Certainly you remember the game. Kids line up abreast and then each take turns asking “Mother, may I take a step forward?” Or “Mother may I take a flying leap?”
And then “mother” would grant permission. (Or not.) The winner would get to be the mother. Being the mother (and wielding control over one’s peers,) was a heady position.
As I think about the New Year, now hours away, I think about how many of us adults are still playing that goofy game.
This occurred to me in, of all places, the book On Writing Well by William Zinsser. In a chapter on memoirs, the author shared how he had encouraged a friend to write his life’s story. The friend, in his sixties, had been reluctant to do so as he had spent his life writing for others. Writing what others thought he needed to write. Writing for his editors. Or in his earlier days, his teachers. “I was afraid to try,” or “I never had the nerve before,” was his refrain.
Zinsser prodded and encouraged him. But it wasn’t until he engaged in Mother May I that his friend proceeded to write some the best work of his life. Zinsser had given his friend permission. Here’s what he said regarding that:
“What we’re all looking for –what we want to see pop out of your papers–is individuality. We’re looking for whatever it is that makes you unique…..They can’t. They don’t think they have permission. I think thy get that permission by being born.” (Emphasis mine.)
From the time we’re told to raise our hand in grade school, to life in cubicle America, we’ve been well trained in Mother May I. (And Lord knows some of the “mothers” out there are a pain to work for.)
I’ve played it plenty myself. And I know I’m not alone. I’ve heard my friend Chris Davis, my homeschooling mentor, talk about how moms would ask his permission to homeschool their child in a certain way. (One they knew would benefit their child but it was “out of the box.”) Or ditto for career coach, Dan Miller. In his podcast, I’ve heard more than one 40, 50, or 60-something year old ask permission to pursue their dreams.
We spend our time waiting for validation from someone or something. Waiting for the stars to align. Waiting for a certain life stage to end or begin. Waiting to get out of debt. And while we’re waiting the present moment is escaping into the past. It’s all a great big game we play….but there’s no winner.
What is it that you’d like do in 2010? Write a book? Hike the Applachian Trail? Attend a marriage retreat to strengthen your relationship with your spouse? Find another job? Move to a warmer climate?
As the turn of events of this past month have reminded me: Life is short. And the only day you have is today.
What are your dreams and passions? Leave the games behind, live in the moment and move forward in your journey. You know you can.
And yes, you may.