If I had to list the five people who were most influential in my life, they would be my mother, my father, Maya Angelou, Robert Kennedy and my little sister, Maddie. Maddie and I are 20 years apart in age. Some people celebrate their retirement by playing golf or traveling. My parents decided to celebrate their retirement by adopting an infant.
Maddie was born with some difficulties, and her first years were full of medical appointments and hospital stays. However, if you were to meet her now, you would never know any of that. You'd just see a bright, energetic, self-aware little girl.
Here are the six lessons I've learned from my 8-year-old sister:
1. How To Apologize And Forgive
What is it about adults and our inability to manage a simple apology, or an acceptance of an apology? We qualify our apologies with all sorts of excuses and justifications. When we're in the position of accepting an apology, we minimize the other person's actions, or we go into an in-depth saga about our feelings.
On the other hand, when I witness my sister playing with her friends, the apologies come without qualification, and the forgiveness is issued without drama. "Sorry for doing that thing that upset you." "That's OK, I forgive you."
How beautiful is that?
2. It's OK To Be Proud Of Your Talents
Up until about six months ago, every time my little sister introduced herself to somebody, she would say, “Hi, I'm Maddie, and I'm great at Pokémon Y." Now, I'm not suggesting that we lead with our proudest talents when introducing ourselves to strangers.
I simply wonder, at what point in our lives do we get the idea that we should downplay our talents, rather than celebrate them? My little sister has taught me that it's OK to say that I am good at something, and to be proud of that talent.
3. To Try New Things Without Fear
One of the coolest things about my little sister is her absolute willingness to try new things without saddling herself with a bunch of fears and hang-ups. If she sees somebody she wants to speak with, she approaches them. If there's a tree that looks like it's fun to climb, she climbs. If she wants a new haircut, she asks for one.
Her “go for it” attitude is free from self-doubt and is absolutely inspiring to me as her older sister. I'm learning to climb trees of my own because of her.
4. The Importance Of Doing What You Love
I may not have one of the highest paying jobs available with my school diploma, but I make a good living and love writing. One of the reasons I stick with this, even when I get tempting job offers that pay more than I earn now, is because of my sister.
She tells me she wants to be a writer, just like me. Although, I think she would rather write about exciting adventures in magical lands. Knowing she admires me for doing something I love encourages me to keep doing what I'm doing.
Every day, I try to become a little bit better of a writer by reading some tips from professionals, making personal writing experiments and sharing my ideas with my little sister.
5. How To Let Go Of Cynicism
When my sister travels to visit me, one of the things we always do is go to the movies, her choice. On one of her latest visits, she picked a movie that sounded just awful to me, but I agreed.
I sat down expecting to be tortured through a bunch of cute, chirpy dialogue. I was right in one sense. It was cute and chirpy. There were also gaping holes in the plot, but before I could muster my first eye roll, I noticed Maddie.
Her eyes lit up every time her favorite character came on screen, and she laughed and laughed at his antics. So, I decided to stop being so cynical and view the movie through her eyes. And you know what? That character was pretty funny.
6. Appreciating The Little Things
If you've ever thought your days were boring, you should take an 8-year-old along with you. I mean it. I can take my sister to the grocery store for our daily outing, and her description will be vastly different than mine. For example:
Me: “We just ran to the grocery store to pick up ingredients for pizza.”
Maddie: “We went to the store to buy everything for my favorite spinach pizza. On the way there, I saw a lady walking a '101 Dalmatians' dog. And then, the lady in the red shirt at the fruit stand gave me a free apple. She remembers me, even though I haven't been there in about a year. They opened a new ice cream shop since I was here last. The tree on the corner of our street has yellow flowers on it now.”
Not many people get new sisters when they turn 20, but I'm sure glad I did. Every time I spend time with Maddie, she inspires without even trying. I can say, with absolute certainty, that you can learn from the young.