Full PreFrontal

Ep. 167: William Damon - A Look Back to Look Ahead

October 07, 2021 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 167
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 167: William Damon - A Look Back to Look Ahead
Show Notes Transcript

British author Somerset Maugham once wrote, “What makes old age hard to bear is not the failing of one's faculties, mental and physical, but the burden of one's memories.” Writers and poets have a lot to say about reminiscing, contemplation, regret and nostalgia, but it often suggests that one must travel far down the road of life to arrive at that point where suddenly our life decisions say more about who we are rather than what we did!

On this episode, professor at Stanford University, director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, and leading scholar of human development across the lifespan and  author of A Round of Golf With My Father: The New Psychology of Exploring Your Past to Make Peace With Your Present, William Damon, discusses why the process of Life-Review is a productive way of looking back. Since Executive Function skills provide the guardrail for self-regulated future-forward thinking, the Life-Review process can prove to be a painful or invigorating process depending on our openness to self-change, capacity to admit mistakes, and desire to stay connected to the past-self to shape the journey of the future self.

About William Damon
William Damon is a professor at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence. He is a leading scholar of human development across the lifespan and the author of The Path to Purpose. His recent book, A Round of Golf with my Father: The New Psychology of Exploring your Life to Make Peace with Your Present, is an examination of using a life review to renew personal identity and forge a purposeful direction moving forward. Damon is a fellow in the National Academy of Education and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Damon has been named by Best Schools as one of the fifty most influential living psychologists in the world today.



About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

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Sucheta Kamath: Welcome to Full PreFrontal exposing the mysteries of executive function. As you have heard me say this many times this podcast is fueled by three important goals. One is to explain what executive function is, what's the relationship between prefrontal cortex, your amygdala, and your process of building bridge towards the future, or future self. And second thing is to help everyone connect with the plight of the current self, who is slightly socially distanced from the future self. And finally, to help people create a solid playbook, a personal died so that one can master not just executive function decision making, but live a life of fulfillment. While thinking about executive function and the future self. I'm very keen about the concept of the past and current, past current and future self continuity. And research shows that those who vividly envision their future self, the consequences of their present actions for the future self tend to do better. Those who feel a similarity between the future self and the present self tend to have more positive emotions, they tend to acknowledge the positive qualities of the future self more readily, and it ultimately leads to having a more meaningful connection to your decision making for the future, which of course, the thoughts of the future self particularly distant future self, my 10 year old later self or the 20 year later self becomes very vague and opaque. One of my favorite British authors Somerset Maugham, once wrote that what makes old age hard to bear is not the feeling of one's faculties, mental and physical, but the burden of one's memories. A lot can be said about regret and contemplation. But one must travel far down the road of life to arrive at that point where suddenly, our life decisions, say more about who we are, rather than what we did. This can be a painful or invigorating process, depending on many factors, including openness to self change, capacity to admit mistakes, and desire to stay connected to the past self to shape the journey of the future self. And that's why this special guest with me today, conversation with him are really going to be very meaningful. So it's a great pleasure to have Dr. Damon, William Damon, again, on our podcast second time. Last time, he was here to talk about path to purpose. But this time, he has a twist. He's a professor at Stanford University, and the director of the Stanford Center for Adolescence, is a leading scholar of human development across the lifespan, and the author of the Path to purpose. But in addition, he recently published his book called A Round of Golf with my Father: The New Psychology of Exploring your Past to Make Peace with your Present is an examination, which is an examination of using a life review, to renew personal identity and forge a purposeful direction moving forward. Welcome, Bill. How are you?

William Damon: I'm great, and it's so nice to be with you again, Sucheta.

Sucheta Kamath: Absolutely. So let's start with this psychological idea called self concept. What is the idea behind this self concept? And as a developmental process? How does it emerge?

William Damon: Self concept is always alive and growing. It's a movie and not a snapshot. And I think that's something that people at all ages need to embrace. Because I think that people often get fixed in their idea that I am who I am, maybe I was determined by my genes, or by my early experience, and none of that is the case. A lot of who we are, is shaped by who we want to be shaped by our visions, our beliefs, our aspirations. And so at every point in life, from as soon as we can begin reflecting on who we are, which begins certainly by the end of childhood, right up until the last moment of life, we have some agency some capacity to make choices that will determine the kind of person we want to be. And my book is, my new book is an examination of exactly how you do that. By thinking about your past in the most positive and most effective manner, and not be trapped by your past, but rather use your past as a growth opportunity.

