Slice of Self

Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Top Bunk

And other unexpected lessons learnt over the years from The Little Prince

Photo by R. Fera from Pexels

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is the only book I’ve ever read in three languages — Romanian, French and English. It’s also the only book I’ve ever read at three different stages of my life — childhood, adolescence and adulthood. These are the memories kept and lessons learnt.

When I was about seven, I locked eyes with The Little Prince while grocery shopping with my parents through Carrefour, back in Bucharest. It was a period marked by the onset of ‘hypermarkets’ and ‘anything Western’ in the former communist nation, so naturally, it was very exciting to browse through the toys and books sections — who knew grocery stores could have other products stacked on their shelves than just canned tuna and flour?

I was intrigued by the drawings. I asked my mom if I could get it. And when your seven-year-old wants a book, you buy it, no questions asked.

That’s what my mom did. And I’m truly grateful.

Our fears can sometimes make us feel minuscule when faced with fearsome monsters. But fear is only scary when tackled as a whole. The monster sometimes feels a bit less scary, and a whole lot more approachable, when we ease into a handshake before we lean into a hug.

Preschool Play. Author’s Photo.

Childhood — on courage

The Little Prince weaves together many different themes, which are beyond the scope of my story, but fundamentally, it’s a tale about friendship, compassion and ultimately, courage. As a child, I remember finding the Little Prince intriguing. I really wanted to be his friend. He seemed compassionate and loving, but at the same time, he was audacious and rebellious — just how I felt when braving my fears and sleeping on the top bunk of my bed.

Being a single child at the time, there was no need for me to have a bunk bed. But I remember asking my parents for one relentlessly. In my mind, there was no cooler bed than a bunk bed. Finally, for my birthday, they surprised me with one already assembled in my room.

Be careful what you wish for, for you may just…get scared?

Turns out, living life on the top bunk at age seven — especially when the ground seems really far away — is scary. So, I resorted to sleeping at the bottom on most nights.

However, on some days, I felt a little bit courageous, and just like the Little Prince, whenever I slept at the top, it seemed like I was marvelling at a journey to another planet.

For the first time, I learnt that courage is the antidote to fear.

Our fears can sometimes make us feel minuscule when faced with fearsome monsters. But fear is only scary when tackled as a whole. The monster sometimes feels a bit less scary, and a whole lot more approachable, when we ease into a handshake before we lean into a hug.

At first, I would just play at the top until bedtime, before nervously retreating underneath.

With time, I pretended to be the Little Prince and see what discoveries I could make from up high throughout the night. Let’s call it braving fear with a little bit of self-inflicted adventure. I would pretend to fly over magical kingdoms and overtake wild dragons formed by the shadows on the walls, late into the night.

By embarking on an adventure within the fantasy of my stories, I was able to face the monsters in my life, however big or small, little by little, until courage seemed like a new normalcy.

The Little Prince taught me that in order to face my fears, all I needed was a little bit of courage, but most importantly, a spirit of adventure.

To get over your fears, I needed to create a fantasy world in my mind that put me as a protagonist in my becoming. And all it took was one small step, every single day, to get there.

The Little Prince taught me that to in order to face my fears, all I needed was a little bit of courage, but most importantly, a spirit of adventure. And all it took was one small step, every single day, to get there.

Adolescence — on authenticity

The next time I crossed paths with The Little Prince was in high school, in Ms. Parmigiani’s French class. Of course, this time around, we were assigned the book in its original language. Armed with the Collins French Dictionary by my side, I shared my greetings once again with the young prince.

I found him largely unchanged — still wearing his rebellious youth like a fine garment.

Something immediately struck me. Just as I conceived the Little Prince to be around my age back in my childhood, I also saw him as a peer while in my teens.

Perhaps what makes this book such a beloved classic is that it travels with you, just as much as you travel with its tale.

Adolescence marks our often futile attempt at navigating between who we are supposed to be, who we are, and who we can be. I remember feeling disoriented while at a crossroads of identities.

We are conditioned to see the world a certain way. To follow a path to success. But life isn’t a simple trajectory; it’s a complex labyrinth. If we expect straightforward formulas and outputs to lead us on the right path, we might as well never embark on the journey for it will lead us astray.

Throughout the book, ‘the grown-ups’ keep telling the young prince who he should be, what he should focus on, who he should befriend. However, as he later learns from his beloved friend, ‘The Fox,’ “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Easily one of the most profound and versatile passages in the book, it also suggests a truly significant lesson: you can only know something is right for you if it feels right.

This message inspired me to take a hard look at areas of my life that were screaming for emergence — from love to education pursuits — but it remains true today, just as much as it resonated back then.

Do you make life decisions by following that which is invisible to the eye? Are you following your heart in everything that you do?

We are conditioned to see the world a certain way. To follow a path to success. But life isn’t a simple trajectory; it’s a complex labyrinth. If we expect straightforward formulas and outputs to lead us on the right path, we might as well never embark on the journey for it will lead us astray.

Adulthood — on purpose

I recently decided to read The Little Prince once again, in English, for the very first time.

Not surprisingly, The Little Prince was right here sharing my pot of tea.

I quickly realized that I was mentally highlighting passages in completely new ways, for I was now battling with my little inner fighter called Nudge.

“When a mystery is too overpowering, one dare not disobey.”

Nudge is our crusader for living a purposeful life. When faced with uncertainty and unfulfillment, it’s the little voice that inspires us into action.

‘What if you took the job?’

‘You deserve to be happy.’

‘It sounds like this is what you truly want.’

It forced me to question how often I was discrediting the little voice inside my head from taking action. But as we also learn from the little prince’s struggles with the baobabs, bad ideas spread much faster in our minds than good ones.

What if I filled my mind only with beautiful ideas? Ideas rooted in purpose, compassion and courage.

“Now there were some terrible seeds on the planet that was the home of the little prince; and these were the seeds of the baobab. The soil of that planet was infested with them. A baobab is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet.”

Discrediting the little voice inside our head that gives us the courage and fills us with beautiful ideas about ourselves and the world is a sure way to self-deprecation.

Only when we listen to our Nudge and allow the little voice to reign over our lives, we will be able to get closer to our purpose: spreading good to ourselves and others.

All purposeful work in the world starts right here, with our own self. To get to our collective purpose — giving something back to the world, in whatever way we can — we need to take the first step. And the first step is never grand. Quite the contrary. The first step always lies within, and all it takes is listening to the little voice, our Nudge, that will guide us on the right path — through the labyrinth of our life with courage and compassion.

Only when we listen to our Nudge and allow the little voice to reign over our lives, we will be able to get closer to our purpose: spreading good to ourselves and others.

Afterword

Firstly, I am deeply grateful to you, my reader, for sharing this story with me.

I would like to note that although there are countless interpretations of our beloved classic, and many other profound passengers in the book, full of allegories and commentary, the above is what stood out based on my journey with the book spanning almost three decades.

I would love to hear about your relationship with the book and how it left a mark on your life.

All italicized in-paragraph quotes attributed to The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Exploring the intricacy of ideas and the human condition. Interests include culture, travel, marketing, design, and mental health. 📩 Linkedin @andreibiltan

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