Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Most stuff I need to know I learned long after Kindergarten

Robert Fulghum wrote a book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, listing such nuggets of wisdom as "share your toys" and "wash your hands." (Cute concept, though I've never read the book: All I really need to know is what the title says.)

Sadly, I'm slower; it took me many years to accumulate some things I really needed to know. In the interests of my younger readers, I'm offering a partial list here. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

Stuff I need to know that I learned long after Kindergarten:

  • This too shall pass

No matter how bad you feel and how horrible life can become, remember: "This too shall pass." You will be happy and feel carefree and enjoy life again. You can count on that and take it to the bank. Young people especially can feel their lives have been ruined and that they're "stuck" in sadness that will last forever, but once you've lived through some pretty horrible times, you learn that happiness and a sense of normality and well-being will be yours again and again. That's the way life really is. So in the bad patches, hang in there.

  • Don’t worry about being "cool"

Trying to be "cool" or "hip" is a dead-end, so don't bother. Whether you are trying to be popular with the crowd you admire at any random point in your life, whether you aspire to impress certain important people, or emulate the Hemingway or rocker life to prove you're a serious artist, it'll all turn out to be a sad detour, and mostly just a waste of your time. Any standards of "cool" or "trendy" are ultimately shallow and fleeting, as you will eventually learn. Figure out what your own destiny in life is (God's plan for your life, as some say), and jump into that with both feet. With this bigger perspective you will be at peace with yourself, happier on a personal basis, and you will find your unique community who will appreciate you for being a success by being real.

  • Life is not a dress rehearsal

Don't waste time messing around doing things that aren’t important as if you were immortal and a wasted day doesn't count. You only get to pass by this way once. Along these same lines, remember to both "carpe diem" ("seize the day") and "stop and smell the roses"--a Zen-like contradiction of living life in balance that you can spend your whole life perfecting.

  • I’m crying--what am I supposed to be learning from this?

Usually if you are chronically dissatisfied or unhappy with something or someone, there is something you could be doing about it (either externally or internally, by changing your own attitude) to change your life for the better. Pain is sometimes a wakeup call. To remember that life is all too brief, unpredictable, and precious ("memento mori") is a good motivator for really living it, and sometimes that takes change.

  • Maximize your options

The reason to get good grades and pay attention in school is so you will have more choices available to you in the future. The reason to meet lots of different kinds of people and try lots of different (healthy) experiences is so that you can find out better what suits you best. Develop and accumulate all kinds of skills. Remember to think beyond the status quo of your present situation and times. Education is the key here. Maximize your (lifelong) education to maximize your choices and your strengths.

  • "Eighty-percent of success is showing up"

Woody Allen once said this, and I’ve found it to be true. Just keep putting the body where it's supposed to be, whether you feel like it sometimes or not, and you will go far. I found in college that it was better to show up to class even if I was unprepared and hadn't done the homework, than to skip class out of fear, laziness, or a feeling of being imperfectly prepared. You will often be surprised at how much better things turned out than you feared.

  • Ask for help

Don't be afraid to call on your friends, your parents, or a professional counselor (pastor, minister, teacher, therapist) for advice, perspective, or just a listening ear. You deserve help and you are not expected to have all the answers, no matter how old and well-educated you get. Humans helping each other along in life is the way life is supposed to be. And if you have to ask for help, don't see that as a failure, see it as you being wise and assertive; it shows you are the kind of person who knows how to move forward for the better.

  • Cultivate the habit of cheerfulness

Research these days shows that negative attitudes of unhappiness and depression etch actual physical/chemical ruts in the brain that can become chronic and hard to dig out of. It is a good strategy to deliberately look on the bright side of things, to see silver linings in rain-clouds, pennies from heaven in the rain, to let a smile be your umbrella--all those corny lines our great-grandparents lived by to get them through the worst of life's hardships. To see benefits coming out of tragedy, and opportunities lying in challenges is not a skill we are born with, but it is to everyone’s advantage (especially yours) if you can learn to do this. Meanwhile, shun those people or philosophies who wish to wallow in the dark side of life--they are like poison for your mind. (See "Don’t worry about being 'cool'" above.)

  • Beauty care

Regarding your looks: do the best you can in the morning to make yourself look as attractive as possible before you leave the house. Then forget about it for the rest of the day. This method seems to strike a healthy balance between vanity and neglect. Also, advertising to the contrary, there is nothing as physically attractive as healthful, clear-eyed youth. You are better off investing in plenty of rest and exercise, good nutrition and hygiene, a level gaze, and an honest, natural smile than a lot of makeup, fashion, and jewelry.

  • Don’t rush it

Don't be one of those kids who wants to grow up and become an adult and do adult things as fast as possible. Take your time and enjoy every single year of childhood and adolescence. Adulthood is a long, long, time and you can never go back and savor those special and unique years of just being a kid.

To be continued.


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