Sucheta Kamath: I started there because I think and thank you for connecting to your book because I think when we, you're you're a developmental psychologist and my interest as a speech language pathologist, but also somebody who sees the overlap between multiple sciences and fields. As we think about executive function, we really need to understand that developing agency developing a sense of connectedness to the notion of, I am capable of this I want to become this is a bridge between what I am not doing right now and how I can get there, where I'm doing the things that will help me define as a better person. And in a lot of research talks about how executive function is connected with morality, you know, our contentment, or the sense of justice, compassion, because we are kind of holding ourselves to certain principles and using ourselves impulse control or self control through that lens. And and so thank you for setting the stage for this confident conversation. Before I jump into your book, you connect this process in this book vividly, which is called the process of life review, a concept that was put forth by a psychiatrist in 50s. I think, Dr. Butler, if I'm correct. So what is the process of life review mean? And can a life review help you identify and strengthen your purpose in life?

William Damon: Yes, well, the answer, I believe, is yes. And as you said, This idea was developed by Robert Butler, who was a legendary psychiatrist, who became the head of the first head of the National Institute of aging in the United States, and actually coined the phrase ageism, in a Pulitzer Prize winning book that he wrote, The life review, is his idea of how to go over your life in the most productive way possible in your mind. We all go over our lives all the time. Anyway, we always tell life stories, even small life stories about the shopping trip we just took, or the vacation we took, or the family dinner we had, we're, we're constantly telling life stories, and the life stories tell us and other people about who we are. But we usually do them in a haphazard kind of random way. And sometimes, we don't even represent what happened very accurately, are. And I go into my book a lot about the science of memory and the psychology of memory, which is very imperfect. And it is a construction. And Butler's point was that if we go over our lives in a systematic, intentional way, where we focus on the kinds of purposes we've had, the kinds of things that have given us satisfaction, the kinds of contributions we've made. And when we do think our of our mistakes and our regrets, and that is part of our life, every human being has made mistakes, everybody, all of us, and all of us have certain regrets. And it's important to confront them, but not to dwell on them not to get hung up on them. And not to think that they define who you are, you can learn from your mistakes. And your regrets can be even part of a productive understanding of who you want to be because you have some understanding of things that you would not do again, or perhaps regret might have ended up leading you to the person you are anyway, which is something you need to embrace and affirm. So the life review, say it very simply, is a way of going over your past history in a systematic way, an intentional way towards the mission of creating the future self that you want to be and understanding what you've learned from your past, understanding what you want to retain, understanding how you can develop and build it in the future. And it was a method that Butler believed in even though he never really had a chance to develop it much. When he went on to become a public figure. He was no longer a bench researcher, a scientist in that sense. And so it was kind of a method out there waiting to be tried out. And and that's what I did in my book. I I tried out the life review on a single case, which was me. And I found it personally very satisfying, not only very satisfying, but also helping me deal with things that I had long, put myself batted away, I had very long denied and not really confronted in a in the way that would eventually be important to give myself peace of mind and further optimism and hope for the future.

Sucheta Kamath: So I'm going to pick on this point that you were talking about a minute ago. So one thing in Butler's work comes up is that it's, this is a universal mental process, it's naturally occurring. And typically, though, culturally speaking, or maybe, you know, in the context of age, who pauses more often, you know, those who have come are in their sunset years, and not necessarily people made, you know, at age 15. If you pause and look back, you don't have a long standing history with self. And so I don't want you to share about that, as to does this journey look different for for different ages. And I want to insert this idea in, in Marathi, my mother tongue, I speak five languages. And in Sanskrit, this is a Sanskrit word, but it's called ..., which actually doesn't translate. Or maybe there's another English word you can tell me, but it's a typical process describe, to look back, and which actually means like a lion, you come to the top of the hill, and look at the entire Savanna, and look back the traveling you have done. And this is a con. It's a beautiful concept. When I was growing up all throughout my high school years, we would like we would have an assignment to write about, ... like looking back. And I don't know if you have a such a word where you stand on top of something to look back the entire scope of your journey. So that and you know, one of the comedians used to say this word, we'll take a look back to look ahead, right, you know, I'm wondering what what are your thoughts about what the right junctures in your time of life are to look back, or rather, what I heard you say is, it should be done often enough, but I think I see a couple of things, barriers, one is sensitivity. Now, when your sense of self as not mature enough, then you are looking back, and you're going to look at your mistakes with great, you know, anger, anxiety, or anger. But also you don't have enough accomplishments to say anything about who you are yet.

