What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Our elder has a few ideas for a letter writer who’s trying to be a better person.
Hi! Currently I am in high school and am in the middle of my junior year. I know this year has been so crazy for everyone including me! During quarantine I have really been trying to be a better person overall not just to my friends but my family, teachers, and even strangers. I try to engage in more conversations with people and try to be more social. I was wondering if you had advice to give your 16-year old self what it would be?
It appears that you’re already ahead of the game, trying to be a better person and asking the question you asked. Being someone who just brightens other people’s days through a good attitude, honesty, acceptance, and a sense that it’s all going to be OK, does more good than you can imagine over time.
So, good job. Just hang onto the same thought as you get older. Now, for the main question, what would I tell myself at your age?
It’s been a little while, but as I recall, like most people, I was wondering where I would fit in, and how it would all work out. I was also greatly interested in finding a girlfriend, which wasn’t really happening, so I spent a lot of time playing baseball, basketball, football and golf. When all else fails, hit something. The other questions on my mind were just starting to form, but they included what to do with my life, what I actually thought about society, and what I thought about myself.
So, what did I learn?
One, the girlfriend thing kind of just worked out. Like most of my friends, we just kind of stumbled from one mistake to another, until we stumbled onto something that worked. And, unlike many (seemingly) these days, we knew that while male-female relationships are important, they aren’t really the end of the world. Especially early in the game.
Two, the same idea applies quite a bit to education and work. Very few people know what they want to do with their lives, but somehow we find our way. I did end up doing something I knew was right, that I was not sure of, and it turned out to be a good step. Don’t be afraid of the challenge. Plus (in retrospect) get as many experiences as possible early. The twenties are crucial to building a resume.
Three, and more to your question about how to be a good person in this life, the same idea noted above works here as well; things tend to work out by following your internal guide. In your case, you’re way ahead of the game by searching for this part of your life so early. From observation and experience, the better person you are, the better your life tends to be.
The reason isn’t that everything just goes your way, but being a good human tends to attract other good humans. And the more of those you connect to, the easier it is to work through the difficulties. It’s just better to have people who like you.
Four, although you may not reach this point for a while, or maybe you have already, this involves finding out who you are and what you really think. This can sound trite, and it can be trite for many people, but for others it refers to finding the core thoughts, ideas and beliefs that will guide your way.
We are so exposed to so many thoughts and opinions these days that it’s fairly easy to just attach ourselves to something without necessarily thinking it through. They may consider one view of religious thought to be the answer. Or maybe they think another person is their soul mate who “completes their world.” Or maybe they are driven by money, fame, titles or jobs. Or maybe they just want to help the world.
It’s all right, and it’s all wrong. You have to figure it out for yourself. But my recommendation is to question everything and find the answers that suit you. Go deep. You’ll find that having true, strong beliefs can help you through the morass of information thrown your way, designed to structure your thoughts.
Just as an example, for me, it was college where I found new information that surprised me; things that I hadn’t thought of before that I felt were interesting, relevant and mostly true. It was this exposure and examination that I got excited about and continued throughout most of my life. Even when working, helping raise kids and just messing around, I have continued to keep that interest as one of my guiding principles.
So it may be with you; find something you want to keep learning about
Five, and connected to everything, find out how you want to ‘be’ in this world. By this I mean the opposite of being contrived or fake, but being yourself, real and authentic.
I had never thought too much about this until I happened to read an article one time that noted how much other people enjoyed ‘authentic’ behavior, then they identified what this meant. It all just rang true to me, so I’ll share it with you as my last advice to a sixteen-year old version of myself:
- Continue to be self-reflective; ask why and search for answers about yourself.
- Be secure with yourself, but not egotistical; have a sense of humor for who you are.
- Focus on positivity and possibility; don’t be drugged down by past problems or mistakes; keep moving forward.
- Do the right things. We all know what this means deep down. If you don’t agree with it, don’t do it.
- Be open; don’t prejudge people or cast them out; be accepting and considerate of what others think and believe.
- Put others at ease, treating them with kindness and respect.
- Think inward, deeply, but live outward, being in the moment and appreciating what is around you. This is heavy and kind of Zen, but very true.
- Don’t be afraid. We’re all in the same boat, so don’t think your problems are individual. It’s all OK.
Sorry if this was more than you wanted, but it’s a great question with a lot of answers. I hope this helps in some way and wish you all the best.
Article #: 467107