It had been a few days since the Child had shared their advice with the Parent.  New Year’s Eve had come and past.

Click here to read the Child’s letter

“Is now a good time?” said the Child.  “Can you give me your letter now?”

The Parent had been doing a lot of thinking since the Child’s letter but had decided not to change anything in their own.

“Now’s a perfect time.” The Parent produced the second letter and they started to read.



Letter to my child


1.  Be brave

Bravery is not the absence of fear, it is feeling fear and overcoming it.

Have courage and be brave.  This doesn’t mean you have to run in to burning buildings all the time; it’s a more day-to-day thing than that.

And we feel fear all the time.  When we say something in front of others for example, or when we have to disagree with someone or have to give them bad news. So we have lots of opportunities to be brave every day.

Be particularly brave when it comes to approval.  We all want to be popular, but we need to be brave enough to risk not being liked some of the time.  Do the right thing in your mind, and let other people worry about whether they are happy with it or not.  Chances are if you do the right thing, the people you care about will still like you just as much.

And be brave enough to bring bad news to people’s door.  As soon as something is known about it can begin to be fixed.  If it’s still an unknown, chances are it will get worse.


2.  Build “Grit”

Grit is about how you react when the going gets tough.  Do you give in and find something easier to do, or do you stick to it?  If it gets tougher, do you double-down and try harder still?

You may be dismayed to hear this, because I know you’ve given up on things before.  This is OK. Don’t be disheartened, we’ve all given up on things lots of times.  The good news is that Grit is like most things in life; the more you practice it the better you will get.

Grit grows with practice.  It also grows the more you care about something, the more meaningful it is to you and the more optimistic you are about the outcome.  Use this as a recipe to find where you can be grittier now and you’ll find it’s a bit easier over time to be grittier elsewhere.


3.  Love Learning

The world is changing so fast.  I can promise you the one life skill that will always be valued is the ability to learn.

There’s lots we could say here, but for now, I’d urge you to remember the acronym CRISP:

Context.  It’s hard for anyone to start learning a new subject, but it gets easier as you start to know a little about it.  We build our neural connections with reference to existing ones.

Repetition.  Little and often works really well. The brain has neural pathways and these get stronger the more you revisit them.

Interest.  The more interested you are in something the better you will learn, so look for why something might be more interesting than it seems!  Finding things interesting is actually a skill in its own right. Practice it!  Incidentally, other people will really appreciate someone who can quickly (and genuinely) find their pet subject interesting.  Never be too intimidated to talk to someone, no matter how senior/impressive/successful they are; you are an excellent conversationalist.

Sleep.  And I’m not just saying this to win the “What time should bedtime be?” argument!  Sleep takes the day’s memories and transfers them from short to long-term memory.  Separately, during dreaming, sleep also deliberately throws together really disparate ideas, looking for patterns, helping us to make connections and to put things learned in to context.  It thus helps us to understand things properly and to apply the learning to new situations.  It expands our ability to problem solve.

 Persistence.  We embed learning particularly well when we really struggle to recall something. This “effortful struggle” is kind of like rummaging around in our brains to find the right neural connections and in doing so we actually reinforce those connections.  Don’t give up too easily and look up the answer, be persistent and stay with the struggle for a few moments.


4. Don’t fill every second

Modern life means we barely go a waking minute without some external stimulation.  People in a queue or walking down the street have their earphones in and their eyes on their screens.  This is great for us, but it takes away all of our time to just think and daydream. We never get bored any more.

Wanting to be bored might strike you as a suggestion from fuddy-duddy land. But I am serious.  We are creative, we remember things we need to do and we connect the dots to help us solve problems just as soon as we stop doing stuff for a few minutes.  Sometimes we have to slow down and give our minds a breather from entertainment before we can start to make progress on some of the bigger things in life.


5.  Build a “Growth Mindset”

Don’t define yourself by whether you are top of the class or 7thin a race.  By all means be competitive and try to win (winning is a good habit to get in to) but really, whether you’re ahead or behind in this or that right now won’t be important in the long run.

What will matter, is how you treat success and failure.  If you have just succeed then that’s fantastic, but what’s next?  Can you be better still?  If you fail then that can be great too!  Never be afraid to make mistakes, because this is how we learn.  We only managed to walk after we’d fallen down hundreds of times. The more mistakes you make the more you’ll learn and the more options you will have in life.

In life, talent is a big advantage, but over time, it gets trumped by hard work (purposeful striving.)  Success or failure doesn’t define something fixed about your ability, it is more of a measure of how well you’ve applied your talent, i.e. how hard you’ve worked. This is known as a Growth Mindset.

