So when she was 11, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this letter to his daughter. If you can’t be bothered with clicking on the link, the takeaway point is that he finishes by saying:
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?
With dearest love,
I trust you’ll agree that that’s pretty sensible advice to anybody, 11-year old or otherwise. Pie (yes, his nickname for her was Pie) apparently grew up to work for the New York Times and Washington Post and become a respected member of the Democratic party, and this sort of thing probably helped. But more than that, I’d say that the act of sitting down and giving the advice probably did more for F. Scott himself than for his daughter.
Think about it. How often do you actually think about your own values, or question what you consider to be important? Probably not often, maybe never. And if you do, how do you make sure your answers are genuine? Here’s how I think you do it: write to your children. If you don’t have children (I don’t), that actually makes things easier – write to your hypothetical baby. Try and express, in clear terms, what you think is important in life. To be nice to people? To stay healthy? To amass as much money as you possibly can, no matter how many people you have to tread on along the way? To get a load of Twitter followers? I’ve done it – I won’t share the results, though I will tell you that my pretend-baby is named Hercules – and it brings a clarity to your thought processes that it’s tough to get any other way. Write to your hypothetical baby. If it helps, name her after your favourite bakery snack.
HOMEWORK: Write to your child, real or not. Tell him/her what you think is important in life, what you think he/she should be focusing on, and what he/she shouldn’t worry about. Save the results somewhere, and revisit them occasionally. Oh, and watch Midnight In Paris. Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott is dreamy.