By Lea Z. Singh |
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It's no surprise that there is such hunger for online help with life's difficult situations. Life is lived backwards. We are dealt some of our most challenging life decisions when we are clueless teenagers or barely starting to get serious in our 20s. How much easier things would be if we could start out with the wisdom and self-knowledge of our old age.
I am 37, so not exactly ancient but old enough to have been born well into the previous century. I still remember vividly what it was like to be in my teens and twenties, but I can now assess those years with hindsight (which, as they say, is 20/20). So I thought I would add my own "good life recipe" to the mix of online advice for young people.
Who am I to tell young people what to do? I don't claim to have any special expertise beyond having gone through life until now. This advice is unsolicited but free! Take it at your own risk. Here are my top tips for young people today:
1. Resist peer orientation
If you live your life to please your peers, you will accomplish nothing. Seeking the approval of your classmates will suck all true originality and life out of you.
Peer popularity is all about conformity. Most teenagers today have an overwhelming need to fit in with their peer group. This is why bullies have so much power: the worst possible thing that can happen to most young people is to be rejected by their peers.
What's more, seeking popularity usually drives people down to the lowest common denominator. Your peers have a twisted set of values that is all about the short term: hooking up, partying, having fun. If you are trying to get cool or stay cool, you will probably end up doing all the wrong things. The last thing you want is to be known as the geeky good kid, right?
Live your life like an adult. Skip ahead of the curve, and minimize teenage preoccupations in your life right now. Your peers might not get it, but one day they will wish they had followed your lead. Don't let bullies get you down, and don't let your life be determined by the cool kids, who have no clue about what is best for your future (or theirs).
The best thing you can do to save yourself from an unhealthy peer orientation is to hang out with people of many different ages, and especially to become friends with adults. Re-discover your parents and your extended family (they're not even bribing me to say this). Find mentors who are older than you.
For centuries, young people were raised in cross-generational contexts where it was normal to spend lots of time with older people. Today we have been brainwashed into thinking that it's normal to spend all our time with people who are the exact same age.
Don't drink the kool-aid. Your peers can't lead you through the maze of your life because they are lost too. Close friendships with older adults are your best protection from the predatory bullying and negative influences of your immature peers.
2. Don't waste your life as a victim
Everyone who has been hurt in life has a choice to make: living the rest of their life as a victim, or stepping out of the ruins and building a new beginning. Don't let yourself stay paralysed by the damage you suffered. Be a phoenix. Lots of people have triumphed over their miserable hands in the cards of life, and you can too. Conquer your handicaps.
Here are some inspiring stories of those who overcame:
- Nick Vujicic, born without arms or legs. There are a whole bunch of incredible videos of him on Youtube, check them out (here's one for a start).
- Tom Monaghan - billionaire and founder of Domino's Pizza. Grew up dirt poor. His father died when he was a toddler, and his mother couldn't provide for the family, so for several years he lived in a foster home and an orphanage.
- Joyce Meyer - sexually abused as a young girl, she went on to become one of the most popular evangelists ever.
- Oprah Winfrey - as many people know, she was raped when she was 9 years old. She overcame.
- Jacob Barnett. When he was a toddler he stopped speaking for a year and a half, and was diagnosed with autism and Asbergers Syndrome. His parents were told he would have trouble functioning; instead, at 15 years old, he is considered one of the world's most promising physicists.
- Lucas Vialpando - wrestler with cerebral palsy. Told by many that he could never wrestle, he has proven them all wrong.
- What do Barak Obama, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com) have in common? They all come from broken family relationships - Steve Jobs was given up for adoption by his biological parents, and the biological fathers of Barak Obama and Jeffrey Bezos went splitsville very early in their sons' lives.
- Let the next person on this list be YOU.
3. Girls, learn to respect your bodies
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What a mixed message. We can be CEOs and presidents, but we are also supposed to be the equivalent of pole dancers in a strip club. Many girls continue to suffer from anorexia, bullimia, suicide and depression because of unhealthy obsessions with their appearance. Girls are giving boys everything they want, however and whenever they want it.
Stop the cycle of self-abuse. Break free of the mirror. Stop using your body to win love; it never works, and only leaves you crying and feeling used and worthless. Wait for a guy who will respect you by NOT using you. That's true love.
4. Boys, learn to respect girls
Start by cutting out the porn. It's no secret that a huge percentage of teenage boys are checking out or even hooked on that stuff. If that includes you, don't delude yourself into thinking it is a normal part of being a guy. Porn is drugs, and it will destroy you like cocaine. It fries your brain and it will corrupt your relationships with women like a cancer. Break free at all costs.