William Damon: Well, it's true that the longer you live, the more you have to look back on. But I believe that at any age, beginning at least step towards the end of adolescence, you can, you can get a lot of information about who you want to be, from experiences that you've had in the past and what they've meant to you. And so to answer your question about when is particularly productive to look back, I think that any transition point in development. So for example, graduation, I'm glad to hear that you, you were asked to do this during high school, because I think that is productive. And it also gets you into the habit of doing this, of reflecting about your past, in order. And you said this very, very nicely in order to look towards the future in in a, in a wise and insightful way. So I think that all through life at any transition when you graduate school, when you take on a new job, when you switch jobs, when you begin to form a family, when your children grow up. When you retire from your first job and look for encore kinds of purposes in life. At any point in life, I think it's helpful to do this kind of survey, I suppose that's the word we would use you kind of survey your life and, and make some make some judgments about what has worked, what has not worked, what I can learn from this, what I should be taking, satisfaction and pride from and what I need to change. Because we also we always should have that kind of humility of thinking that no matter what we've done in life, what we've accomplished, there's there's new challenges that we need to rise to. And this, there's new skills that we can develop at any age. So I I think this is a I am a lifespan developmental psychologist. And I do believe that development continues throughout life. And the reason it continues throughout life is that we remain open minded and interested in changing and growing. And as long as we keep that growth mindset, we can, we can have a very positive, future oriented life.

Sucheta Kamath: Love that. And I think thank you for kind of, particularly listeners who are parents and educators. For younger children, this is such an invaluable advice, because I think we shouldn't pass like I was setting the stage saying that, do I have enough to look back at? Yes, you're saying yes, there's ample to look back at because there's so much more to forge forward. away? Yes. That's great.

William Damon: And as you know, Sucheta, most of my work, at least in the in the later periods of my career has been on the concept of purpose, and how young people find purpose. So people in midlife continue their purpose, how older people find new purposes. And purpose is a very forward looking concept. It's the idea that we have aspirations to contribute something to the world, and something beyond the self that's meaningful to the self. But even though it's forward looking, a lot of our decisions about what kinds of purposes, we are best served by dedicating ourselves to a lot of those choices are made by looking back at what we have done in the past that we've been successful at, that we have found interesting that we've believe in, that fit our capacities and our talents. So even with a very forward looking concept like purpose, it requires in order to make good decisions, requires the kind of self knowledge that comes from a survey of our past experiences.

Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, I think that really makes sense. So let's talk about your life story. It's interesting. We, before we started recording, I was saying this, that sometimes the life review process comes about in a natural way, sometimes we are nudged into it. And sometimes we may be reluctant. Because what, what we may find that we may not be ready for, and you have a very interesting story, and that you tell us about your own process of looking back at your absentee father, and how much time and energy you had invested in finding out more about him. But tell us that story. And I really appreciated how open you are, and how you took your daughter's invitation to explore it. I think that just tells how you are committed to lifelong learning process yourself?

William Damon: Well, yes. Although I have to admit this is one of these cases where a parent learns a lot from his child. And because, yes, this was an area in my life. Even though I am a developmental psychologist, I was not really following my own prescriptions. Because I had a difficult life situation, especially early in life. My father abandoned my mother and me at my birth, and I never met him, I never even saw a picture of him. And my mother did not reveal to me what really happened to him. I, for the first 20 years of my life, all she ever told me about him was that he was quote, missing in World War Two. And he was serving in Germany, on the on the lines there, and he did not come back. And I assumed that he was killed, he was killed in action. And everyone around me maintained that bubble of a mystery, even though a lot of them knew better. And it I finally my mother finally confronted me with the truth when I was in college. But I was so embarrassed. And it was such an awkward conversation, that she basically revealed to me that she had hidden the truth for my whole youth that I never had a full conversation with her about that. My whole discussion with her on this lasted about a minute. And then for the next 42 years of her life until she died. We never raised the subject again. So I went through the rest of my life...

