The Big 5: Life lessons

If you could teach your children five lessons to carry through their lives, what would they be?

I’m not normally one to do memes but when Izzie over at The World According to Izzie tagged me it got me thinking about the beliefs and values we instil in our children.

It’s a timely question. Our oldest, Isaac, is still at an age (he’s seven) where our parental influence continues to mould him, while our youngest, Kara (nearly three), is in that early phase where you can see her personality starting to form.

So, after much head-scratching and wishing that I had had the opportunity to attempt this before reading Izzie’s excellent list, here are the five key personal values I would like to drill into each of my children.

At the risk of going all Listen With Mother … Are you sitting comfortably, children? Then I’ll begin.

1. Embrace your errors and don’t give up

If you want to succeed, double your failure rate

Thomas J Watson, former CEO of IBM

I want you to succeed but I want you to know it’s okay to fail at times too. In fact, I encourage you to fail.

That may sound odd but here’s why. If all you ever do in life is sit firmly in your comfort zone and not dare to do anything new or challenging, you’ll never discover your full potential. Try new things – you will surprise yourself and learn far more about yourself than if you only stick to what you know. As long as you don’t hurt yourself or others, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional failure – as long as you learn a lesson from it.

And when things don’t go well, persevere. Just because you don’t succeed the first time doesn’t mean you should give up.

2. Be gracious in both defeat and victory

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same

Rudyard Kipling

There are times when you will be told that taking part is more important than winning. That is true in many cases but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your utmost to achieve the best you can.

Here’s the reality: the world is a competitive place. Exams. Jobs. Even finding love. If you don’t try, you don’t get.

But there’s a more important lesson here. Competition is an inevitable part of life: there are winners and there are losers. But exposing ourselves to the ups and downs of competition also teaches us to win with good grace and to handle defeat the same way.

3. Speak up – but also listen

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.


I’ve been a quiet person my entire life, and while I’ll speak up about things that really matter to me there have also been times when I’ve bitten my lip and not made my feelings known.

At the same time, being a reflector rather than a talker means that I’m more receptive to hearing what other people have to say and taking it on board.

I hop my children learn to be the best of both worlds. Be assertive – stand up and be counted. But also be willing to listen and learn by knowing when to keep quiet and let others have their say.

4. Control the controllables

Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.

John Keating, Dead Poets Society

Some people seem to spend an inordinate amount of energy complaining about things they have no control over, often in a “the people in charge are idiots – I could do better if I was running the country” sort of way.

We all do it to some degree, and that’s okay. But surely it’s better to devote our energy to the things we can control? Make your own opportunities and then seize them with both hands.

So control the controllables, and if you see something that is outside your control that you feel passionately about, find a way to do something about it.

5. Be yourself

This above all: to thine own self be true

Hamlet Act 1 Scene 3

I’ve saved this one for last but in many ways it is the most important lesson of all, and one I didn’t appreciate fully until I reached my thirties.

There will be times when you hear people tell you that you should be more like so-and-so or follow their example. That’s okay to an extent – it’s good to understand what makes people excel and adopt their behaviours and habits where relevant – but never lose sight of the fact that there is only one you.

Don’t become a carbon-copy of other people at the expense of being the best version of you that you can possibly be. Chasing the mirage of what makes other people successful and happy can end up having the opposite effect because you are pursuing something that isn’t true to who you really are. The only person you ever really need to compete against is yourself.

So those are my thoughts. I’m tagging Martyn at Inside Martyn’s Thoughts, Dave at The DADventurer and Suzanne at 3 Children and It, if they would like to share.

But what about you? What are the key things you would like to teach your children?


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