Advice To A New Teenager
It seems like only yesterday when I turned 13. I remember it distinctly, from my party with my friends to some of the gifts I most cherished (a Converse All-Stars Magic Johnson t-shirt, a Duran Duran album, and other things which would certainly date me as a child of the ’80s.)
This week, my own son, Jackson, turns 13.
And it’s a much, much, different world from when I entered my teen years.
I didn’t have cell phones, or the internet, or anywhere near the entertainment or virtual reality options my son does now. I spent most of my time playing outside, my mom was working most of the time and my siblings and I basically raised ourselves like a pack of clueless wolves.
My son has had a much different, and in many ways better, life than I, and I am grateful for that. It’s always been my goal for him to have a better life than I had, and to be a better person that I am, or have ever been. Low bar, that, on the second, but, still.
He is undeniably the best person I’ve ever had the honor of meeting, and I’m looking forward to continuing to experience the adventure of his life with him. And as that time goes by, he may ask me for the advice I’ve gained in my years before him and since he’s been born.
That’s why I started writing this list of things I’ve learned and I wish my parents had told me. I started it shortly after he was born, and I’ve added to it and published it every year on his birthday since, and, now, I’ve published it in a book, called, shockingly enough, Advice To My Son, which is available on Amazon.
As I look at the list, it’s good advice for me to follow as well. And, in thinking about the times we’re living in right now, it’s just good advice in general.
Here are some of the important things I’ve tried to impart upon him:
A friend is someone who is with you when you have nothing to offer them but your friendship.
Remember the people who are with you when you’re down. They’re the only ones who deserve to be with you when you’re up.
It’s never a bad thing to be a good, respectful person. In the end, you’re the one who has to look at yourself in the mirror, and if you can say you did the right thing, you’ll always be able to do that and smile.
Always keep an open mind, until you need to close it.
People will show you who they are, if you let them, and you have the patience to observe. The question is, do you want to see people as they really are, or do you want to see them as you want them to be, using the shorthand of what they reveal with your imagination and desires for what you wish them to be filling the gaps?
You aren’t what you say you are, you are what you do.
Anyone can destroy, but it takes a greater person to create.
If anyone ever asks you what you want to be when you grow up, tell them you want to be happy. If you’re happy, everything else just kind of falls into place.
Someday, someone is going to break your heart. It will tear you apart. It will make you feel awful. But somehow, somehow, try to retain the thought that this, too, is a positive thing. You’re not meant to be with them if they don’t want to be with you. And by leaving you, they’re giving you an important gift – the freedom to potentially find the person with whom you ARE meant to be.
What do you look for in a significant other? Someone who makes you happy as much as possible, because life’s too short and your time is too important to be with someone who makes you unhappy more often than not. Someone who makes you proud of yourself and your actions when you’re with them. Someone who you’re proud to be with. Someone who brings out your best, but stands by you at your worst. Always remember, you don’t have to be with anyone to be happy or complete. You can be happy all by yourself. So choose carefully, and pick someone who is going to add to your life, who is going to make it a better place far more often than not.
When you’re going out on a date, remember these things: Be nice, be polite, be yourself.
Someday, you may find yourself in a difficult part of life, going through some hardship. You may look back at previous times in your life when things were much better. The pessimist is going to think “Look at how much better things were. I’ll never be that happy again.” The optimist is going to think “Look at how much better things were. If I was that happy before, I can be that happy again.” Always be the optimist. Life changes, circumstances change, but as long as your faith in yourself remains the same, and as long as you move forward and make positive decisions, you can always get your life back on track.
While going through those difficult times, always remember that there are things you can control, and things you can’t control. Worry about the things you can control, and always try to do your best in making them better. One thing you can always control is your thoughts. Try to make them happy ones – think of things that make you laugh, jokes, friends, happy memories with people you love, like your Dad. Those will make you smile and laugh and once you’re smiling and laughing, no matter what, your life is going to be at least a little bit better.
Always keep a treasure chest of happy memories, jokes, funny movie scenes or funny things in your head that you can always turn to when you need a laugh. Whenever things aren’t going great, pull stuff out of that treasure chest, think of those funny jokes and good times. And whenever you experience something that makes you laugh or makes you smile a lot, file it away in that treasure chest. It’ll be the best investment you ever made.
