Be kind to yourself when you are young. Nobody else will be there to be kind to you the way that you can be kind to you. When you are young, you know more than you think you do in your moments of utter insecurity and fear about the future. When parents and teachers and other so-called grownups are all busy telling you what you need to do and know, you already know more than they do. But, unfortunately, most of the stuff that you think you already know when you are young–the stuff that makes you cocksure and full of bravado–that’s the stuff you know nothing at all about.
But, when you decide that you want to go into this or that profession, and your parents and other elders say that this is not for you, don’t listen to them. When you want to spend the summer reading books instead of doing an internship, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. When you meet God in the faces of the homeless people in your college town, and feel God’s love upon you in those dark and desperate hours, don’t let anyone tell you that God isn’t there–He’s over here, in our church, the proper church. If you want to join the Army, join the Army. If you want to have a teaching career, have a teaching career. If you want to have your major be a major in something you aren’t sure where it will take you, don’t let anyone talk you out of it because “oh, you can only be a teacher if you do that.”
As a matter of fact, 90% of what you declare you know to be true when you are young isn’t true at all. 90% of what you thought was true, but let some random grown-up persuade you was not true–that’s what turns out to be true. That major or that military experience could have gotten you all the travel you’d ever dreamed of having. Those books you let others tell you to put down could have gotten you on a track to get a PhD in something amazing. That D+ you got in pre-Calc that everyone said was the death knell of your STEM career was just a sign to take the class again and try a little harder next time.
For that matter, most of your so-called friends when you are young will also try to tell you things that you should know are not necessarily true. If you haven’t lost your virginity by the time you go to college, it’s not the end of the world. For what it’s worth, you will be happier with yourself in the long run if you keep your virginity intact as long as you need to/want to. But, don’t let some prude tell you that you can’t have sex before marriage, either. If you don’t get squared away with that firm and certain knowledge you have of yourself, you will let a bunch of people steal your youth and young adult life away. Don’t let pop culture, the media, liberals, conservatives, leaders and losers tell you what to do with your life. If you want to write science fiction novels, that’s okay. If you want to create poetry and paint like French Impressionests, that’s okay. If you love museums, then don’t let someone tell you there are no jobs in museum studies.
For some reason, the world seems chock full of these so-called well meaning souls who want to help you in your so-called path to success and happiness. They will tell you to stop fooling around with computers, and then suddenly all the jobs are computer jobs. They will tell you that majoring in a language only gets you a teaching job, and then you meet people who majored in languages who travel everywhere, work for the CIA, live where they please and provide translation and interpretation services. They will tell you to put down the books and engage in social conversations, and then suddenly you will find yourself in social conversations where everyone but you has read those same books you were told to put away. They will tell you not to go to church, because that’s for old people, and then you’ll suddenly find yourself in a church realizing that this is what you’ve been missing for so long. They will tell you that God and Jesus are only this or that way, and then later on as they are dying they will change their minds and realize that God and Jesus may be more like the God and Jesus you met in meditation and other non-traditional spiritual adventures.
Does this mean you know it all? No, it doesn’t. I think I’ve already said this, but I’ll say it again–everything you think you know when you are young–I’m talking about all of the stuff that you are so confident about as to ignore the adults in your life telling you otherwise–that’s usually the stuff you were simply cocksure and full of hubris about. All of the stuff you allow others to tell you not to do, to put aside because they know what’s best for you–that’s the stuff you know and shouldn’t bother listening to others to tell you what to do. It all begins with being kind to yourself.
If you are not kind to yourself when you are young, then that is when you become susceptible to anyone and everyone trying to tell you what to do. That is when you drink yourself to excess, and avoid the parties where you could have found social success. If you are kind to yourself when you are young then you will find yourself, and find yourself on airplanes to study abroad programs or on boats to places where you serve and defend our country or find yourself in PhD programs where you get to spend your life travelling and working in museums and dusty old college libraries and writing interesting books and papers that may or may not be interesting to very many people, but they are damn well interesting to you, and that’s what matters.
Be kind to yourself when you are young, and you will become sure of yourself–confident in a healthy sort of way, confident that perhaps you can pack up and move to NYC to make it as a writer or a hedge fund manager. If you are not kind to yourself, then that is where all of the problems begin, and everyone thinks that they have the right program to help you, heal you, and make you into an upstanding, proper and productive young adult citizen of the world. The choices that you make when you are kind to yourself leave behind memories that you cherish throughout the rest of your life. The choices that you make when you haven’t learned to be kind to yourself are the ones that leave you full of all kinds of regrets.
Should you never listen to your parents? Of course not! But, at the end of the day, if your gut is leading you in one direction, and your parents are trying to lead you to some other place, you had better listen to your gut, or you will find yourself living out a life of always being unhappy and bitter as you lurch from job to job, trapped in the shambles of a so-called career pushing buttons for people who don’t need you around to do anything else for them.