Sucheta Kamath: Can I quickly ask you that was such an interesting moment that you describe that as a young man. You never responded even emotionally or curiosity was what happened, what made this because she didn't bring it up that he was supporting, providing child support. Right?

William Damon: Right. And it was because I did not want to identify with someone who I assumed was a no good scoundrel who had abandoned his wife and child. And I wanted nothing to do with this person. And I was a young man growing up, and I understood even then, the importance of Father-Son identification, and I didn't want a negative role model. And it was also something I think I didn't have the courage to really have a full conversation with my mother about it, I thought it would be a very emotionally difficult, uncomfortable conversation. And I have to say, for the next 40 years of my life, I avoided all the clues that came about and there were some, I just batted them away, I, I buried them. And I think that was a mistake I wish I had earlier in life. Been bold enough to find out the truth. Because when I discovered later, after my daughter, my daughter was the one that revealed the truth to me. She called me one night she, she was a she's an economist, and she had spent a sleepless night in Cape Town, South Africa, on jetlag, and got curious about her grandfather, who she never met. And she called me and she said, Dad, I don't want to upset you. But I found out some information. That got me going, I was ready to hear that at that point, I was in my early 60s, and I was secure enough that I could take the risk of finding out. And what I found out, basically, and I write about this in the book, I unraveled a whole series of mysteries about this man. And it turned out that he was not a no account. No good scoundrel. He had quite a consequential life. It did not excuse his irresponsibility for abandoning my mother and me. But it turned out that he had a life of contribution to the Foreign Service, he would had some moral courage at one point in his army career that I was able to investigate. He was a great golfer. And that was one of the that's the reason I don't type I titled the book A Round of Golf with My Father, because I love golf myself, but I'm not a great golfer. But finding out about that, I then I wrote it in the book about doing an imaginary round of golf with him. He had been long dead, but it was kind of a bonding experience. And it did provide me a path for respecting him, and eventually forgiving him when I found out all of these positive things about his life. And I also discovered that he had a family, second family, with daughters who became my very treasured half sisters, after I finally took the initiative to find out about all this. So in my book, it's really a case study of someone me, who finds finally got up the courage to confront his past and deal with the regrets and resentments that I had, in a positive way rather than because the past will always catch up with you. I quote, Faulkner in the book, who said very famously, the past is not dead. It's not even past not even. It's part of who we are, and you can't really avoid it. And so it's important to confront the difficulties, the hardships, the regrets, the mistakes you made, because I did make a mistake by not following up on this and having the conversation with my mother, and confronting them in a way that you learn from them. And you learn to accept who you are now, and figure out how to become a better person in a way that doesn't recapitulate the old mistakes, but rather, moves forward, you know, in a growth kind of manner.

Sucheta Kamath: It's interesting, the way you write about when, of course, very curious phenomenon was that you actually had access to who your father was as a young man or as a child. You both went to a Phillips Academy, and you dug some records of his academic performance, and even the letter that his parents wrote, which I thought was unique and and you saw some of the, you know, young mind who was not as mature as could be at that age, and and having a child at a young age could be and the decision he took to abandon could be reflected in some of the ways he approached life. Compared to us, you sounded very, you had your stuff together at a much younger age. So did this information, and also your relationship with your mom who didn't talk about it, but had this beautiful letter, which where he addresses her as a dear pie face. Right? So I'm just curious, how did you reconcile with your anger about some discoveries, that the fact that your father went ahead and had another family that means he was interested in having a family, but never really, and yet lived a very meaningful and purposeful, impactful life, but didn't share that with you. But it's your openness and maybe gracious heart that you forgive him? If, if you think it that way, I was just curious. How did you reconcile as you took an inventory of this life review method?

