My oldest son just graduated from high school and is now embarking on the next leg of his journey that will bring him closer to real life. I have come to realize that there are so many things that I wish I could un-tell him.
I hope he knows that all of these empowering, yet misleading little statements that I (or others with the best intentions in mind) might have spoken into his nearly grown-up ears are not exactly true…
1. You don’t owe anyone anything.
You have one major responsibility: to be part of the positive change in this world. If you are not part of it, you are opposing it. You owe everyone (including yourself) a measure of kindness, mercy, patience, respect and empathy. Everyone is fighting some sort of battle. Everyone has a chapter in their lives that they do not want to read aloud. You might have stepped right into the middle of someone’s toughest battle, so while they are struggling to keep it together, if nothing else, all you have to do is be kind. How hard is that?
2. Respect is earned, not given freely.
This is similar to the “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” argument, but more ridiculous. Should you wait for someone to earn your respect before you respect them? Should you assume no one respects you until you have clearly earned their respect? Can you get respect without giving it? Can you give respect and just automatically assume you’ll earn it? If you don’t earn someone’s respect, should you be disrespectful to them? You are responsible for the way you conduct yourself, regardless of whether anyone else is respectful. So please, be respectful.
3. Just be yourself, and people will know how talented/qualified/desirable you are!
Too many other logical statements make this one seem absurd: Step out of your comfort zone. Make your presence known. Know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be “no.” Persistence, humility, and deliberate effort will help you shine and move toward the direction of becoming a productive human.
Please, please do not just float around in this world and expect to get what you want by being your cute little self. Also, know that sometimes you will bust your ass and no one will notice but you. Hey, this leads us to the next one…
4. Hard work pays off.
Except when it doesn’t. Occasionally, the hardest work and the most diligent efforts yield the most dreaded result: nothing. Life is unfair sometimes. You have to work hard anyway, because no work ALWAYS yields nothing.
5. You have to pursue your dream career in order to be happy in life.
Find 15 people and ask them if they have their dream job. Then, ask them if they are happy with their lives. The answers will surprise you. Not everyone needs a wonderful, rewarding career in order to be happy in life. Some people are working in their field of choice, doing exactly what they always wanted to do, and they’re miserable. Some people merely have “a job” and still live rewarding, spectacular lives. And some love their career, but long for more in their personal lives. Do pursue your dreams, but make sustainability a priority. Working hard to support yourself can be more rewarding than being 30 years old and waiting for the perfect career while still living in your childhood bedroom. The way to prevent that from becoming your future is to make sure you are able to earn a living even if you don’t ever land your dream job.
6. You are special!
You are no better, no worse, no greater, and no less than anyone else in this world. Every person you know is better than you at something. Every person you know struggles with something that is very easy for you. Use your strengths to make this world a better, more enjoyable place (because when it’s better for others, it’s better for you, too). Ask for and accept help when you need it. Never behave as though any person, task, or circumstance is above you or beneath you.