As the holiday season comes to a close, I am going to end my three-week trip back to my hometown in Chicago and consequently end my time with my family for awhile. I know the holidays for some can be the worst time of year BECAUSE of their family, but for me, my family brings a lot of joy. And the winter holiday season is one of the only times I get to spend a bunch of time with them since leaving home nearly five years ago.
Family is a highly subjective concept. I know people with hardly any family at all, and people with family trees so complicated they have eight sets of grandparents they keep in touch with. Although I have a relatively large extended family, my immediate family is obviously what has made the biggest impact on me. From the outside, it looks pretty standard: Mom, Dad, and a little sister. Just four of us. My parents have a healthy relationship and have done everything in their power to give my sister and me tons of opportunities, while my sister and I progressed as typical siblings do, getting along one minute and then being best friends the next.
I realize I am wildly fortunate to be living with the above situation, as there are many people who don’t get to come from a stable, healthy household. Every time I come home, and stay in my heinous pink/orange colored old bedroom (I have only myself to blame for the color palette), I always end up reflecting on how this family has fostered me and my personality. Of course, I am a flawed individual but there are certain lessons that got started in my family that I believe made me a much better person.
- Knowledge is Power: This lesson is something that my dad would say all the time but my parents made it their business to enforce it. Books of all kinds were everywhere in the house, my parents would read to me and my sister constantly, and going to the bookstore to pick out a new book was a huge treat. Even though we read mostly fiction books at the time, we were still learning — new vocabulary, grammar, and new ideas and concepts. As young girls, the majority of our Christmas lists were filled with books and we would just devour them. This has stuck with me in a big way. I continue to read voraciously and attribute my relatively strong writing and critical thinking skills to all of those books.
- Not good, not bad, just different: Although this phrase wasn’t always used, it’s content was always implied when our family encountered things that were vastly different from our own norms. My sister and I went to school in a very diverse school district and as a result, we had questions about other people and other traditions that we were exposed to. Both of my parents were very good at stressing the idea that people are different, and even though it is important to recognize those differences, it doesn’t mean they are any better or worse than we are. I believe this lesson made me a lot slower to judge others and a lot more open to understanding other cultures when I encounter them through travel or in another person.
- No jeans with holes: This is kind of a silly one, but my mom would not let me wear flip-flops, sweatpants, loungewear, or jeans with holes in them for a very long time. Although I possessed these items, I was not permitted to wear them to school (leading me to smuggle my flip flops into my elementary school haha). I don’t really remember these rules being enforced too much after I turned eleven, but the lesson was already there. The lesson was to always make an effort to look put together. She never pushed makeup on me or girly clothes, but my mom recognized the importance of putting effort into one’s appearance and I carried that with me. It is always important to look polished and professional because people really do judge on appearances, and I would never want anyone to assume I can’t handle myself because I can’t handle my own appearance.
- Listen & Practice: Last one, best one. My father said this CONSTANTLY. It was his way of wording the key to success. If my sister or I was struggling with anything or we had just started a new sport or class, he would say “listen & practice”. It seems simple, but many people fail on at least one of these two counts. They either fail to do their due diligence and listen to teachers or mentors properly, or they fail to put in the work on the back end. I have used this concept constantly throughout my life and I like to think it makes me a very coachable person. I really do take criticism well and try to manifest it into an improvement. I also have an intense amount of discipline so that if I really want to master something, I will work every single day until I do.
There were, of course, many other lessons I was taught as a kid, but the ones I just described were so ingrained in the fabric of our family that I can clearly tell they made a big impact. They taught me to keep learning, have discipline, be professional, and to be open-minded. Those lessons are things that a lot of people don’t get from their family and that, to me, are invaluable for the rest of your life.