William Damon: Yes, well, well, first of all, let me say that forgiving someone is not only good for that person, of course, my father was dead at that point, so did him no good. But when you are able to forgive somebody, it does you a lot of good, it gives you a peace of mind, yes, is much better than holding on to bitterness and anger. So that was, that was a favor I did for myself was to find a way to forgive him. And the way I did that was by doing the kind of research that you mentioned, which is thrilling. And everybody can do this, I write about this in the book that I'm an amateur historian, I knew nothing about how to do this kind of research, but everyone can find out records about their parents about themselves. I looked for old school records, I interviewed people who knew my father when he was young. And this is a process that I think is beneficial. And and, and it doesn't take an expert to do it. And the kinds of things I discovered, just to give you an example, I had no idea that my father went to the same school that I went to that he had gone to Phillips Academy, I never even knew why I ended up there. Because I came from a kind of a because he had abandoned us. We were not well off, we were not living in the kind of environment that we even knew about these kinds of places. But obviously, my mother did know about it, because of my father. And so my father's educational journey had a tremendous effect on my life that I never even knew about. And these were the kinds of discoveries that I made about not only my father's life, but about my life and how his existence affected me, that gave me a much richer understanding of who I was, where I came from, what made a difference in my life. And as far as far as my father is concerned, as you said, I had a lot to forgive him for I mean, he had hurt my mother very badly by not coming back from Germany. And I have I often said, there were a lot of things that I never got to learn about being about growing up that people can learn from having a father and I had to figure all bad out myself. But understanding that he as a young student was irresponsible, that that was part of who he was, and learning about his life and how he eventually developed a kind of a moral maturity that he never had, and that he obviously did not have at the point when he abandoned my mother in me, but learning about how he continued to develop and was able to eventually develop the kind of character that could contribute to the world that could raise a fine family, a second family, it gave me It did give me a path to not completely excuse his irresponsibility, but a path towards respecting him and forgiving him. And that did me a lot of good It gave me a lot of peace and security and confidence, rather than thinking that this person was just a no good scoundrel.

Sucheta Kamath: And so, you know, recently I came across Ashley Ford's a biography or novel and she talks about it's called Someone's Daughter. And it's an interesting after, as I was reading your book, it just reminded me of a another, you know, approach to this life review. But she, as a young young girl knew her father was in prison. And, and she she writes that she her mother would go in a fit of rage. If any of the children asked where why dad was in prison and she just as a young mind, you know, constructed this image that he's there probably the worst of the worst could be murder. And then, when she was 13, she found out that it was actually for rape. And at that age she was herself six months earlier been raped. And and so I think there was something she discovered about her life as she took a life review, not so reconcilable. Right? Right? And then she talks about her coming to terms process. So how do you see how this process works out when you look back, and some things that are out of your control, are not so savory, or also quite traumatic? And secondly, what have you yourself, have taken very poor decisions? So like, I'm wondering, you know, as I read, I wondered to myself, what would your life dad's life review process would look like? If he looked back? And what would he write a letter to young Bill and say, I'm so sorry. You know, I just curious about that. 

