I have been where you are about to go. As your mother, it is my responsibility to prepare and guide you as best I can. I think that if you take these things to heart, you will get through the next years with fewer bruises and scars than I did. Not to sound harsh, but should you choose not to learn these now, you will learn them and it will come at a hard price. I cannot claim that I have always done these things. Some of them I know only because of the consequences of not doing them.
“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” ~Oscar Wilde
I have made plenty of mistakes in my life and I have, unfortunately, drug you through most of them. I am sorry for the mistakes I made. Some of them were because I just did not know better and I thought I was doing the right thing. Some were because I made the mistake occasionally of treating you the way I wanted to be treated when I was whatever age you were at the time instead of recognizing your individuality. Some of them were because I was young and stupid and didn’t know any better. And, I have to be honest, some of the mistakes I made were because I was selfish. I have tried to get better over time. I worked hard to forgive myself for the mistakes I have made. Now I ask you to forgive me.
On your 18th birthday there are a few things I want you to know. I want to share with you some of the things I have found to be important, expectations you should have for yourself and the bit of wisdom my few years have taught me. So here are the things I have thought of that I wish I knew when I was 18 – and at least a couple of things I need you to know now that you are 18:
~ you have forever changed me
I had you when I was 21, and from the very first moment I felt you kick, you changed me in a way that I never expected. I have never felt anything like I did the first time I saw your face and I still feel it when I look at you now. I cannot begin to describe how important you are to me. I have been with you longer than anyone else in my life. We have lived together through all kinds of things, and no one will ever have the place in my life that you do.
~ you are unique
You are probably the only child your father will ever have, and certainly the only one on the planet with this particular genetic make up. You have a unique blend of two very different individuals with very different upbringings and personalities. Hopefully, your dad and I have managed to give you the best of each of us.
~ you have infinite potential
You have the potential to achieve whatever you want in life, the only thing that can stand in your way is you. There are things you can do that will cost you more than you ever think they will. Always keep in mind that actions in the present shape the future. You will soon realize that the time for you to decide to be what you want and do what you want is coming to an end. You have to think about your future. Right now, you are the only one that can limit yourself, but soon that will not be true anymore. The window for that will close before you know it and your options will be limited for you.
~ you are not a victim.
No matter what is done to you by another person, you are not a victim. A victim is someone who is powerless. You are never powerless. You are never worthless. If someone somehow takes advantage of you, you have to blame them for their actions and accept responsibility for yours. If someone hurts you without provocation, it is their fault not yours. If you allow them and what they did to control you and you blame yourself, that is your fault. You are strong. You are worthy. Do not ever act like you are not.
~ nobody owes you anything.
“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” ~Mark Twain
This may sound harsh and negative, but it is not. You get what you earn and you can be proud of what you earn. But never, ever expect that because you are here you are entitiled to anything. Entitlement is the worst thing in the world. It will leave you feeling dissatisfied and angry. Once you learn that you must earn the love and respect of others, you’ll never expect the impossible and you won’t be disappointed. Others don’t have to share their property, feelings or thoughts with you. If they do, it’s because you’ve earned it, and you have every reason to be proud of the love, respect, and property you’ve earned. But don’t ever take them for granted. If you do, you could lose them. They’re not yours by right; you must always earn them.
~ Know yourself.
You have to understand why you do the things you do. Understanding your motivations is key. You need to know what you are good at and why. Always play to your strengths. You have so many: intelligence, creativity, insight, curiosity, beauty, empathy, love, humor…
You also have to know your weaknesses – if you are co-dependant or selfish, dramatic or reactionary. You can only grow and change if you know what your faults are. This is one of the hardest things to do. It is easy to look at someone else and see their faults, but it is infinitely harder to see your own. If you don’t know about it, you cannot fix it. It is ok to have faults. Everyone does. But not everyone can be objective and say this is something about myself I need to change. It is humbling and can be humiliating, but there is nothing like being able to say I am a better person now than I used to be.
~ life is harder than you think it will be
College is harder than high school and working is harder than college. One day you will get to a point where you work 40+ hours a week. There are no summer breaks, you have to earn your vacation and people do not care about what is going on in your life. Plenty of good people, including myself, have had legitimate issues going on in their personal life that cost them their job. Bosses do not like drama. They have no patience for being late. They don’t care if you are fighting with your boyfriend. And if they choose to let you go, they will not care when your rent is due. And your landlord will not care that you just lost your job. They may feel bad for you, but ultimately they just need the money. People can be cold and hard and life is tough.