If someone treats you badly, more often than not, it’s because of them instead of you. If you treat people politely and with respect, and they treat you badly, you have nothing to feel bad about. Don’t waste your time with those people. Don’t bother planting flowers in concrete, and if you do by mistake, don’t waste your time trying to water them.
It takes a while to eschew the security of labels, until you realize labels hold no security. Everything from wedding vows on down has been broken and discarded, worthless. The only way to know if something is sure and true is if you both realize your life would be profoundly diminished due to the absence of the other, and that there’s no one with whom you could imagine spending your time and having as much joy and love in your life.
The strongest bonds are forged when traveling on narrow paths.
Sometimes things aren’t too good to be true, they’re just good and true.
Really, when it comes down to it, you either see your life as a miracle or an accident. You won’t find out whether you’re correct until you die, but your answer will go a long way in determining your happiness while you’re alive.
Criticism is just someone else’s opinion. Just like yours.
If you can make yourself laugh, you’ll never be completely unhappy.
The best gift you can give yourself is your own love and friendship. You are a wonderful person and you have every right to be happy with yourself. If you can be, then you’ll never truly be alone. You’ll always have yourself to keep you company.
Always remember at least one really funny movie quote. One line that never fails to make you laugh or smile when you remember it. You’ll need it when you’re at your most down, to remind you that life brings laughter as well.
Along the same line, always have at least one really wonderful memory to hold on to, to cherish, and to remind you of the beautiful things in life, and that no matter how sad you might be at any given time, life has the potential to bring great happiness too. I hope I’ve given you enough of those good memories to last a lifetime.
The best way to say you’re sorry is to consider your actions before you commit to them and decide not to do hurtful things in the first place, so you won’t have to apologize later.
Good things can happen to anyone. But first you have to believe they can happen to you.
It’s always better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you are not.
Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.
There are some people in life that are always optimistic, no matter what, and some people that are always pessimistic, no matter what. Always make sure that you surround yourself with as many of the former as possible. It’ll make all the difference.
Always make sure you have plenty of creative people in your life. You’ll never want for surprises.
Don’t be afraid to believe the good things people say about you. It may always seem easier for the bad things to stick, but both are opinions, so why not allow the good ones greater weight?
Friends are people who make your life better for being in it. If they don’t, and what’s more, if they consistently make your life the worse for being a part of it, they’re not worth having in your life. There are eight billion people in this world. You can find better friends. You don’t need anyone who brings you down and isn’t worthy of you — or even more important, who isn’t worthy of the person you want to be.
The same goes for the person with whom you’re in a relationship. They should make you a better person for them being in your life, and you should do the same.
Every day when you look in the mirror take time to notice your positive attributes. Concentrate on them. Celebrate them. Allow them to take greater prominence than those negative things you may feel the self-defeating need to dwell upon. Life is too short for you to make yourself unhappy.
It’s not “mean” or “selfish” to retain some self-worth and expect appreciation and reciprocation. You are a valuable person. You are an important person. You are worthwhile. Don’t forget that, or allow anyone to convince you otherwise.
Never underestimate the power of discipline and perseverance. The difference between those who accomplish things and those who talk for years about wanting to accomplish them, but who never do, is that the former know how to translate words into action and maintain their direction in doing so, regardless of the inevitable obstacles that come their way. And remember that even taking small steps every day eventually finds you much farther along than not taking any steps.
Consider the ramifications of your decisions. Every decision, big and small, sets you on a path. It sends you towards one thing and away from another. Often, the larger the decision, the bigger the sacrifice of other options. So if you’re going to choose one thing over another, be damn sure that the thing you’re choosing is worth it, and will be in the long run.
Whenever you get advice, consider the source. People’s worldviews and attitudes tend to impinge upon their opinions. If someone is in an optimistic state, they’ll tend to give more good and upbeat advice, and will tend to be more supportive of positive actions you might be taking. If they’re in a pessimistic state, they’ll tend to be more negative and cynical about both positive and negative actions. Take all advice, but keep that in mind and add as many grains of salt as needed accordingly if someone with a pessimistic slant always seems to be shooting you down without good reason.
The journey of 1,000 miles doesn’t begin with a single step. It begins with the thought and the conviction that you are going to take that step.
No matter what you do or where you go I’ll always be thinking of you. No matter how old you get, I’ll always remember you as the tiny blessing you were the day you were born. And no matter what, I’ll always love you.
And that’s love: When you’re always there for someone, and you always want to be.
Copyright © 2021 Sean Leary / For more writing see http://www.seanleary.com/