One of my all time favorite kids is turning sixteen tomorrow. She was one of my best customers back when I had a job as a middle school librarian and I wanted to do something for her special day, but as you can imagine, being out of work has seriously cut into the gift giving budget, so I sent her a card and enclosed a two page note that I wish someone had given me when I was turning sixteen. Maybe things would have turned out differently. Do you think I gave her good advice?
You are turning sweet 16! Though you may not believe it, what comes next is probably the most important five year period of your life. From 16 to 21, you will make a ton of decisions that will affect the rest of your life. The problem is, you sometimes won’t know that you are about to make such a life changing decision until you look back on that moment from ten or twenty years down the road. For that reason, you must be careful and thoughtful about everything you do. I’ve got a few things to tell you about what’s coming that I really wish someone had told me when I was 16, but no one was around to tell me. Trust me when I say everything I’m going to tell you are lessons I learned the hard way by making mistakes, some of which I am still paying for to this day.
First, sex. Just say no. I realize that is sometimes easier said than done, especially when “everyone is doing it” and every TV show, movie, and song seems to be screaming that it’s okay and you are weird if you don’t sleep with everyone who comes along. Well, take it from me, they are wrong. Having sex too soon is a really good way to train-wreck your life in a hurry. Aside from the obvious fact that you can contract dieseases and get pregnant, you can also be devastated emotionally. I promise you, as someone who knows too well, a lifetime of regret and second guessing is not worth a few minutes of what seems like the ultimate pleasure. Also, your generation seems to have trouble sometimes figuring out “what is sex.” This is a simple question. If you have to wonder if what you are thinking of doing is sexual, then it’s sex and don’t do it. It’s just not worth it.
Second, relationships. In the next five years, you’ll cement some relationships that will last for the rest of your life. Oddly enough, some of the people you think you’ll be friends with forever will drift away while some people you never dreamed of speaking to will turn out to be your dearest friends. You won’t make all the friends you’ll ever have by 21, but you’ll get a good start. You’ll also come across a boy or two that you thought at first would make a good boyfriend but after awhile you’ll see that he’s really a great boy who’s a friend. Hold on to those because friends of the opposite sex can give you insight into some decisions that your very best girlfriends can’t.
While I’m talking about relationships, don’t forget the most important relationships of all and that’s family. You will be sorely tempted many times in the next five years to think that your parents are idiots who know nothing and are completely out of touch with reality. However, if you will watch your tongue and try, just try, to listen to them, you will be shocked when you are 30 at how incredibly intelligent they have become. No relationships are more important than family. They are the ones who have been with you the longest and you didn’t get to pick each other – you just got stuck together by Someone who is a lot smarter than all of us. If you break ties with your family, you will live to regret it. Again, I know from experience what I’m talking about. When those family members are gone, you’ll be shocked at how lonely life can be.
College and jobs. Go to college or don’t go to college. You can make it in life either way. Just don’t go to college or pick what college you go to just because “everyone else is going there”. Following what everyone else does is another really good way to train-wreck your life because you aren’t everyone else. When you decide on a career, remember this – you will spend more waking hours at your job than you will anything else in your life. If you think being in school and hating it sucks, you’ve never laid in bed listening to the clock go off and nearly bursting into tears because you hate the thought of going to a job you despise. Find something you love to do then find a way to make a living out of it. That’s what I did and it’s one of the few things in my life that is still regret free.
Jobs lead to money and if you don’t listen to anything else, PLEASE listen to this. Be careful, careful, careful about money. No, money is not the most important thing in the world – far from it – but good money management can make your life go a lot easier. The worst thing you can do is come out of college thousands of dollars in debt with student loans AND credit cards! Avoid credit cards like the plague. Debt is like crack cocaine, it feels so good to buy what you want, but sooner or later, you have to pay. Now, having said all that, don’t hoard money either. Once you have a good roof over your head and the light bill and such are paid, don’t be afraid to live a little. People who hoard up money are just keeping score and money is a very empty way to keep score. Remember this – use things and love people; don’t use people and love things.
Finally, keep one thing in the back of your mind as you go “This too will pass away.” It’s true of everything. If you are insanely happy at the moment, don’t get too caught up in it because it WILL pass away. No one can stay on the mountain top forever. At the same time, though, if you are in a dark period of life and it seems like the sun will never shine again, this too will pass away. No one stays in the valley forever, it just seems like a long time sometimes.
So, Sweetie, I hope you can find a nugget or two in the ramblings of an old man who’s seen a bit too much and avoid some pitfalls along the way. Life is a wonderful thing, enjoy it as much as you can, but always remember – this is the journey, not the destination. Enjoy your Sweet 16, _____, and may you have many, many more!
With fond affection,
Mr. S. Wham