William Damon: Yeah, that's it, these are terrific questions. And they right there, right at the heart of the matter. And as I write in my book, there are some instances in life there, there are some things that happen in life, that are not for the better, that you can't, you can't fool yourself into thinking, well, this, this seemed hard at the time, but it was for the better in the long run, because life is full of catastrophes and tragedies and wounds that will not heal. And part of what you need to do, I think in life review, is make a distinction between events that happen that you truly just need to mourn, to say, you know, life is tragic in in for many people in many ways. And if we're going to, if we're going to accept that we are alive and be affirmative about that, we have to accept that life has its share of hardships and, and things that went wrong that weren't that, that we we need to say. This was tragic, it was awful, I wish this didn't happen. But it's part of life, and it is part of accepting that and we would not be the people we are now the world would not be the same now. If if they had that happened, and so if we're going to accept the way we are, we have to accept them, even though we accept them with sadness. And, and so there are there are those kinds of incidents that were that are just that simply irreconcilable in that sense. But if you if you think about other kinds of regrets, other kinds of mistakes that people made, I mean, the To give you an example. I understood my father's abandonment of me as something that made my life difficult, and yet gave me certain strengths that I would not have had, if he had been there. And if he had come back, and if he had not gotten along well, with my mother, there could have been all kinds of other problems. So it, it's it's never a simple case of saying, well, I wish this hadn't happened. There are some cases that are clearly that are clearly tragic. But in many, many cases, even though they've made your life more difficult and more challenging. There are ways to think about them that you can, you can find the positive aspect of it and find what you can learn from it. And I write at length in my book about exactly that, about how you how you can think about these things to make that distinction, and to find ways that you in any case, in any case, whatever you do, and I'm going to quote here from the great psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl who went through the Holocaust in a concentration camp, and wrote the wonderful book, Man's Search for Meaning out of it that I work on purpose a lot. Now, that original title of his book is not Man's Search for Meaning. The original title of his book in the German was, Nevertheless Say Yes to Life. And that's really the and that's really the message. I mean, that's, I think it was actually unfortunately mistranslated when it was called Man's Search. Because that's, that's, that's really a wonderful message, which is, yes, bad things happen. And of course, it's awful that the Holocaust happened. And it's awful that every single thing you mentioned, and we wish it didn't happen, and we mourn that that happened. But still, nevertheless, we should say yes to life. Even though awful, awful, terrible, horrible things happen. And that's really the message that I think needs to come come across at something I learned from Viktor Frankl. And I think a lot of my book is exactly about that about how to say yes, and all the varieties of ways we can respond to these different types of events, some of which we can learn from, some of which were actually better off, even though they seem difficult, and some of which, really, it's, it's awful that they happen. But nevertheless, we should affirm our lives.

William Damon: I love that I it's a funny connection, but there's a movie called Rewrite, where Hugh Grant is the lead. And it's an interesting story of, you know, dead beat writer who had one hit wonder, that script that he writes, becomes a very famous and very successful commercially successful movie, and 15 years go by, and he cannot get that same success. And so he's struggling, and then he, he approaches his agent and say, I need a job like my, you know, my, you know, I'm in trouble, financial trouble. So he finds his summer job of becoming a writing instructor at a writing institute. And so college kids, it's a writing workshop. And it's so interesting, he arrives, he does not want to be there, he doesn't like the job, he doesn't want to give any feedback to students, he looks down upon their effort, who are just budding writers. So anyway, but one finally, when he gets into it, there's one little young student who keeps writing about her Bat Mitzvah event, something happened during the Bat Mitzvah. That's all the story she has. And and so and, and she talks deeply passionately about why she's writing it, because you know, her feelings were hurt or something. And so, Hugh Grant says to her, you know, I understand why you're writing this, but your character is paper thin. I love that, that the character had no depth, no body don't know, richness, and I feel adversity in a way is what gets us away from being paper, thin lives, you know, like, these meaningless papers, then obstruction free lives. So we do want some robust obstacles that shape us, right?

William Damon: That's wonderful. Yes, life is complicated. And we, we should be complicated, too. We should be, we should really contain multitudes.

Sucheta Kamath: And that's exactly he said, The, your character has no complications. That's great. I love that because that just reminds me that we should embrace because that's, we don't stay paper thin, then maybe one day we become a big encyclopedia. You know.

William Damon: I think that's great. And, and that is the lesson I learned. You know, as I said, even though I'm a developmental psychologist, I still have a lot to learn. And when my daughter forced me to confront my own past, and the regrets that I had, which I had been denying, I mean, I had a lot of regrets and resentment about my father, which I refuse to think about. But when I really, I also quote the Frank Sinatra song where he said, regrets, I've had a few but then again, too few to mention. And that sounds very lucky, I always leave that I thought, don't look back, you know, this is the this is the way to go through life. But it's not the recipe for the best mental health I think. And you should confront your problems and confront your difficulties. And as you said, embrace them, they're part of who you are. And that really is the the lesson that I learned and I write it in the book about which is confronting regrets in a way that does not deny them doesn't say, you know, I don't need to think about these things but to say well what is it really that I regret and what's legitimate to regret what can I learn from that? What do I regret that maybe I shouldn't even regret and and that is what the life review is and when I write about the method of the life review that's what I that's how I describe it, and that that's how I did it when my own case.

