The 10-year-old's defining moment

Like many other pursuers of personal development or entrepreneurship, I get up early. I start with cleaning, organizing, and while cleaning and organizing I’m listening to something educational, like a TED talk or an interview with a famous thinker or leader.

This morning, I listened to Daniel Kahneman’s TED talk, 2010, on experience vs. memory, and then to Michio Kaku’s interview, 2018, on Impact Theory on why you should be optimistic about the future.

Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky led the famous study on prospect theory that would later spark the new field of behavioral economics. In 2002, Kahneman received the Nobel Prize for his integration of psychological research into the economic sciences.

Michio Kaku hosts several shows. He occasionally conducts interviews with other famous thinkers and, among other questions, asks when in their childhood his interviewees would say they experienced some defining moment to lead them to conclude, “This is what I want to do in life.” He points out that for many of his interviewees, the defining moment happened around age 10.

He mentions that his daughter grew up to become a neuroscientist. Around his children’s age 10, Michio Kaku says during his interview on Impact Theory that he made sure to take his children to visit plenty of planetariums, telescopes, and museums.


I have two sons, presently ages 10 and 6. My four older children, to include my 10-yr old son, live with their family in Pennsylvania. I call at least twice a week. On one call, I remember my son sharing a memory that occurred when we was 6 (not around age 6 but at age 6), when all of a sudden his sisters started saying, “You always say age 6…” For him, that age represented a significant moment in memory or brain development.

At my age 10 (turning 11), I remember first reading Man’s Search for Meaning (1992, my copy, which I still have), by V. Frankl. The book introduced me to the questions I wanted to ask in life, in particular, questions about life itself, its meaning, its purpose, its direction, and whether one may still find meaning through suffering and meaning through life’s temporariness.

This came at a time when I frequently endured (or at least what I remember as frequently enduring) plenty of bullying, with its occasional violence and other physical abuse, loneliness, helplessness, powerlessness, severe and prolonged depression (from about age 9 through 19), disconnection from the world, a feeling of being rejected by the world just for being born a certain way, a way over which I had no control, and family that didn’t care.

In all fairness, if I think objectively about it, I see that I had way more good or neutral times than bad; negativity bias filters out plenty of the neutral-to-good memories.


My defining moment in the pursuit of meaning consisted of the pursuit of meaning itself, and from an outside and slightly elevated position as a non-professional thinker. I don’t know my 10-year-old’s defining moment just yet. Maybe he doesn’t either. Not yet, at least.

I think as a parent, it’s better that I aim to help my kids become the best persons that they themselves find meaningful, that they discover for themselves what they find meaningful, valuable, and not who I want them to become.

On this higher level, I don’t know what’s better for them than they do for themselves. From Daniel Goleman’s Focus, I came across the idea of using a time-in rather than a time-out, to encourage introspection or reflection within kids. The next overly dramatic moment my kids throw at me, and I’m going to Socratize them with a few more questions aimed at strengthening mental tools for self-control.

In watching my thoughts, I notice a fear I hold about my children’s future. It’s the same fear my mom had for me as a kid; the fear that I would become a failure. Therefore, she felt it necessary to direct some of my choices in life, in particular about school and work. She had me take piano lessons and encouraged the medical field.

Today, I don’t even own a piano (someday I will), I’m now 17 years into a military career, and my college degrees were in philosophy and legal studies.

(Aside. Although, I would have loved to play the piano but for two very particular nuances – weighted piano keys and chalkboard-scratching-squeaky-to-the-touch piano key surfaces. My digital piano didn’t feel like a piano, and that led to a miserable experience at the end of each week of practice when I’d meet with, and disappoint, my piano teacher. My teacher taught using a traditional piano. Her piano had slightly roughened surfaces that didn’t aggravate me with the feeling of squeaky dissonance. None of this was visible from the outside, to my mother. Clearly, she knew better. Why would she believe a child about how he feels? My experience of playing the piano improved when my motivation improved, from having to practice to wanting to practice, because I discovered girls.)

I don’t think I need to give in to the same fear. It’s okay for me to be optimistic about my children’s future. If I set up the situation just right by making it okay for them to fail and learn, by making them feel safe, then they’ll discover their own way, a better way than what I would’ve thought of for them.

The world is getting better. Just look up any metric – increasing wealth, technology, increasing lifespans, decreasing violence, decreasing disease. In Money: Master the Game (2014), Tony Robbins shares insights on personal wealth from some of the unicorns in the investment game, such as Ray Dalio.

He points out that trying to become one of these unicorns doesn’t represent a reasonable pursuit for most people, and, well, we still need teachers, doctors, engineers, and jobs other than investors. And so much of the book hammers away at the slow-but-steady game of increased regular savings, compound interest, index funds, reducing fees, reducing risk, asset protection, estate planning, and the like. It may not be how the wealth on the cover of Forbes magazine obtained their wealth, but it’s how they keep it.

Tony Robbins concludes the book by highlighting how even if the reader doesn’t do anything with the information in the book, if the reader lives somewhere like America, he’s already very lucky. And even if he doesn’t, advancements in technology and decreasing costs mean he’s lucky to be alive today. Furthermore, it’s getting better and better.