~ never go out on the town alone.
Never go out alone. Never drive under the influence of anything. Ever! Never drink anything that has been out of your sight. Never go home with a stranger. Never take a pill or any other form of drug from someone you just met, even if they tell you it is Tylenol. And NEVER DRIVE WHILE UNDER THE INFLUENCE. I repeat this because of all the things I just mentioned, this is the one where you are responsible for other people. All the other things will only effect you, but if you are behind the wheel of a car then you are in possession of a deadly weapon – and you are pointing it at people. If you hurt or kill someone you will never get over it. Or you might over time – through years of seeing the prison therapist.
~ you will never be able to truly love someone until you can love and take care of yourself.
There is a self respect that comes from being independent that means more than you can imagine. The less you have to rely on others, the more respect you have for yourself and the more respect others have for you. You do not have to be rich or self-absorbed, but you do need to know that you have people in your life because you want them in your life. And they need to know the same. If the relationship is one based on need and not want, then one person has power over the other and they can never truly be equal.
~ you judge yourself by your intentions. Others judge you by your actions.
Only you really know what your intentions are. And intentions alone are worthless. The road to Hell is paved with them because that is all they are good for. The only way anyone will know your intentions is through your actions. You can tell them all day long, but they mean nothing without actions to back them up. This is where you have to prove you will walk to walk, not talk the talk. Admit when you are wrong and stand up for yourself when you are right.
~ Religion is infinetly important.
It is about being humble. It’s about realizing your place in the universe and respecting that. No matter what we choose to call it and no matter whether we believe it or not, there is something else here. We are all connected by and through it. You will have to decide your beliefs and find your purpose. No one can do that for you. Prayer/meditation/practice, whatever you want to call it, you must find it for yourself and believe in something more than yourself. It is a drive all humankind has and you are no exception.
“But you see, Meg, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
~ Life is a roller coaster
You will never get far enough up that life will not bring you back down. The trick is to learn to deal with the bad times as well as you deal with the good times. Drama will always do you a disservice. You have to learn to be content but never complacent. It is hard to do. There is not a day that you wake up and you are all the sudden an adult. It did not happen to you this morning, did it? You are still the same person you have always been. This never changes. There is not one of us that doesn’t at some point think that whoever made me an adult and put me in charge of anything was simply out of their mind.
Contentment is something you must learn. It is peace of mind. It is knowing you have done your best and have done the right thing.
Complacent is something you must never be. It is smug and often means that you are unaware of some potential problem in yourself. Never act as though you do not have faults. Know you do and work on having fewer of them.
~ money is important
balance your checkbook twice a week. Never use more than 30% of the credit available to you. Save 10% of your income. And never underestimate the power of your credit score. I cannnot tell you how important it is. You will think you have plenty of time to do this. You don’t. Always live within your means. You’ll start off in a crappy little apartment, but you won’t stay in one.
~ once bitten, twice shy
if someone loses your trust, they have no right to expect that previledge again, but if you choose to give them the chance, then give it. Do it without strings or not at all. If a man ever hits you LEAVE IMMEDIATELY. If he does it once, no matter how sorry he seems to be, how much you love him or how much he says he loves you, he DOES NOT. If he does it once, he will do it again. Always remember that if someone intentionally mistreats you once, they will probably do it again. Do not stick around and let them. The first time is their fault, the second time is yours if you stay. People will show you who they really are. Pay attention.
~ accept criticism
anyone can get chewed out. It’s a rare person who can take criticism and learn from it. Be that person. I said before, know your faults. Knowing them gives you the power to change them. Even if you disagree with the criticism, do not dismiss it. Look at it and see why they would think that of you. Be objective.
~ Show gratitude and be polite.
No matter how someone treats you. It is better to be polite and make them feel like an idiot than to show that you’re just as much of one as they are. And don’t be rude to waiters. It is rude, unbecoming and you do not have a clue what they may do to your food. And if a guy takes you out and is nice to you but rude to the waiter, think twice. People show their true character when they deal with someone serving them.
Speak to everyone. It does not matter if they are signing your paycheck or taking out your trash. Everyone has value. And everyone deserves to be smiled at at least once during the day.
Thank you means more than you think. If someone gives you an interview, send them a thank you note. Show gratitude for life by doing at least one good deed a day. Be nice. Especially if you want anyone to be nice to you. There is a reason it is called the Golden Rule.
~ don’t complain.
Jackie Robinson was the first black professional baseball player. It was in his contract not to complain – even when people spit on him. No matter what, you will never have it that bad. Someone will always have it worse than you so you need to be thankful you are not in their shoes instead of complaining about the shoes you are in.