Sucheta Kamath: And you know, as as another thing that popped up in my head, as I read your book was you had a fixed image of your dad, and that was really essential for you to survive. Because how do you reconcile with abandonment, right, you had to paint him to be a bad guy. So as you went through this discovery process, he didn't her not to be as bad as you wanted him to be. I'm saying, you know what I mean, it was essential for your identity to know or blame your suffering on absentee dad. And suddenly, when you see this guy who was a pretty decent person, accomplished person, a person who actually showed all the concerns and care, that would have made him a good father, if he had matured in time for you, right, your arrival? Yeah, but I think that was such a healthy, like, I really loved your own psychological application of your journey, all the science to your own self and saying, Yeah, I'm kind of he wasn't that bad. Yeah, you know, it's kind of sometimes we are resistant to accept that.

William Damon: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And there was, to be honest, there was some pain in that, because then I had to confront a new regret, which is, if I had been more open minded earlier in my life, and allowed myself to explore this, I could have met him and I could have met his family much earlier than I did. And that was a mistake. And there was a second I had to learn something from so it was it was a new journey into self exploration. And, but I do think, as you said that, that, in the end, difficult, this was difficult and painful. But of course, without pain, you sometimes don't grow. And so I think that it was very, it was very, I mean, it's a story of, of a journey that I took that was very worthwhile, even though there were a lot of ups and downs, discoveries that were painful at the time, that later gave me a lot of insight that, that I think, is helping me now and in the future.

Sucheta Kamath: It's great, I remember, every time I look back at my life, I kind of did some exploration along the lines that you recommend that I often tend to talk about my challenges or problems, because they really shaped the way they either challenged my preconceived notions, or they actually told a lot more, or talked about a lot more about my substance in a way. One quick story that I when I came to us, I came with a scholarship to become a TA. And I was a TA in a communications disorders department working with a world renowned expert, who was a phonology expert. And I had a my Master's in linguistics, and I was coming for a second Master's. So I was given a very specific job. She used to teach introductory linguistics to undergraduate students. And my job was to TA her class and the first quiz that happened, I got 80 papers to correct and so the quiz was that she orally dictated words and using International Phonetic language, you had to transcribe it. And so for that, I knew International Phonetic language back of my hand. So kids, she dictated and the kids wrote the phonetic transcription and I had to take it and correct and I finished within a day I finished my assignment I brought it back on Monday and I said I'm sorry Dr. Folks, you know, but you you don't have smart class. Why? I said 90% of kids have failed I said, she said what? And she couldn't believe her eyes because she said this has never happened. And then she looked through the all the papers and there was no failure they had not failed. Guess who had failed. So I as a English as a second language speaker. So when you say the word o f, right? It's o f in India you would pronounce this as off and America it will be pronounced as of right? So of and off sound so when you transcribe it's a completely different ballgame, I am transcribing the written word. And she wanted me to do the spoken word so I'm not not even paying attention to it. So anyways, but what was so amazing at that moment, she had she had a mini panic attack, or did I hire but then she also said to herself, Okay, I see your talent. I'm going to put you in this Cantonese and Mandarin language speakers speaking English and you transcribe them because your transcription is stellar. But it just the English to English is a little bit of a problem. There you go. I was in this lab for the whole year with the headphones transcribing. It worked great. It could have completely crumbled me that that was embarrassing to me. If you think about Did you know I had this knowledge and ability, which I thought was great, and I bombed, but I that just told me so many things about her and me, and our relationship, you know, and anyway, so I do see that in your story, too, that, that openness with which you learn. So tell us a little bit about few things that you recommend our listeners, and how can they engage in this live review process? And while curtailing the regret or focus on regret, and looking at failure with great white minded attitude?

