28 April 2010

I Give Actual Serious Advice to Young People

I've taken enough spins around the planet to feel entitled to pass along some advice to  you young 'uns out there in cyberville. I'm qualified based on having made an inordinate number of mistakes in my life time and managing to learn from a few of them. I hope someone out there finds something here useful.

1. Have a direction. I like this quote: "if you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else." People with no direction tend to end up nowhere, which is bad place to be.  Take it from someone who's been there. Starting with your senior year in high school have a sense of where you want to go in life. You can always change directions along the way. Drive and ambition are not in and of themselves bad.

2. Be a life long learner.  Learning should neither stop after high school nor college. Indeed education is not a destination but a process. This does not mean that one should continually take classes throughout their life (though that's actually not such a bad idea). Leave yourself open to new ideas, experiences and perspectives.  Warning: you'll find that the more you learn, the less you know.

3. Be a life long reader.  Many successful thinkers, writers, leaders have been avid, indeed voracious readers all their life. You not only learn and derive inspiration by reading, it's great exercise for the brain. Another warning: you will be frustrated to discover that none of us live long enough to read every book we want to.

4. Ask for help.  I always told my students that one sure sign of self respect is the capacity to ask for help when needed.  None of us can navigate the vagaries of life, whether as a child teen or adult, without the help of others.  At one point or another we may need medical attention, help with math homework, career counseling, a shoulder to cry or help with an addiction. A smart person knows when they can't manage a situation alone anymore and should ask for help.

5. Laugh. People with keen senses of humor are happier than those lacking the inclination to chuckle frequently. Laughter may not be the best medicine but it is an essential one.

6. Reflect. An unexamined life is not worth living. So said Socrates and he was quite right. One shouldn't brood and rue and regret. However learning from one's mistakes and reflecting on actions are our greatest teachers.

7. Don't get cynical. When life slaps you across the jaw it's easy to let cynicism set in. Bitterness and anger come easy too. They all represent the easy way out. It takes courage to persevere and believe, to have faith and be optimistic in the face of setbacks big and small. Don't give in to a hardened heart.

8. Exercise and eat right. Yes you'll live longer, but perhaps more importantly you'll be healthier and thus happier for whatever time you've got.

9. Meet the person of your dreams and hold on to him or her.  This is hard one because there's a strong element of luck involved.  But if fortune smiles on you and meet Mr. or Ms. Right do two things: thank your lucky stars and hold on. I was fortunate to meet the woman of my dreams and the poor dame is stuck with me to this day. There is nothing that brings a greater sense of well being than sharing your life with someone.

10. Be passionate about something(s). Happy, successful, fulfilled people are almost always passionate about something or things. Often its a combination of career, hobbies and family. Find what motivates, titillates and fascinates you and have at it with gusto.

11. Avoid haters. This would of course preclude watching Fox News. But seriously folks, whether they are voices from the political left or right or are apolitical, avoid those who are preoccupied with destruction. Seek the company of those who construct instead. You'll come across plenty of people who can do the easy work of tearing down, seek those who build up, especially those who endeavor to better the lot of others. Thems good people.

12. Remember the serenity prayer.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference
It's not just a 12 step thing. This simple mantra can be a useful guide for anyone. It reminds you to know your limitations and pursue what's possible.


Clara aka aguass said...

I just have to do an internship this semester and I'll be a journalist. But it's just I'm not quite sure if that's what I want to be. I mean I like my career, but I don't know if it's really my thing (after 5 years, one of my reflections is this: sometimes studying or working in what you love as a hobby can really kill your former passion for it). And I'm in this phase when you're about achieving a goal and you think, now what? I've been all cranky and apathetic, and I can't even say exactly why.
So thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge, I've been trying to find some kind of guide from different sources, and now this post is one of them.

Greetings from Chile.

Meredith said...

I still haven't been able to accept the fact that I will never be able to read every book I want to, it's such a sad thought. But this was lovely thank you.

Colt said...

Have you read the David McCullough book Brave Companions? Its a collection of short essays and one of them has very similar themes to this post. "Recommended Itinerary" is the title of the essay I highly recommend it.

Richard Hourula said...

I'll look into it, thanks.

Siddhant Lahiri said...

I am moved, elated, and feel strangely light... I always read your posts on cinema religiously, but once in a while you throw a curve-ball like this, and... Well. Sitting across the world, your words touch me.