5. Do what is right, even if no one will find out
Live an ethical life. Cheating, lying, and hurting others should never be how you get ahead. Otherwise, peace will always elude you and you will be a fraud, above all to yourself. Do the right thing every time. Fight off temptation. Have courage. Obey your conscience. Live in truth. If you often have trouble determining right from wrong, see number 7. Your foggy moral glasses will get much clearer once you get closer to the source of truth and goodness.
6. Ask the big questions
Socrates once said that "The unexamined life is not worth living". Don't get sidetracked into pursuing the wrong things in life and letting go of the things that really matter.
If you are hoping that the next new thing, person or achievement will bring you the profound inner joy that has so far eluded you, you are in for a lifetime of disappointments. Your hunger for meaning will never be quenched in a store or by other human beings, and even gold medals will leave you restless at the end of your life. We desire far more than this world can give back to us. Only someone greater than any pitiful creature of creation can give you the fulfilment that you are seeking.
The human heart yearns for God. Dare to ask about Him. Dare to tackle the tough questions. Is there any more to life? Where did this world come from? What makes something right or wrong? Where does goodness, truth and beauty come from? Is there life after death? Seek Him with an open mind and with humility, and you might just be Surprised by Joy.
7. Read like your life depends on it
Reading can't be replaced by staring at a TV screen. I don't care how many Blue Planet programs you watch, you will still learn a lot more about our world by reading. The depth of knowledge that is transmitted through the written word is unparalleled by any other medium. Learn to read every day.
What to read? Don't waste your time on trashy romance novels or juvenille lit, or comic books that are not worth the paper they are printed on. Try to read classic fiction, which contains valuable lessons and questions about human nature. Also read nonfiction: follow online websites that discuss the things you are interested in, get a magazine subscription. Read about people who have lived their lives well. Read news and opinion online.
Reading will teach you more about yourself - your opinions and interests will begin to take shape, and you might even find that you want to get more involved in various causes, or study an area of interest more seriously by taking courses.
8. Be a producer, not a consumer
Some people make things happen, while others only watch. Think about this as you sit on your couch one day watching TV: there are millions of people out there doing the same thing, merely watching TV shows mindlessly, some for many hours a day. But there are other people who work hard writing those very TV shows every day, exercising their imaginations and producing something. It is an irony that the people who wrote the movie and show scripts probably don't watch that much TV themselves, because they are far too busy creating things and being productive.
Don't be content merely to consume what others have produced. Be one of the people who contributes to making this world a better place. Do something productive with your time: write, get involved, do whatever you can.
9. Do something extraordinary while you are still young
You are capable of something incredible right now. You might live at home and be a student, feeling like you can't possibly do anything significant until you enter the "real world", but this is a paralysing myth: pop it. Don't waste away your youth in the party scene, on endless video games, or in other unproductive ways.
There are countless examples of young people doing fantastic things, from programming million-dollar apps to writing novels, starting successful businesses and nonprofits, and standing up courageously for human rights (check out lists of such young people: 1,2,3,4). You can be one of these young people. Take charge of your life and put your dreams into action.
10. Plan out your future, work at your goals
Establishing goals is an important part of reaching them. If you don't know what you want and where you are going, you will have a hard time arriving at the best possible destination. Set big goals and work towards achieving them.
During my high school years, motivational speaker Brian Tracy made a big difference in my life. His seminars taught me how to put my life in order, set goals and reach them. I carried out his advice, and it worked wonders for me. One of the goals I set for myself back then was to get into Harvard. At the time it seemed totally crazy and unachievable. I was a lower-income immigrant at a public school in faraway Alberta. I had no connections to exclusive American Ivy League schools. But I got there - on scholarship. Not a bad turnaround. Thanks, Brian Tracy!
11. Fit your career to your personality
The Meyers-Briggs Personality Test is used by many employers for a reason. Your personality is not likely to change much as you get older, and it is one of the best indicators of what fields and jobs your will most enjoy and excel in. Go where your personality type is happiest!
I took the Meyers-Briggs in college and was completely floored to discover that someone actually understood me! My Meyers-Briggs profile fit me to a T, and still does. Looking back, I wish I had let it guide my career choices more. By the way, Amazon.com intentionally hires mostly INT-type personalities. And did you know that business schools are filled mostly with ENTJs?
12. When choosing careers, keep your future family in mind
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Women in particular should give thought to this issue. Your feminist streak might rebel - in the ideal world, women should be able to do anything, not holding back for any reason. But the reality is that if you become a mother one day, then your children will need you a lot, especially when they are little. And believe me, you will want to be there for them. As much as you love your amazing job (whatever it may be), those little helpless creatures that depend on you for everything will make you want to throw your briefcase into the wind. If your career stands between you and your children, you may end up having to make sacrifices that really hurt.