William Damon: Yeah, well, I recommend the work of the psychologist Dan McAdams, who's at Northwestern University. And he's written books about narrative identity, which is basically the idea of developing your self concept through this kind of process. And he's developed, I think, the best methods, the most rigorous methods for interviewing yourself. And, and in my book, I, I refer to his work a lot. So Dan McAdams, his work either his articles or his books. There's work on what's called prospective thinking, which is how you can think about the future in a way that is inviting you to use your imagination and your beliefs to shape the kind of person you are. And I am, the person that's written mostly about that is Martin Seligman and Roy Baumeister, and so they have a book on, on human prospection. And, and I recommend that. And of course, if people are interested in my story, the story of how my daughter forced me, my daughter introduced me to my father, that was the that's the way I put it, and introduced me to the need to do a life review. The title of my book is called A Round of Golf with my Father: The New Psychology of Exploring your Past to Make Peace with Your Present. And just as a word, the round of golf was really, the idea that that was the thing I ended up being most bitter about, that I didn't even realize was that the guy never came by to teach me how to play golf. And I had to get over that. Because I, as I said, I found out he was a great golfer, and I love golf. But it was emblematic, it was really representative of all the things he never did for me. And so I did this kind of cathartic journey to his old golf course, to play golf with an old scorecard of his that I uncovered and pretending he was there with me. And that was the symbol of my whole journey. So that's why I called the book A Round of Golf with My Father. And in that book, I do go into the, how I did the life review for myself and my father and my mother, too, who played a role in that as well.

Sucheta Kamath: I think it's so sweet that you know, I mean, as a experienced professional, you are in your full adulthood and yet, that craving we all have to be connected and seen and heard by our parents, and, and mostly be able to show that you know, the title of the movie, kids will be alright, you know, like, just your way of demonstrating. I'm alright dad, it was very touching. To me, you know, I think a lot about that. I actually my mom lives with me, my dad passed away several years ago, 13 years ago, almost and I do keep stories that she tells, because through her stories, I really like like you know, it it so much richness, knowing that people have lived rich lives. It just one gives you a perspective that hardship is not unique to you. But it also gives you so much encouragement that I have that same fabric in me you know, I have that same that DNA in me. So I'm sure you feel very, very relieved. So with with that, how does your What have you imparted to your children with this backdrop of your own personal experience? That is a little bit different. If you didn't grew up with that background of your father, abandoning you.

William Damon: With my children, I am really emphasizing the importance of family and family even even the family that you don't know if they're family mysteries and a lot of people have family mysteries or, or people that didn't come through for them, or people that disappointed them in in a lot of ways. But when I try to tell my children and of course, it doesn't even have to necessarily be kinship family, it could be with the families that you build through your very deep friendships in life, but, but family type relationships where you are just totally dedicated to another person, and you would do anything for them, including forgive them, if they if they make a mistake, or, or hurt you. That's really what I try to talk to my children about, and try to build in them that appreciation, because, frankly, it took me a long part of a lot, a long period of my life. To really understand that myself, I was slow to come to understand that. And so I'm hoping to give my children a bit more of a shortcut to that insight about how important family and family type relationships are, and dedicating yourself to other people in the way that you would dedicate yourself, to your children, to your siblings, to your parents, and so on.

Sucheta Kamath: What an invaluable lesson. So as we end our conversation, you have made several recommendations, including your own book, which we are going to have in our show notes. any parting thoughts about about just general as we think about leading a meaningful life, the hardship what I'm getting again and again, is something to be not feared. And with your own boldness, I feel you're kind of not only preach, but practice, so to speak. Any other closing thoughts?

William Damon: My final thought is, is never give up. Sometimes these painful memories seem so difficult that you really are tempted to say, oh, gee, you know, why deal with this at all? It's just it's too hard. And I think my closing message is keep at it, because it's, it's, it's worth the struggle. 

Sucheta Kamath: Well, alright, that's all the time we have today. As you can see, these are important conversations we are having with the knowledgeable, incredibly qualified and passionate experts with unique perspective on executive function, living a meaningful life pursuing a life of purpose, and occasionally pausing to reflect so that some of your decisions, even if they were wrong, can be righted by relating to them correctly or better ways. Or maybe you get a second chance to reduce some of the parts that you're not to contend with. And continue to stay connected. If you love what you're hearing, do share the episode with your friends and colleagues, and your family too. And if you have a moment, leave us a review. Thank you for connecting from all walks of life from all over the world. And looking forward to connecting again next time here on Full PreFrontal. Thank you, Bill.

William Damon: Thank you very much.