Very few of us have a pure Growth Mindset, and it’s OK if failure is painful at first.  Allow yourself to be hurt for a while and then knock the dust off yourself and say, “Right, what can I learn from this?”


6.  Don’t worry too much about Confidence

This might surprise you, but confidence is not a worthwhile thing in its own right.

Confidence without competence is over-confidence or arrogance.  And these are things that pretty much everyone is primed to take a real dislike to.

Although over-confident people seem to prosper in the short term, over-time they do worse because of this negative priming.  If you want to be more successful, build your competence in the relevant fields and then make sure you constantly remind yourself how good you are so that your confidence matches your ability.


 7.  Choose helpful thoughts

It is not events that harm us so much as how we react to them.  And to a larger extent than we tend to think, we can choose how to react to events.

When something difficult happens, we generally have an immediate emotional reaction, which happens so fast that it seems instinctive.  But it isn’t instinct.  We weren’t born with an instinct to get annoyed with predictive text, for example.  We have learned it, over time, from all of our life experiences.

The sum of these experiences creates a “World View” which our brain refers to when creating our reaction, even before what’s happened gets to our conscious awareness.

However, once we realise this, we can catch ourselves in the moment and choose whether or not to accept the reaction our World View has suggested to us.

Sometimes, we can practically hear this as a little voice in our head. We refer to this is as our Inner Critic. It tells us we can’t do something or that we’re not good enough.  But this Inner Critic is just voicing one perspective.  It’s not the boss of you!  You’ll be so much stronger if you listen to its view, compare it to other options and then choose for yourself what to do.


 8.  Reflect on what drives you

 You’ll hear people talk about Emotional Intelligence a lot.  It simply means understanding yourself and developing more helpful ways to go about things, as well as understanding others and working on how to communicate with them effectively.  The first part of this launches the rest.  The better you can understand yourself and what drives you the more productive and happier you with be.

This is partly about what your purpose is in life; I’ll come on to that. But it’s also about what drives your actions, behaviours and habits on a moment-by-moment basis.  Are you too worried about being liked? Are you trying to win all the time?  Are you playing too safe?  The more you invest time in reflecting why you have just reacted in the way you have the more you will understand yourself.


 9.  Coach others

Everything is about relationships.  Your happiness and what you achieve in life will depend on your ability to communicate to and work with other people.  Make understanding other people a life-long study.  You’ll never solve other people, but the less you misunderstand their intentions, the better things will go for you.

So adopt a Coaching approach.  Be fascinated by other people.  Don’t be too quick to throw advice at them.  Listen to them first and encourage them to find their own solutions.


 10.  Don’t be angry very often at all

Sometimes we use anger to avoid facing a difficult truth.  We know people will find it hard to tell us off or give us feedback if we are incensed and feeling hard done by.  Recognise this as a less than helpful tactic.  When you feel angry try to figure out where it’s coming from, don’t let it just rule the roost and take control of you.  Catch yourself in the moment and choose a more useful way to think.


 11.  Don’t try to be perfect

Perfection is the enemy of progress.  Set the bar really high for yourself and push yourself to do better, but never worry about perfection.  If you’re not making mistakes then you’re either not stretching yourself enough, or you’re not learning enough.  We don’t have the luxury in life of doing one thing to perfection.  Do lots of things incredibly well instead.  That’ll be enough!


12.  Worry less

 Do your best at the things you can influence, but don’t worry too much about the things that are outside of your control.

If you are frustrated that you don’t know what to do in life, or what your purpose will be, then don’t worry!  Pretty much none of us has a clear idea of this!  Opportunity, luck, a bit of hard work and some ability meant we just drifted in this direction.  Most of us have ended up in roughly the right area, but we’re still not sure.  Any progress is good progress and there isn’t one perfect future out there for you.

Be sunny and be optimistic, because it is more helpful to you and more pleasant for everyone around you.  This is not to say that you should ignore risk or be unrealistic about how difficult something might be, but be constructive.  Generally where there’s a will there’s a way.

And be the one to put your hand up and volunteer.  Good things happen to those who say yes!




The parent and Child put down the second letter.

“We’ve got plenty to work on haven’t we?” said the Child.

“Yes, but we’ve got plenty of time to work on it together.” said the Parent.

They hugged again and then the Parent began.  “So you don’t like the Middle Ages, hey?  I struggled with that too.  The Second World War was more interesting to me…”