I’ll never forget the first time I hooked up a DVD player. It may seem cheesy, but it really was a rite of passage for me, and not just because of my interest in technology. All of my life, my parents had been the ones to set up every gadget that came into our house. They’d connect all the cables, set the TV to the right channel (Was it three or four?), and presto! It worked. To me, it was confusing magic, and I never imagined that I’d be able to master it myself.
Then one day when I was around ten, my family purchased a new DVD player that I wanted to use. Maybe my parents were busy or maybe my curiosity just got the better of me. I’m honestly not sure why I did it, but I opened up the box and started taking things out, piece by piece. Before I knew it, I was plugging the red, white, and yellow cables into their ports, connecting the power, and turning on the TV. Then… presto! Suddenly, the magic was mine to wield.
Sitting in the back of her minivan as a child, I never really considered how my mom always knew exactly where to go. Whether it was somewhere we went regularly or a place she’d never been to before, she always seemed to know how to get there. I’m not directionally inclined, so I didn’t pay much attention. I would buckle in and start playing a video game or reading until the vehicle came to a stop and it was time to get out. I assumed that my mother, like other adults, just knew where everything was somehow, and that was that.
But when I started driving myself, that naive assumption was immediately shattered. Once it became my job to navigate, it became clear that there is no secret knowledge. Adults don’t magically know where everything is. Rather, we rely on previous knowledge, context clues, and resources like GPS to figure out where we’re going. Add a bit of luck to the mix, and we might just get there safely.
These days, I’m the adult driving my nephew around. As I use whatever means necessary to ensure that we get where we’re going, he sits in the back seat, trusting that I somehow know what I’m doing. He’s in for a big surprise one day when he get his license. But until then, I think I’ll just let him share in the facade that I once believed in.
Only this year did I get the full experience of what it’s like to own a Christmas tree. Sure, I’ve helped decorate before, but it’s never been my job to make sure that everything looks nice, is taken care of, and gets put away neatly for next year. For me, that’s always been the responsibility of others and, thus, a mystery.
But not this year. Katherine and I are living in our own house now, which means no one else is going to put up a tree for us. So we shopped, we unpacked, and we decorated. And last week, while Katherine was working and my office was still closed for the holidays, I took a Christmas tree down for the first time in my life.
It wasn’t particularly difficult, but it was new. I started with the ornaments, placing them carefully back into their boxes. Then I unwound the strands of tinsel and lights and put them away. And finally, I took the tree apart and stuffed it as gracefully as I could back into the box. A little bit of vacuuming later, I was done.
And as I looked over my work, I felt something I didn’t expect: I was proud of myself. Like I said, taking the tree down wasn’t hard. It didn’t even take as long as I had expected. But it was one of those things I had never done before, one of those things I associated with being an “adult,” one of those things that was a mystery to me until I actually tried it myself. And once I did, I found myself fully capable of handling it.
Much of what we adults do on a day-to-day basis are things that we could hardly fathom doing as children: cooking, cleaning, working, driving, and the like. They seem so mundane to us now, but not too long ago, they were mysterious. Difficult. Magical, even. And now, they’re just part of our everyday lives.
I’m not saying that we deserve an award for being functional human beings, but maybe we should give ourselves a little more credit. What’s normal for us today was difficult yesterday. Our baseline now is what we pretended to be and strove for when we were younger. The skills we’ve accumulated and the things we’ve accomplished may not seem out of the ordinary, but they are significant. They matter. And we have every right to be proud of them.
You may not be exactly where you want to be, but you’ve come a long way. And if you play your cards right, you’ll be able to look back soon and see even more progress that’s been made. It all starts with recognizing where you are, giving yourself credit for what you’ve accomplished, and building on that success. It’s there if you’ll just look for it. And once you find it, you can use it as a building block towards where you want to go.
So pat yourself on the back from time to time, even if it’s just for something small. That small thing used to be a big thing, and now you’re ready to take on something new. You’ve got this. You’ve come so far. And only you can determine how much further you’ll go.
God bless, friends. Here’s to more mysteries mastered in 2019.