Life lessons from the under 10s

On our recent holiday we went away with my sister, her husband and our three nephews aged 3, 6 and 8. Spending a full week with them, especially at this age, is special. They’re eager for the company of their aunties — for us to be on their team for games, to read stories, for cuddles and kisses, to help them make models and draw, or simply to sit next to and chat. I love it! And now that we’re apart I feel like I’ve lost my shadows.

As I’ve been thinking back on this time together, as well as recalling the happy memories, I’ve noticed some things I’ve learnt from these boys that I want to bring back to my every day life.


Kids are sponges. They’re not afraid to admit they don’t know something or to ask someone else for help finding an answer.

What’s more, there’s no goal to their questions other than to follow the thread of what interests them in that moment. No striving or purpose other than to learn.

I had one of those serendipitous moments earlier today when what I’ve been writing about here was reflected back at me in an interview I was reading (which I found, ironically, by giving myself space to embrace my curiosity and follow the links at the end of another article):

I think part of the sadness of growing into an adult is that you become trained to spend less time distracted by things*. And what I try to do is re-access that ability to be interested in things, and then to not ask myself why I’m interested in them, but simply to explore them and trust that the reason will eventually become clear to me.

I do consider myself to be a curious person, but too often I think I put restrictions on myself, and stop exploring things when it’s not immediately clear what, if any, benefit will come from it. I think I need to focus a little less on the outcome and enjoy the journey.

*There’s more to follow on distraction; I think there’s a distinction between different types of distraction, some good as in this case, and some not so good as you’ll see later on.


We played a lot of games over the week. Some we knew, some we didn’t. Some were easy to understand for all, others were a bit more complicated. What I observed my nephews doing when they didn’t know how to play a game, or didn’t like the rules they’d been shown, was that they made up their own.

When I relate this back to my life, and in particular my business, I think about how often I stress the importance of finding out what works for you, particularly in the context of approaches to productivity. I want to expand this thinking to so many more things in my working life.

I’ve been struggling lately with working out an approach for marketing my services. There’s no end to the recommendations for how to present your offer and sell your services that just make me cringe. I’ve tried to do embrace them and add my own twist to make it more palatable but that’s just not working. Perhaps it’s time to stop looking over the fence at what other people are doing and instead to establish my own set of rules in this area.


Something I’d noticed before I went away that was highlighted during my time with the kids is that I’m really out of the habit of spending 2-3 hours on a single thing without getting distracted.

I’ve definitely made the assumption that kids have short attention spans. But that’s not what I observed with these kids. The eldest can happily spend a couple of hours with his head in a book. They will all play with LEGO for as long as they’re allowed. And if they start a drawing, they’ll continue until they’re happy with their picture (through many revisions) and it is fully coloured in.

What did they have to distract them? Nothing! Mostly their reason for stopping was an adult making demands on their time — to go somewhere, to eat, or to remind them to go to the loo!

The difference for me is that I allow myself to get distracted by things I think might be happening without me. Not so this week. I spent relatively no time on my phone. The world kept turning. Nobody missed me. And I didn’t miss anything. Or if I did, it’s not important enough to have had an impact. This made me realise that I don’t need it like I think I do. I don’t need to have it by my side, just in case. I can leave it somewhere else or turn it off for large chunks of the day. See also: email, Slack, social media.

New approaches

From these lessons I’ve come up with a new approach in each area that I’m challenging myself to implement over the next couple of months.

Curiosity: Allow myself space to explore a topic without any expectation of what may come from it.

Rules: Clarify what I want to do and how I want to do it. Don’t look at what others are doing. Make the rules/plan. Follow the rules/plan.

Distractions: Check email and social twice a day (late morning and early evening), respond to anything urgent in the moment and schedule time to do any other resulting tasks.

Is there anything you recognise, or relate to, in these lessons? What different approaches might you experiment with in each area?

about emma

I am a coach and facilitator helping people to pause, reflect and make conscious choices about what comes next. In my writing I explore themes of personal development, reflective practice and what it means to live well.