Old People Love to Try to Give Young People the Answers, if Only Just to Feel Like Their Age is Useful Somehow

What would you tell your high school self?

by: Sarah Stroup (Q4Colleges.com)

Dear Sarah,

I am Sarah of the future writing to you to provide you (us?) with some perspective on how your life right now will look once you are seven or eight years down the road.  If you are tired of people trying to tell you what to do, how to think, and who to be, then I don’t blame you.  Old people love to try to give young people the answers, if only just to feel like their age is useful somehow.  If you are already annoyed enough to stop listening, then it’s possible that you don’t need my advice because you already have enough confidence in yourself to go get yourself into scrapes, have adventures, and prosper.  Ultimately, that’s what I want to say to you anyway.

If you’re curious to know if any of my comments might change how you think about things, then read on.  You don’t have to take all of my advice.  After all, it’s just my perspective, now that I’m twenty-four and filled with regretful and sometimes angry musings.

Some of the things I say below might not make any sense to you right now.  Some may seem like the total opposite of what you should do to lead a happy and fulfilling life.  Some of it will probably just seem patronizing.  Some of it might not really resonate with you until you’re twenty-four too.  That’s okay.  Just go ahead and take a peek.

1.  Never underestimate practical skills.

Learning to do laundry and cook may be the best things you ever do for yourself.

2.  “Learning the easy way” is not real learning.  

People always say, “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way,” as if by establishing this binary, you will understand that there is only one path to happiness, and one other evil path that will surely result in despair, landing in the gutter, drug addiction, a life of crime, and God knows what other terrible things that we mean when we say “the hard way.”  This kind of thinking is faulty, though.  Who ever actually learned anything from always doing what they were told?  I don’t say this to try to scare you or make you think that life is pain.  Quite the opposite, actually.  To be quite honest, all of the things that I’ve learned that have irrevocably changed me as a human being, I learned the hard way, and guess what…  I’m still here to talk about it.  We learn and ultimately succeed the most when we are forced to fix problems.  Plus those problems end up making great stories later.  The next time someone tells you you can either do things the easy way or the hard way, your response should be, “Bring it!”

3.  If something doesn’t come naturally to you, that doesn’t mean that you’re stupid or that it’s just not for you.

I know you Sarah, and, well, you like to be in areas where you can shine with minimal effort because these things are safe.  I don’t mean that as an accusation.  Everyone likes to do things they’re naturally good at because it’s easy, and if they say that they don’t, then they’re lying.  When you encounter things that are difficult for you, though (think physics, think chemistry), be feisty!  Remember that there is more valor in the fight than in the victory.

4.  Try everything. 

That’s the only way to know what really matters to you.  You know how college admissions representatives keep coming around and saying that their school looks for students who are intellectually curious?  Do those kinds of remarks make you wonder what you are curious about?  How do you think you will find out?  It’s probably not by doing the same things you’ve been doing for the past four years because you’ve been told it looks good to have something consistent on your college applications.  Ultimately, which do you think is more important, getting into Harvard, or knowing what really matters to you in life?

5.  Only worry about pleasing people if it’s necessary to get you were you need to go. 

You don’t need to do everything that other people want you to do, even though the pressure seems unbearable sometimes, and you feel like the consequences if you don’t will be even worse.  Just remember that being original is more important than being praised in the short-term.  Plus, sometimes other people’s idea of what is “good” is just wrong.  No one can predict what traits or achievements will be valuable in 10 years.  Everyone goes by what they knew to work in the past.  People’s vision is also bound by the short-term.

6.  You should still know what people want, though. 

Even if you don’t conform to people’s expectations, you should still practice identifying what these expectations are.  But then see if you can have some fun and come up with creative solutions for functioning within them.

