To Thing 1, on your 10th birthday

Today you’re ten years old and I am so proud of you. There are many things I want to share with you, and each will have its own time. Right now I want to talk with you about stories.

Something that took a long time for me to accept is that we live in a world where things exist together that don’t seem possible. Like when you feel both happy and sad about something at the same time. Nature can be so cruel while it is creating the most beautiful things on our planet. There are many examples like these, and they are all so difficult to understand.

When two things come together in this way we call it a paradox. The fact that we exist at all, and that there is something instead of just nothing, is a paradox. It shouldn’t be possible. But it is.

I hope you and I will spend a lot of time talking about this as you get older. One day you’ll be old enough to drink alcohol and then our conversations will become especially interesting. For now I want to try and explain one of the most amazing paradoxes of all.

Stories build universes

Everyone has their own entire universe, and each of those universes begins with a story. My story is about growing up in a town called Pretoria, being a man, and believing in a set of things that help me make sense of the world. In my story there are things that I like, things that I don’t, and people I can’t live without. You’re one of them.

Other people have their own stories about me that aren’t the same as mine. Some people think I am nice, other people don’t. Some people think I am fair and others think I am biased. All of these people are right - and all of them are wrong. It honestly doesn't matter what they think.

The truth - my real story - isn’t something I am able to explain, because it’s too big and I don’t have the words to tell it with. Every time I try, it just sounds crazy. It's a story about everything and nothing.

But there is a part of us that doesn't need words to know when something is right and true. There is a voice in your head that talks all day, but there is also a part of you that hears that voice. That listener is the real you. And it is the truth.

The voice sometimes tells you to be scared. It sometimes tells you that you aren't good enough or that you don't look nice or that you can't do things. But you can make the voice tell a better story if you want to. A story about how strong and brave you are. A story about an amazing person who can do anything if he tries hard enough.

When you change your story, the whole universe changes too. And when we let other people into our stories, parts of their universes join with ours. That’s why it is so important to make sure you only tell stories with other people whose universes you want to be part of - and why we must be so careful when other people let us into their stories. We are helping them build a universe, and that is a great responsibility.

Some things are only good for you

There are things that make you feel good and don’t hurt anyone, but other people might not want you to do them. In your story these things are amazing and beautiful but they might not be in other people's stories. Some people might even tell you these things are bad or evil. Others might tell you that you are weird because you want to do them, which will make you feel sad.

The worst thing that can happen is when people who love you ask you to stop doing these things.

You must not listen to them.

When you are doing something that is good for you and doesn’t hurt anyone, then nobody may tell you to stop doing it. No matter who the person is - whether it’s a friend, or even your mother or me - you must ignore them. More importantly, you should never feel bad for doing these things. You have to be very brave when other people are telling you that something is wrong when you know it is right. It might mean that you have to stop doing things that you have been doing for some time. It will be difficult, but you must do it.

Other things are good for the world, but not good for you

Some things help other people or make them feel good and they will ask you to help them do these things. You will feel like saying yes because it's nice to help other people. But you must learn to say no to all of them, except the most important ones.

No is a very important word because it is usually more difficult to say than yes, but saying no will help you take control of your own story in a powerful way.

If you know something is wrong or bad for you, it is important that you stay away from it, no matter who is telling you to do it.

The best things are good for you, and good for the world

The very best things you will discover are good for you and good for other people too. These are the most important things you should be doing. They make you happy and strong, and they help other people tell better stories too. When you say yes to these things it will feel like your heart is singing.

I hope your job one day will be one of these things, because it will be a source of great joy for you if it is.

By saying no to most things that are only good for the world, and yes to things that are good for you, you will discover the things that are both. Even better, you might find other people who like them too and you can build crazy awesome universes together.

These things will seem too good to be true, because they are. They might not make sense when you try and explain them, but your feelings will tell you they are right. When people talk about them in the future it will be easy to see why they were so important, even if they don't seem important now. You will know them when they come into your life. They will feel like old friends who have come back to visit you - and they will make all the difference. For everyone.

For now, start with your own story my angel. Make sure it makes you feel good and don’t let anyone tell you it should be different. Tell the truth, no matter what.

You can only help other people make their stories better once you are happy with your own.

I love you.

Happy Birthday.


I'm a writer and broadcaster who also designs apps and strategies for disruptive startups in the financial world. Find out more on my about page.