Let me first start with an apology. I saw a photograph so wondrous and funny that I very nearly broke a personal commandment to bring it to you. But “Thou Shalt Not Post Photos of Other People’s Children on Social Media Without Knowing They’re Cool With It” won out. So you’ll just have to use your imagination as I describe the picture that made a $9.00 4×6 seem perfectly reasonable.

This week, we took Jonah and his buddy to a theme park for his annual end-of-summer trip. Knowing our kid’s not a big fan of trying new things, my husband Derrick and I were curious to see how he was handling the mid-size roller coaster he’d been coaxed onto. We were waiting by the screens at the end of the ride (you know, the super-flattering ones that take a picture of you while you’re trying to survive) when his picture popped up on the monitors.  He was, no surprise, looking distinctly uncomfortable about the experience. The Fearless Buddy by his side takes rides very seriously, and looked like he was deep into his assessment.

But wait…something wasn’t right about this photo. In front of the boys was a perfectly beautiful little blonde girl riding by herself. Something was off, and after processing for a moment I realized what it was. She’s on a ride, but she doesn’t LOOK like she’s on a ride.  She was smiling perkily and looking DIRECTLY at the camera, posing with her little hands folded under her chin like she was in the midst of a photo shoot. How is this possible? Was it a fluke? A quick scan of everyone else in the photo showed them all looking straight ahead and desperately clutching the restraints.

About a minute later, I got proof that it was no accident. I recognize the little girl. She’s the first one out of the exit, running straight toward me to check out the monitors. “You’re right here,” I said, pointing at the screen. She studied it for a moment, cheerfully exclaimed “that one’s pretty good!” and skipped away into what I imagined is a future filled with unicorns, cheerleading outfits, and a CEO title or two.

I found myself standing there, half amused and half dumbfounded, wondering how a six-year-old is already so much better at life than I am.

Are some of us, like this girl, born more prepared? Why can some of us make a full time job and total fitness and four kids and a blog about making healthy “cookies” out of twigs look effortless? Why are some of us so easily thrown off our game when our dog gets sprayed by a skunk at two in the morning, or we’re running late because we emergency duct-tape-hemmed our pants and accidentally taped one leg on the outside? (Both of those examples are completely hypothetical, of course.)

I don’t know the answer, and I suppose it doesn’t matter. We’ve got what we’ve got. What I do know is that we’re all our own worst critics. If your first impulse, like mine, is to immediately assume that everybody’s better at life than you are, I’m learning that’s a surefire way to make it so. Starting from a position of self-defeat is (what?!) a bit pointless, and I wish I had become aware of my habits that way much earlier in life.

Regardless of whether that little girl achieved the perfect photo on her first ride or her fifteenth, I have to admire her casual confidence. She got on that roller coaster, looked at that camera and posed right in the middle of a drop, like “Forget Survival Mode. I’m nailing this Life Thing!” And she did so, because she had no doubt it would turn out otherwise. I think that’s where the secret lies. You’ve got to silence that critic and just plain believe that you already ARE the organized/confident/relaxed/fit/insert-goal-here person that you want to be. And when you believe it, that’s when the magic starts. I’m going to start practicing. I’ll report back if it leads to unicorns, but I can tell you right now that it will definitely lead to more flattering roller coaster photos.

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