A little background
A couple years ago, a long-term friend asked me and a few other people who have been mentor figures in her daughter’s life, to write something to her daughter for her coming of age ceremony as she turned 14. It was a lovely ceremony in which the supportive adults in her life gathered (mostly remotely; it was during COVID) to show her we will be there for her as she grows into the next phase of her life: preparing for adulthood.
I’ve been thinking about that again recently, and about how so few of us have that kind of support system, and what that says about our lives nowadays. I could go on and on about that, but it’s not what I want to focus on now.
What I wrote to this young woman was an attempt to distill the things that I have learned in my life into a few pithy statements. The problem is that life isn’t that neat and orderly. It’s full of contradictions.
But much of what I wrote to her is along the lines of what I share with you. And so, at the beginning of this new year, I’d like to share most of my letter to her (minus the personal parts).
What I’ve learned about life
You have to do the work of growing up yourself, but you don’t have to do it alone. Surround yourself with people who love and care about you, and who are willing to help.
It’s also good to be able to do some things alone, because then you will know that you can, and knowing that you can helps you trust yourself.
Occasionally do something difficult that you really don’t have to. Occasionally ask for help when you really don’t have to.
Live with curiosity. Learn all that you can, but no matter how much you know, continue to think of yourself as a beginner so you won’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask questions that no one else is asking. Even questions that might make you look stupid, because it’s only stupid to remain in ignorance because you’re too afraid to ask.
It often seems like the people who know us best should also know what we need, and we shouldn’t have to ask, but unfortunately, what we need and what people can see rarely match up.
Sometimes asking for help will feel harder than dealing with the thing that you need help with. Ask anyway.
Make choices based upon what feels like freedom, what helps your heart soar, ignites your curiosity, and sparks your imagination.
There’s things that we have to do and things that we want to do, and you’ll have to do some things even when you don’t want to, but make sure you never get yourself in too deep into the have-tos or that you stray too far from things you want to do.
And thinking there’s only one strategy for getting something that you need artificially limits your options. There are almost always other strategies; explore different options.
There is very little that you need, but many things you will want. Try not to confuse the two.
As to jobs and careers, don’t make too many of your decisions based upon what will get you money, but make sure you get enough (because having money solves problems that not having money creates).
Find something that you love to do, then find a way to make money from it. But, for the sake of all that you love, don’t turn too many of the things that you want to do into the things that you have to do, or you won’t want to do them anymore.
Don’t be afraid to choose a different path than the one that others would have you choose. It may be difficult to not have a clear path to follow, but you might just be blazing a path that others would love to follow.
You could live as if every little choice matters immensely, or as if nothing matters at all. But I suggest instead to live as if the choices you make are slowly and surely turning you into the person you will be. So choose the options that will make you a person that you like being.
When choosing friends and relationships, don’t try to be who they want in order to make them happy, because sooner or later you’ll get sick of pretending and the real you will come out. If that’s not someone they want, it can be painful. It is less hurtful to find out early on.
So be who you are. Be only who you are. At all times. You can try to be a better you, but make sure that you are still you. If they like you for who you are, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s okay too. At least you know where you stand.
If you have love, you can bear anything, but love alone doesn’t solve problems. Learn multiple ways to solve problems.
Honest and open communication is a good way to solve many problems, and is vastly underutilized.
Everyone in your life who loves you has helped you in some ways, and they’ve also messed you up a little bit in some ways, but it’s only because they’ve been messed up long before you came along. Have compassion on them.
Question your own thoughts. They can be a source of amazing discoveries and inexplicable anxiety, but not everything you think is true. Including this.
As I said, life is full of contradictions. Except for this one, simple and invariable rule: No one gets out of this world alive. So make yours a life well spent.
That’s more or less what I know about life. I wish you well in creating yours.
Although this is an attempt to offer a shortcut down the winding road to gaining wisdom, that’s not how gaining wisdom works, and each of us probably has to learn everything over for ourselves.
And despite what I just wrote about this being my attempt at wisdom, I cannot guarantee that any of it is true. I don’t know if this is actually wisdom or if it’s just my take on things based on my experiences (I mean, of course it is, but I don’t know if it’s more than that). So test it all for yourself.