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The Kiln: Your Pathway to Contentment

Experience All of Life

Your pathway to contentment and wellness on every level has to be natural, dog-eared, hard-fought, and real. It can’t come from a book. It’s got to be an inside job. It comes from what I call being in “the kiln,” where your triumphs and your tragedies are melded together and strengthened by fire, or it doesn’t last and it isn’t real, and it definitely won’t cut the mustard with the kids you parent, coach or teach.

What do I mean by “the kiln?”

It’s been said a million times (because it’s true), but the great ones get back up: they respond with courage and resiliency when adversity strikes. They embrace life. They are able to do that because they experience all of life, the good and the bad, and don’t shy away from the difficulties. They take the heat, because those high temperatures of loss, defeat, illness, trial and adversity both harden and soften them.

If you’re a parent, teacher or coach, you should be motivated to cure yourself in the kiln of experience so that you can be great at what you do, great at being you, a great role model—a great grown-up, period. That’s right: great.

To be a great grown-up, you need to do this work. You need to be a courageous person who faces adversity, who models all the good things—courage, humor, loving-kindness and patience—when things are good and when they’re not so good. To be present. To help kids solve problems. To help kids get organized and focused. To help kids be good people. To help kids make their dreams come true. But you need to help them, not do it for them; they need to get into the kiln, too.

The goal for all of us is to take what life dishes out and, because we know about the joy and the sorrow, we can be soft and loving whenever our kids need us to be, but we can be tough and demanding, too. Just like a piece of pottery that has been properly fired, we can handle every liquid of life, no matter the heat, brininess, bitterness or spice, and we don’t shatter when we get banged around a bit.

Find the Cure

Put the name of your favorite adult when you were growing up in this blank:


List the qualities that person had and, for each one, write why it mattered to you, how he or she helped you. For example, my father’s brother, my Uncle Murray, was caring, strong, deliberate, devoted and hysterically funny. He definitely made me feel like I mattered a ton, and that helped me navigate my own alcoholic family. Who were your favorite people?

Now put the names of the kids you can help here:


Be honest: What can you work on to provide for those kids, to be “that favorite adult” for those kids? How can you strengthen the softness in your character with some deliberate work? A piece of pottery is mushy and useless until it endures the heat of the kiln; you’re not useless to the kids you love, but I’m betting, just like myself, you feel you can get better. Need to be more patient? Giving? More demanding? Lighter? Understanding? Better at setting limits? More generous with your time?

Besides helping the kids in your life, as you cure out your character defects and go from being a good parent/teacher/coach/aunt/uncle/administrator to a great one, you will be increasingly happy, well-adjusted, prosperous and present.

In order to find the cure (pun intended) in the kiln, you have to know that suffering is part of the curriculum. Be a grown-up. Know it. Accept it, the whole catastrophe, as they say. Be like the adult you loved or, if you weren’t fortunate to have an adult like this in your life, be the adult you never had. Here’s what you must do, and I’ll give an example with each piece of advice:

  • Set your roots deep into who you want to be. If you’re trying to be more patient, catch yourself wanting to kick the dog or screaming at your son when he didn’t clean his room.
  • Make sure you’re taking the time to connect with your friends and family. If you think you have to check your smartphone at all hours and eschew fun and social time, get a grip. You need that time.
  • Give and receive a lot of love. Open up your heart, be cheerful and mean it. You’re not six feet under. Do something out of the box and tell the kids in your life you love them, or take them to the amusement park when you think you should be working.
  • Learn to go with the flow. Curve balls don’t mean you can’t hit one out of the park. Stop bitching to yourself when things don’t go “your way.”
  • Like a little kid, you have to take delight in beauty and mystery. Really stop and look into every family member’s eyes at least once every day, and see what’s going on within him or her.
  • Like your favorite aging relative, you have to have good common sense and live with all things in moderation. If you have a predilection for booze, too much work or whatever, get a handle on it, get some help if you need to, and figure out a way towards moderate behavior.

Write down an example of how you’d follow each dictum:

To set deep roots, I’m going to

_______________________________________________________, and so on.

I’m reading Bobby Orr’s autobiography. He said playing pond hockey with his friends for countless hours as a kid made him great, because it allowed him to feel free, to chase the puck and his dreams. But Bobby Orr was a small, frail child. That didn’t stop him; in fact, I would argue that that early time in the kiln made him strong. You chasin’ yours? Get in the kiln, kid.