No one likes to listen to anyone bitch. It gets old and, even if you have a legitimate point, eventually no one will listen to you.
Think before you speak. There is a saying: measure twice, cut once. Do this with your words. “It is better to say nothing and have people think you are a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Truer words have never been spoken.
~ Be good at something.
It makes you valuable. It gives you something to be pround of, but don’t ever be satisfied if you are good at something – always try to get better at it.
~ Enjoy life.
Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious. ~Brendan Gill
Work hard. Love completely. Feel pain. Experience joy. Share. Read. Study. Exercise. Stay amazed. Smell the roses. Look to the future but stay grounded in the present. Learn from your mistakes – better yet, learn from the mistakes of others. Play and laugh and have fun everyday. And for goodness sake, learn to laugh at yourself. Do not be too serious.
~ Find the best in everybody.
There is good in everyone. Even the most wicked of us have a purpose.
~ Be prepared.
Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.
~ do not ever lie to yourself
Honesty is the best policy – especially when it comes to yourself. You have a conscience for a reason. You have instincts and can understand things without knowing why. Jiminey Crickett was right – “always let your conscience be your guide.” It is God’s way of talking to you. If you know something is wrong, do not do it, even if you can’t explain why. You can fool me and your dad, you can fool your boyfriend and your boss, but do not ever fool yourself. Eight times out of ten, if you feel guilt, you deserve to. But don’t hang onto it. Make the necessary corrections and let it go.
Trust your instincts. If you get a bad vibe, pay attention. I don’t care if you seem rude for getting off the elevator with that guy that creeps you out. Get off the elevator! You do have a 6th sense. If your dog or cat doesn’t like someone, there is a reason. There is a reason you don’t either.
~ do not judge and always show respect.
You never know why someone is they way they are. Everyone has a history. There are reasons why we think and act the way we do. If you understand someone’s background, then you can usually see why they have the issues they do. Maybe they were abused in someway. Maybe they are a jerk. Maybe they are dealing with some kind of tragedy in their life. Don’t take it personally. You are not the center of the unvierse and not everything everyone does is because of you. They could be a really nice person having a bad day. It happens to you, too.
Respect your elders. They know more than you, although no one knows everything.
~ always make the best decision you can. And then let go of the outcome.
Once you have done your best, that is all you can do. Emerson said, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and with too high a spirit to be encumbered by your old nonsense.” There is no way for me to say it better.
~ There are 3 sides to every story.
Yours, theirs and the truth.
~ A college degree is nothing more than proof you can accomplish something.
Some areas of study are more skilled and complicated than others, but at its very core, a college degree is only the beginning of knowledge and proof of endurance. And having that proof is necessary. No matter what you think or how wrong you may feel that it is, this is the way our society is set up. You have to be able to show perspective employers that you have the knowledge and the persistence to do the job. A college degree is the first step in convincing them you should be given a chance.
~ “It’s not having what you want; it’s wanting what you have.”
This goes back to contentment, but it is worth repeating. You are given this life. I grew that body for you. If you operate from an attitude of deprivation, always thinking about what you don’t have rather than what you do, then your life will be long and difficult.
Be proud of what you have, but remember, Life is not about amassing possessions. Having lots of things does not equal happiness. Some of the happiest people in the world are the poorest. The truest measure of life is how well you lived it, not what possessions you got out of it.
~ Life is Purposeful.
You are here for a reason. You were born to me for a reason. You think and feel and act the way you do for a reason. You may know what it is and you may not. You may know that you are doing exactly what you came here to do or you may do it oblivious as to why you are here. It may be beyond our comprehension, but I know that this life means something. One day I hope to find out what that is exactly. And I hope you do as well.
~ you will die.
Death is the great equalizer. Everything alive dies and one day, hopefully after a long and happy life, you will too. People close to you will die. I will die. Nothing here is forever. No one knows what is after this. People have individual beliefs about it, but no actual knowledge. One day you will find out, though. Everyone does.
This was not easy to write. I really had to think and it probably helped me more than it will help you today. I wanted to give you the cliff’s notes on life, which is really impossible, since I am learning more every day. I cannot claim that this is everything you will need to know, but they are basic truths and learning them now will make life more fulfulling and joyful. My hope has always been that you have a long, satisfying and happy life. And you can always count on me to be here beside you – no matter what.
Thank you for being such a blessing. I truly never knew love until I met you. Happy 18th.
Originally written June 6, 2010