A Letter to My Teenage Son
October 1, 2019 | by jamie beeson
We're at that place I've heard about for years. Seasoned parents tell new parents, "It goes by in the blink of an eye.” It was hard to imagine sending my very needy, constant attention-demanding baby out the door on his own. But here we are, preparing to send our oldest out into the real world. We’ve begun the next steps talks, and it has caused me to pause and think about the advice I’m giving.
As parents, we have hopes and dreams for our kids. We want them to live joy-filled, successful lives where they find love, fulfillment, and make a difference in the world. If we’re honest, most of us are still defining and redefining how this happens even after years of practice. We’ve discovered that there's no one way to happiness, and many of the roads we've traveled to fulfillment have turned up as dead ends. We’ve also realized that our culture tends to glorify and magnify an end result and destination while missing the greatness life brings along the journey.
Not going to college wasn't an option when I grew up. I somehow adopted the belief that everyone should go. It wasn’t a struggle for me because I liked school. But, I watched friends of mine vacillate between majors, drop one thing and pick up the next viable option, only to find they didn’t love that road either. I watched some suffer through generals, and others major in "social life 101.” We all ended up with debt; several didn’t have much to show for it. On the parent end of it, I am thinking about things differently. I value education, one hundred percent. My degree was in teaching; both of my parents were teachers, it’s hard for me NOT to value it. But it’s not just that. Higher education is just as much about who you learn to become, how you learn to learn, and opportunities for growth as it is about the classes you take and the degree you earn.
I’ve compiled a list of the best advice I can come up with at present for my son (and his three brothers following after him). I don’t know if he’ll take it or even read it, but I hope it’s something he can come back to in the days ahead. I’m sure my youngest son’s list will be twice as long after I’ve lived through and learned more.
For my son:
Attitude is everything. How you see and interpret your world will determine your direction, motivation, and even your opportunity for promotion. Learn to master a mindset of growth and you'll master, overcome, and find joy in every opportunity along the way.
2. What you do is not who you are
What you do is an extension of who you are, what you've learned, and the strengths you possess. But, never confuse the two. We have some assignments in our life that are very temporary, and others that are more long-term. Just because an assignment (role, job, position) ends, it does not mean you have lost the best of you. It's just time to hand off the baton and discover the next leg of your race.
3. Every position is preparation
There is no arriving. Management roles, being the "big boss," or making a certain amount of money, does not mean you’ve arrived. Life is an ever-changing, evolving story. Wherever you are, there is something to learn and value in each position. Whether you feel overlooked or undervalued, you will take away something in this season to carry into the next one that makes you better prepared for what's to come. Don't underestimate any season or position of any level. Life is less about the outcome and more about who you become.
4. Don’t idolize someone else’s glory without understanding their story
We don't know the roads they had to travel to be where they are. We don't know the sacrifices they've made, hardships they've endured, or the challenges they currently face. It's possible they gave up something you'd never be willing to compromise to have or be what they are. Being at the top is not easy. You have to train to withstand that kind of pressure unseen to the rest of us.
5. Never neglect, devalue, or underestimate the people around you
People are messy. People are complicated. But, people are a huge part of why we exist. Who you surround yourself with massively impacts where you'll end up. You're born to influence and to be influenced so you must choose wisely. In a workplace, career, life…always value people over tasks.
6. You’re born to make a difference
As you live out more of your story, you'll find things that you love and things that you don't. You'll experience things that make you come alive and things that drain the life out of you. You'll have opportunities that you didn't even know were out there present themselves, and you'll see opportunities you've longed for become unimportant. As you learn about yourself, pay attention to your passions, gifts, and strengths. The world needs what you have. Dial into what that is and give it out as much as possible.
7. Failure is part of the path to success
Count on it, expect it, and shoot for it. The more mistakes you make along the way, the more learning you do, and the closer you are to success. The greatest success stories are made up of hundreds of failures. Failure isn’t fatal.
8. Don’t place your joy in the wrong thing
Joy is not found in a place, a career, money, or even in an achieved goal. Sure, happiness can be experienced in community, friendship, or through achievement. But true joy is not dependent upon any of those things. Be careful not to ever wholly give your joy over to something temporary and uncertain like a job, relationship, or money. All of those things come and go like the wind.