My daughter graduated from high school this past May, and is currently on The World Race (a gap year program, #3n9 as they travel to 3 different continents over the course of 9 months). This is not simply traveling around the world with a backpack; rather, they are assigned a host ministry with which to serve in each country. My daughter started with 3 months in Guatemala, then moved to South Africa and Lesotho (I had to look that one up!) for 3 months, and is now finishing up by serving in Cambodia. This isn’t an easy program. Several participants have opted out. Living out of a backpack in some pretty tough conditions (relatively speaking) can be challenging (situations like no running water, sleeping on the floor, lack of fresh food), let alone having to process some pretty rough life realities of our world around poverty, illness, and abuse.
While they may be on this program to help change the lives of others, I can safely say that my daughter and the other participants on this program have had their lives changed even more immensely. The knowledge, maturity, independence, confidence, tenacity, and perseverance they have gained on this trip is incredible.
I sent her a text the other day: “What is one thing you have learned from your experience on the World Race? Don’t think, just answer, then ask your peers the same question! Go!” Their insights are spectacular, and incredibly relevant. I know every one of us can think of a time when a relationship in our lives went wrong as communication broke down, as we assigned blame instead of taking accountability, as we viewed others with skepticism instead of trust, or as we failed to show our appreciation. These are basic tenets of human behavior that frequently occur on the destructive path that leads to failed relationships and divorce.
Here are their answers. I think you will agree with me … out of the mouths of babes (she may be 18, but …) come some pretty amazing insights!
1. “Every day we have choices. We have a choice to dive into relationships with people we meet. We have a choice to make someone smile, to take a risk, and to change a person’s world.”
We own our choices. And, we own how we treat others. We do have that choice, and that ability, to make someone else smile, to take a risk on someone, and to change someone’s world. Whether we choose to do this is in our hands. How many times have you missed out on meeting someone new, or getting to know a new friend even better because you failed to smile, failed to say that first ‘hello,’ or failed to do something nice to rock someone’s world. I’m grateful that 9 years ago my husband made a choice to come up to me at an event and introduce himself with a huge smile. He has changed my world. Proactive choices trump reactive responses.
2. “Life to the fullest does exist, we just have to choose it.”
Many people I speak with seem to relish their own pain and agony. They like to own their story about all the bad things that have happened to them. You’ve heard it … “My life is miserable because he did this … “ or “I have no money because she did that …” You know what? We can all lead full and fulfilling lives if we choose to. One of my favorite mantras that got me through my divorce was, “I can’t control what happens to me, but I can control how I react to it.” I refuse to be a victim, and let life happen to me. We can choose to be happy and lead a full life in spite of the chaos around us. Personal accountability trumps blaming others.
3. “Don’t have expectations … ever (of other people or of the world).”
Putting our own expectations on other people sets us up for failure and disappointment. The only person we can control is our self. We can and should encourage others, challenge them, and hold them accountable, but at the end of the day, we will frequently be disappointed if we live life expecting things from others. Instead, we need to focus on your own deliverables, our own energy, our own impact on our relationships, and the rest will follow. Delivering to your own expectations trumps holding onto expectations of others.
4. “People are beautiful. It is your responsibility to find it in them, not theirs to show you. Be curious, not judgmental. You can learn a lot more from a stranger than from a friend.”
So many people approach relationships with others with an expectation (there it is again!) that they have to prove how awesome they are. Have you ever been on a date where the entire conversation centers on the other person and at the end of the meal you realize not one question has been asked about you, your life, your passions, or your interests? It’s exhausting! Instead, we are better served by our curiosity and our real desire to learn more about others (especially those not “like” us). Conversational curiosity trumps monologues.
5. “Joy starts with thankfulness.”
There is a reason that so much has been written in recent years about keeping a gratitude journal, or dedicating a part of each day to being intentional in thinking about thankfulness. When we realize how much we have to be thankful for, and actively recognize those things, we become more joyful. And, who doesn’t like being around joyful people? Joyfulness trumps grumpiness.
6. “Don’t put a Nalgene® (water bottle) in the freezer. It will explode. Thank goodness for lifetime warranties.”
Yes, there is a relationship lesson in this one too. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we freeze. Sometimes we explode. We often make a mess in our lives and in the lives of others. Fortunately, we can honor our own lifetime warranty. We have an amazing opportunity to build credibility and restore trust when we admit our mistakes, and then work to make things right … at no cost to others. This is the cornerstone of building trust and commitment in relationships. Admitting mistakes trumps denying responsibility.
7. “Trust people.”
Life would be so much nicer if we all started from a place of assuming people are acting with good intentions. When this is the starting premise, suspicion disappears, and the potential for misinterpreting comments and behaviors is minimized. Trust people, until given a reason to not trust. It’s that simple. Trust trumps suspicion.
There you have it. Incredible responses to one simple prompt of, “What have you learned on the World Race?” Incredible relationship advice from a group of young adults who are currently experiencing one big adventure … and learning a tremendous amount from it!