We traveled together, this young boy and I.
We were in the back of a hired car, on the way to the airport. I was scheduled to give a national radio interview the next day, and I was mostly looking forward to the adventure. Flying isn’t my favorite thing to do, but the weather was good and I had plenty of margin in my schedule for unforeseen delays and unpreventable problems.
But my little traveling companion was a mess.
He was worried about what might happen, what might not happen, and everything in between. I tried to ignore him for a while, but that seemed to make him more scared. So, I tried to convince him there was nothing to worry about, that nothing would go wrong. Nope. Too smart to be fooled by platitudes. My efforts were making his anxiety worse.
He was close to panic.
Then, I told him, no matter what happened, I’d take care of him. I told him he could relax, because even if things went wonky, I’d handle it. I told him it’s okay to be anxious, because when you’re a kid you lack control over almost everything and you pretty much can’t protect yourself from anything. But, I told him, you can relax if you want, because I’m in charge now, and I’ll make sure things turn out as well as they possibly can. I simply invited him along for the ride. And do you know what happened?
Slowly, he calmed down.
I embraced him and we walked through the airport together and got on the plane together and found the rental car together and checked into the hotel together and, believe it or not, we went on the radio together. The studio was a little intimidating for him, but I told him I couldn’t do the interview without him, because in a lot of ways, he’s wiser than me. Wiser in a way only kids can be. Once again, I invited him along for the ride. And he did great. We did great.
It turns out, we work really well together.
I wish I would have reassured him like that years ago, because that scared little boy has gone on a lot of adventures with me, always afraid, always wishing he could just go home and hide under the covers. But I guess I couldn’t really do that sooner, because the truth is, for most of my life, I didn’t even know that boy existed.
You see, that little boy is the little kid in me.
He grew up scared. I think he’s kind of wired that way, and his life was pretty uncertain in his early years—not a great combination. But sometime around college, I guess, when I moved out of my childhood home and moved on with my life, I thought I left that kid behind. I thought he was buried in the sands of time.
But it turns out, there is a little kid that lives on in each of us.
The little one within you is your truest self, your most authentic you, your purest you. But that little kid inside is also your most wounded you, the you that first felt shame, the you that first felt fear. We don’t grow out of that kid; we just forget about that kid.
Meanwhile, the little one within you lives on, just waiting to be embraced once again. Waiting to be comforted. Waiting to be encouraged. Waiting to be wise, in the ways only a child can be wise. Waiting to be playful. And waiting to be joyful.
I know it might sound a little crazy, but we have to talk to that kid. We need to invite him or her along for this ride we call life. And we need to reassure him or her that we’ll take care of the serious stuff, but we need them to embrace the fun stuff for us.
A few weeks later, I went on another adventure, this time to California for a series of speaking events. And something pretty amazing happened: the little boy in me didn’t need as much reassurance as before—he seemed to trust me a little more. He seemed more ready than ever to play and laugh and soak it all in. In fact, he was so at ease, it felt like he and I were really showing up together, maybe for the first time in my life.
And I think that’s how you truly show up to your life.
You invite all of you to show up—the grownup and mature parts of you, along with the young and scared and tender and playful parts of you. Until, eventually, both of you are up on this stage called life together, doing it, risking it, living it up and soaking it in, because you only get to do it once so why not do it all the way?
We traveled together, this young boy and I.
Finally, we showed up to our life, together.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.