As a college application essay coach, I deal with many students each year. As a dad, I deal with two. My son is 28 and a career counselor at the University of Washington so my immediate impact on his life has become marginal, to put it mildly. My daughter, however, is a college junior so I still retain at least a modicum of influence on her. In fact, she is back at home now, taking her finals online since her school, like most, have suspended classroom gatherings.
This is a tough time for everyone, that point does not need to be discussed. Yet, as a silver-lining type of guy, I have been thinking about what lesson I can impart to my daughter that will put our current situation into perspective, and maybe even be of value to her in the future. The answer was not long in coming.
Such is life.
Good times occur and its important to savor them. Yet there are also times when it rains on your day at the beach. It is unavoidable, the way of the world, a foundational concept of existence. No one knows what will happen tomorrow, not mom or dad or even Beyonce. But one thing is certain: Things don’t always turn out the way you’d prefer.
Of course, to some extent, she and her contemporaries already know this, at least conceptually. But what I would hope for my child, and all our children, is that they can somehow use this moment to internalize this truth, not as disillusionment but as an opportunity to reflect on the question, “What comes next?”
In conversations with my daughter, we have talked about how to make the best of all situations, even those you’d rather not have happened. The rained-out trip to the beach? A chance to stay home and get into that book you’ve been wanting to read. A “B” instead of an “A” in your Gender Studies class? Take a closer look at how to improve your study habits. Being stuck at home because of the coronavirus? Give it some thought; I know you’ll come up with something.
Another idea I’ve tried to impart is that though things have not worked out the way she imagined – as you might know, Coachella has been cancelled! – there are many people whose suffering is much greater. We have food and shelter and Netflix. Others do not. We do not have the coronavirus. Others are fighting for their lives. Again, on a surface level, of course she knows this; she is a caring, intelligent, insightful person. But these self-quarantined days are a chance to express daily gratitude for the good fortune we enjoy, while expanding our compassion for those whose fortunes have fallen so fast and steeply.
This crisis will end, that’s for sure. The world might be different going forward, but it will still present the same highs and lows, victories and defeats, that it always has. No one can change that; all we can do is change how we deal with it. If that concept becomes a cornerstone of the way my daughter navigates her path through life I’ll feel that, in the face of all this fear, pain and confusion, something significant was also gained.