Lessons From Dinner With My Teenage Son

Mike Gellman

I had to stop myself tonight. I was in a heavy state of mind while at the dinner table having a conversation with my teenage son. Overwhelmed by numerous challenges in both my personal and business life, I couldn’t escape the sensation of being weighed down from one thing piling up after another.

I stepped outside of myself for a moment and realized I was emotionally unloading on my son (who quietly listened). Internal dialogue with the “shoulds” started lighting up my mind; “Is that fair to him?” I swore to myself when he was born that I would never do that to my child as I noticed others didMy inner voice persisted; “He should be free to be a kid, not have to carry his father’s burden.” Yet another side of me felt that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to allow ourselves soften emotionally in front of our kids. That will provide them with a more realistic view of the world with life’s pressures, which may serve them well as they get older and go off on their own. I felt conflicted.

This negative self-talk had actually started to amass itself earlier this week when my son told me that a payment was due for a school trip to NYC in February. I told him that I didn’t have the money to pay for it and that maybe he can ask his grandparents. I felt embarrassed and ashamed about not being able to afford to support opportunities like these as I used to. I had left a secure, well-paying corporate job in order to follow my passion and focus on building my own business. Just as swiftly, another part of me said “F* that! There’s no shame in pursuing one’s dreams and living a life without regrets.”

Then something wonderful happened. I shifted my attention away from what wasn’t working and asked my son to share something with me that he felt grateful for. After he answered, I responded with something that I was grateful for – the colorful salad that I was eating. I also shared I was also grateful that my left Achilles tendon was feeling better after resting it (which meant I might be able to get back to my running routine), living in the same place for the past eight years; and having the luxury of owning a home while recognizing others can’t afford one. A flood of things I was grateful for large and small soon flowed and filled me up. Finally, I turned to my son and expressed how grateful I was for having such a fine young son.

I had to stop myself again. I realized that I could probably go on for an hour about things I’m grateful for—it somewhat surprised me given how stressed and depressed I had felt earlier. I took comfort in knowing that I had so many things to be grateful for and felt reassured that I would actually be okay. This was simply where things were at “right now.

Where there’s struggle, there will also be stretches in between struggles that are filled with joy. I eased up on myself and reset my mind to look forward to enjoying the “gaps.” Gaps between struggles are those times when things come easier, when I’ve figured out things that used to petrify me, when money and relationships come more easily, and when all the hard work I’ve been putting in the past few years will have been all worth it. Creating a vision and trusting that I’m doing the right things, even if they don’t necessarily turn out the way I anticipated, is a test of faith that will lead to greater self-acceptance, self-confidence, and perseverance. By staying true to myself and plugging away, things will eventually break my way. And when they do, I’ll be ecstatic!

In the end, I rediscovered myself amidst the challenging circumstances. I learned a lot from this experience. Here are five strategies you can use to get yourself into a healthier frame of mind!

1. Acknowledge and accept reality as it is versus how you think it should be or want it to be.

2. Identify what you’re grateful for – write it down, say it out loud, sing it even! No matter what it is, get it out of your head.

3. Be kind to yourself and forgive mistakes you’ve made. You’re human and life’s hard.

4. Think of something that inspires you and imagine it as if it’s real. Visualize it vividly and you’ll find that not only will your emotions and outlook change, but your body chemistry will immediately change too.

5. Take a step… any step that will nudge you in the direction of solving one of your problems, achieving one of your goals, lightening your burden, or easing your mind.

My personal step tonight is going to be to play the piano a bit. It’s been months and I think it will lift my spirits and my creativity. How about you?

Do you struggle with self-doubt and find yourself paralyzed with overwhelm? I’d love to partner with you and help you create breakthroughs to achieve your goals and find fulfillment. I am a leadership and career coach based in Orange County, CA and help clients all over the country. Feel free to book a complimentary Discovery Session with me.