved ones, you’ll find that Native America, Europe (East and West), Asia, Africa, Central and South America are all well represented. And I LOVE that.
That’s why I was taken aback when Lin-Manuel Miranda called me out for my racism. He didn’t realize it (he wouldn’t know me from any other subway stranger), but that’s exactly what he did.
The worst part? He was right.
I was thirteen-years-old the first time I got thrown out of a Dairy Queen.
The manager came charging out from behind the counter like an angry drill sergeant. He glared at Andy and me with an iron jaw and then threw a stiff thumb over his shoulder toward the door.
“Out!” he hissed.
“What!” Andy demanded (although it came out Wh-Wh-Wh-What!). “What about them?” He motioned toward the trio of octogenarians—a balding, silver fox and his two blue-haired lady friends—seated two booths behind us. They were stifling laughs with handfuls of tattered napkins.
“Close your eyes,” I told my teenage recovery group. “Imagine yourself twenty years from now.” I gave them time to conjure up images. “You bump into somebody from this group, and they ask, ‘So, what do you do?’”
I let the question hang in the air.
“What’s your answer?”
As they opened their eyes, I saw a few glints of hope, but mostly just doubt and anxiety. Some of them had already lost the ability to dream, and that’s tragic. In all of them, however, I recognized a familiar fear—the horror of failure—twisted up with self-loathing for not measuring up to society’s standard of success.
When I meet with teens in addiction recovery, they know the first question I’m going to ask. I always reserve a portion of our time together for one seemingly insignificant inquiry:
“What’s something that made you laugh?”
This past week, a couple of girls had a uniquely silly experience, and one of them made a point to take note of it. “We have to remember this to tell Bert when he asks for something funny!” she’d told her friend. And they had.
Both girls were laughing so hard, it took several minutes of gasping and happy-tear wiping to tell their funny story.