Last night my husband and I watched The Alpinist – the story of Marc-Andre LeClerc, a  Canadian rock climber known for his phenomenal free solo (ie without ropes) climbs on rock and ice. Many called him the best climber of the century.

Watching the movie, it’s clear that you’re in the presence of an exceptional guy.  His exuberance, joy, and lust for life flow through the screen.  Not interested in accolades (he ditches his film crew because they’d interfere with his experience), he is humble and wise beyond his years.   Those around him describe him as “full of love” and you can see it in each of his interactions.  He is clearly utterly at peace with himself.

The person who stood out for me most though was his mother.   She described him as being unable to sit still, forever on the move, unconventional: the type of words we might use to describe many children nowadays.  The difference was though, she didn’t try to force him to stay in his chair or fit in.  She home-schooled him.  They studied for a few hours a day and then went out in nature to explore.  For her, it was vital that his education included self-discovery, allowing him to start to understand his strengths and limitations.  Not only did he get to know himself, but she did too and she accepted him exactly as he was.

She reminded me why self-awareness is so important.

Marc died in an avalanche in Alaska aged 25.  Whilst his death was undoubtedly tragic, I find myself contemplating the fact that he seemed to pack more joy and aliveness into his short life than most of us experience in lives that span 3 times as long.  Something that was only possible because he knew who he was and what was important to him, and he had the confidence to follow his internal radar, even when society said otherwise.

Our cultures force us all into a box of what is acceptable. We learn to sit still, to concentrate, to write in a particular way, to eat at certain times.  Even when we’re freer, to dance or sing, run or jump – those activities remain structured.  The reality is that the box doesn’t completely work for anyone.  We never really get the freedom to explore who we are, what inspires us, and what makes us come alive.  A friend of mine has a son who is sweet, kind, intelligent, creative and caring, but few people see that because his heightened sensitivity means is easily overwhelmed and unable to process the environment he finds himself in at school.  Labelled as naughty and often excluded, I wonder how life would be for him if he had the space to run and explore and learn in a way that suits him rather than the school he attends.

Obviously, the answer isn’t as simple as shunning society and letting our kids lead the way.  We don’t all have the ability (or desire) to home-school. Free spirits are great, but our kids need to be able to survive in this society and we have to teach them the skills they need to survive.  As I battle with my youngest about her inability to take responsibility for her stuff, I question whether I’m being overly harsh because her artistic, creative brain clearly doesn’t work in the same way as mine.   Discussions with our eldest about her GCSE choices leave me wondering whether she’d be better doing some of the more creative subjects (that I previously might have undervalued) than trying to insist on more academic subjects? Or in being more liberal now, do I restrict her options later?

I don’t have the answers.  But I am clear that the more that we can become aware of our children’s individual traits and accept and work with them, the better.  In fact, the more we can do that for ourselves, the better. If I know that I work best close to a deadline, I can schedule my time accordingly and not beat myself up for leaving things to the last minute (hello tax return!). If I know that I need quiet time to process my thoughts, then getting up 30 mins earlier than everyone else to simply sit quietly will do wonders for my mental health.

Self-awareness is key.  It underpins self-acceptance and therefore self-love. It’s not something that can be rushed and it is an unfolding journey – but if we can allow ourselves to be curious rather than judgmental about the small humans we’ve brought into the world, and about ourselves, then we’re going to be laying foundations for infinitely happier lives all around.