Do the research: how do mothers fare in your chosen career? How common are features such as flex time, part-time work, work from home, off-ramps and on-ramps? It's a fact that some careers are far more family-friendly than others. Plan ahead and choose wisely, and one day your family will reap the benefits.
Staying home with children? Consider it a real option. Though it often gets a bad rap in our dual-income society, your own family might well benefit from the ancient practice of having the mother take care of her own children on a daily basis (imagine that!).
13. Start your family early
Many in my generation believed that we first needed to "establish" ourselves in our career, and buy the house and the two cars, before even thinking about having kids. It's true that there are certain benefits to having children later in life, and financial security is one of them.
But there are many more benefits to having children early. The most important of these is that having a baby is the best thing that can happen to you! There is no more rewarding and incredible experience in life than becoming a parent to a real mini-human, and watching the entire process of human development occur from scratch. Every other life offering pales in comparison - why put off the biggest adventure that life has to offer? Have a child early, and maximize the years of your greatest joy and meaning in life.
Having a baby is one of the most life-altering things you can do. I can think of other life changing events: winning the lottery, for example! But even that would probably not change your life so completely as having a baby.
Once your baby comes, you will enter a period of intense brain re-shuffling when the priorities you've had for all of your pre-child life may seem a lot less pressing, and new priorities may emerge as the most important things in life. Like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, through this reshuffling process you will become the new person that you will be for the remainder of your adult life.
And here's the point: it's better to turn into that butterfly early on, and live the whole rest of your life in accordance with your mature priorities. Why waste a third of your life following a plan that might seem misguided to your mature self? For example, once you have a baby, the career that you worked so hard for might actually become an obstacle to your good parenting, or all those years spent cruising through life as a single person might suddenly emerge as wasted time.
Here are a few other reasons why it's better to have children earlier on:
- You get to enjoy their own adult lives longer, play more with future grandchildren, etc. My parents-in-law, who had their children very early, have already celebrated the 50th birthday of two of their children. Wow!
- When the children are older you can go back to school or start your career and still have your prime career-building years ahead of you.
- Having children early means you can have a large family, should you wish to do so!
- Far less fertility problems. Women's fertility drops drastically after 35, and many struggle with conceiving after 40. These are the statistics. As with life expectancy, many defy the odds; I personally know at least two women who conceived naturally at 44. They won the lottery, but the odds are still against us at that age.
- Healthier babies. I would never abort a baby for any dysfunction. That said, having children later in life means that the chances of various conditions are greatly increased. This is true for both older mothers and older fathers.
- Healthier pregnancies. The health risks of pregnancy go up with age, and older mothers have more risky pregnancies that can endanger both them and their babies. Why go through that?
14. Put a lot of effort into finding the right spouse
Possibly no other decision will affect your life happiness more than whom you choose to marry. And yet, people routinely spend far more time planning out their careers and searching for jobs than they do searching for spouses.
Many people do nothing concrete to find their spouse; they still hold out hope that they will lock eyes with their soul mate at the grocery store or at the bar. If you translate this approach to careers, it's like waiting to get hired by a stroke of luck in a taxi cab, like in the movie Pursuit of Happiness. Would you approach your career with the same strategy that you have for finding your spouse?
My suggestion: approach dating with the same mentality you have towards work: look for a spouse as if you are looking for a dream job. Here's what that means:
- Go online. I may be partial as my husband and I met on Catholic Match, but the efficiency of the internet just can't be beat. It's an awesome way to do the first few rounds of selection.
- Don't waste years of your dating life on any one person. I know people who dated for nine or more years before finally breaking up and starting their spouse search all over again. What a waste of prime dating years. You should know before a year is up, and often sooner, whether someone is a good match for you. If you don't know, then you are either fooling yourself or you don't know what you are looking for. Get your priorities in order and stick to them, even if it means saying goodbye.
- Don't let rejection put you in the deep freeze. I actually know people who completely stopped dating for years after getting dumped by someone they loved. While I feel for them, I urge you not to follow that path. After all, would you stop hunting for a job if you got fired? Most people would soon get out there, distributing resumes and trying their hardest. Take the same attitude with dating, and you will be successful much faster.
15. Live authentically and minimize your regrets
Study the common regrets of other people and you will find a guide to how to live your own life. A couple of years ago, Forbes ran an article describing the top 25 regrets that people rack up over their lifetime. Among them: not standing up to bullies in school and in life, not trusting ourselves enough, living life to please our parents instead of following our own dreams, hanging out with the wrong friends, not trusting our gut instinct, not going for the dream job, and others. Avoid the mistakes that others have made.
Jeffrey Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, chooses to live according to a "Regret Minimization Framework." Not a bad idea. Your life is only yours to live, and you only get one chance; make sure it is the life that you truly want to live.
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