Fifteen years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher gave my class a homework assignment entitled, “Advice for a Younger Generation.” The concept of the assignment was simple: Each student had to interview a person who was over the age of 25, gather enough information to write a basic biography of their life and find out what their top tips are for a younger generation. I chose to interview my dad. He was 53 at the time and he gave me 18 pieces of advice.
I had completely forgotten about all this until last week when I was visiting my parents. My mom had me clean out a few old boxes she had stored in the attic. In one of these boxes I found the original “Advice for a Younger Generation” assignment dated April 22nd, 1996. I read through it and was totally blown away.
Even though my dad’s advice is relevant to a person of any age, my 29-year-old self can relate to it in a way my 14-year-old self didn’t quite grasp at the time. In fact, the first thought that went through my head was, “My dad was right.”
Here are his 18 pieces of advice for a younger generation, transcribed with his permission.
- Your 30’s, 40’s and 50’s won’t feel like your 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. – Adults are just older children. When you get older you won’t feel as old as you imagine you will. For the most part, you still feel exactly the way you feel right now, just a little wiser and more confident. You’ve had time to establish your place in the world and figure out what’s important to you. Don’t fear growing up. Look forward to it. It’s awesome.
- Bad things will happen to you and your friends. – Part of living and growing up is experiencing unexpected troubles in life. People lose jobs, get in car accidents and sometimes die. When you are younger, and things are going pretty well, this harsh reality can be hard to visualize. The smartest, and oftentimes hardest, thing we can do in these kinds of situations is to be tempered in our reactions. To want to scream obscenities, but to wiser and more disciplined than that. To remember that emotional rage only makes matters worse. And to remember that tragedies are rarely as bad as they seem, and even when they are, they give us an opportunity to grow stronger.
- Everyone can make a huge difference. – Making one person smile can change the world. Maybe not the whole world, but their world. So start small and start now.
- First impressions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. – Everyone and everything seems normal from a distance, or at a glance. The 10th, 20th, or even the 50th impression is when you start to truly understand someone else for who they truly are.
- Big results come when you narrow your focus. – Concentrate your efforts on smaller and smaller areas. When your efforts are diffused over a wide area they won’t have much of an impact. So focus on smaller areas and your efforts will be felt more fully. It could take time for change to happen, but keep that focus narrow.
- Love yourself. Become your own priority. – Strive to be the ‘you’ you want to be. Nourish your mind and body. Educate yourself every day until you die.
- Sometimes you just have to go for it. – Put your uncertainty and fears aside for a second and ask yourself this: “If I try and I don’t get it right the first time, what will I have lost and what will I have gained?” The answer is: You will have lost nothing but a little bit of your time while gaining an important lesson that will help you get it right the second or third time. People rarely get it right the first time. In fact, usually the only people who ever get it right are those who continue going for it even when they’ve come up short numerous times before.
- In order to get, you have to give. – Supporting, guiding and making contributions to other people is one of life’s greatest rewards. Everything you do comes back around.
- Not much is worth fighting about. – If you can avoid it, don’t fight. Step back from arguments with your spouse, family members or neighbors. When you feel anger surging up and you want to yell that vulgar remark on tip of your tongue, just close your mouth and walk away. Let yourself calm down. You don’t have to be right or win an argument. It just doesn’t matter.
- Don’t try to impress everyone. – Purposely impressing people is an act that brings nothing but a momentary ego boost. Be real with people instead. Connect with fewer people on a level that is deeper and more profound.
- Keep having fun. – Fun is way underrated. With all of life’s responsibilities, fun will sometimes seem like an indulgence. It shouldn’t be. It should be a requirement. Make time for fun.
- Keep it simple. – There is a world of magnificence hidden in simplicity. Pick the five most important things in your life now and focus on those things. Let the other stuff go. Stop the busyness and really enjoy what’s important to you.
- Little things stick with you. – So pay attention to them. Like watching your child sleep. Preparing a meal with your family. Sharing a great laugh with an old friend. This is the real stuff life is made of.
- Less advice is often the best advice. – People don’t need lots of advice, they need to live. I’ve seen young, rocky relationships develop into wonderful marriages and fleeting inspirations ignite a lifetime of passion and happiness. Our life stories, like the answers we give to long essay questions, are uniquely ours. What people want to know is already somewhere inside of them. We all just need time to think, be and breathe, and continue to explore the undirected journeys that will eventually help us find our direction.
- Manage your time. – Your situation and environment is ever changing, so be careful not to confuse things that are urgent with things that are important.
- Manage your money. – Don’t buy stuff you don’t need. Don’t spend more than you make. Don’t let your money manage you.
- What you learn in school does matter. – While you may not use the specifics of every classroom lesson, every lesson does expand the core thought process of your mind. Over time you will develop problem solving skills that are universally applicable. No single classroom lesson can teach this, and no single classroom lesson is more important.
- Dreams will remain dreams forever if you don’t take action. – Don’t dream about it anymore. Start doing it. In 40 years from now what is it that you will regret not having accomplished, appreciated or attempted? Do it, appreciate it and attempt it NOW!