7.  Think more like a boy. 

…What?  Okay, I’m sure Carol Gilligan (you’ll learn who she is later) just rolled over in her grave.  I know you hated it when your tenth-grade history teacher told you that the problem with you and your classmates was that you weren’t more like boys…  That sounded like a pretty roundly sexist and insensitive comment at the time, coming from someone who taught at an all-girls high school.  Here’s what I think he meant though: Don’t think well-behaved and obedient.  If you misbehave, your parents will always forgive you and love you, even if they’re mad at you temporarily.  Don’t back away from boundaries.  See what happens if you push them a bit.  See what happens if you step over them.  Experiment!  You’ll never know how much you can get ahead of the group if you don’t try.  Plus, I think it was Margaret Thatcher who said that “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”  Or maybe it wasn’t.  But it’s still a good quote.

8.  There is a big world out there beyond school.

Look for adventures and opportunities beyond the ones you are given.  The worthiest causes will be the ones you find yourself.

9.  *!@? textbooks.

Read non-fiction for pleasure.  Read fiction for pleasure.  Read poetry for pleasure.

10.  It is never unreasonable to need to rest.  

You’re an introvert.  Own it, love it, accept it.  It can feel exhausting and annoying to have people constantly trying to push you in certain directions.  Our culture pushes extraversion and frenetic energy, hard.  Don’t ever feel like you need to be someone that you’re not.  I’ll let you in on a little secret:  Even when you get to be my age, no one is the person they think they should be.  They just hide it.

11.  Give yourself permission to feel curious about things

Instead of letting cultural norms make you feel bad about the person you are, or feel useless and like you will never influence anyone.  Remember how it felt to get excited about things you learned?  If you take active steps to pursue the things about which you are curious, passion will naturally lead you where you need to be and will give you the knowledge and skills you need to be influential.

12.  You’ll know passion and excitement when you feel them.  

If you try something and it doesn’t really grab you, don’t stress and think there’s something wrong with you because other people like this thing and say you should like it too, but you don’t.  Don’t force it.  Passion is like falling in love.  It happens very rarely, but it’s unmistakable when it does.  If it hasn’t happened yet, it just means you haven’t found “that thing” yet.  Wondering how you will find it?  Refer back to #3.

13.  Do things just for the fun of them. 

Your life doesn’t have to be a big ball of intensity and stress.  Don’t feel like you’re spending your time unwisely if you do something not related to getting into college.  Don’t forget what straight up enjoyment feels like.

14.  Listen to your instincts about people.

Especially boys.  You know when something is or is not right.  If a relationship, whether it’s a friendship or a romance, makes you feel strong, it’s a good one.  If it makes you doubt yourself, then it’s not.  A relationship should never undermine what you feel you as an individual have the power to accomplish.  If you have to let someone go, give yourself time to mourn and never let anyone tell you that you should just “get over it” or “just not think about it!”  There are some people I think about five or six years later, and still feel angry or sad over things they did.  Some things will always hurt.  It can be hard to let people go, but the good news about people is that there are a lot of them, and you’ll never really be alone.

15.  Know who your friends are.

If you feel alone, find the people who really care about you and have been there for you through everything.  Pick up the phone and call them.  This might seem odd to you now, Sarah, but our mom is my go-to person.  Talking with someone who cares about the things that bother you can be one of the greatest sources of relief it’s possible to experience.  You can always be yourself with our mom.

16.  Make your friends and family a priority.

I didn’t really understand this one so well until I moved to New York City and suddenly didn’t have the built-in support from my family and friends that I was used to.  It’s easy to take your family for granted when you live with them and you have to squabble with them over who will do the dishes, your dad makes that annoying joke he makes every week but seems to feel never gets old, and your mom keeps asking you if you’ve finished your homework yet.  It’s also easy to take your friends for granted when you  show up to the same place at the same time every day without even having to tell them to do that.  In all my existential wanderings, though, the one conclusion I’ve drawn is that being good to the people you love and showing gratitude to them is the most important thing you can do in life.

And that’s it.  You can throw all of these ideas out the window if you want to. It’s your life to live.  But hopefully you find some comfort in the things I said, and in the fact that even though it seems like your whole life is culminating towards the day when you’ll receive what are hopefully college acceptance letters, there is life beyond that day, and there is life to be lived right now.  Be strong and be brave.

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Author: Brooke Allen

A social entrepreneur and retired Wall Street executive.

One thought on “Old People Love to Try to Give Young People the Answers, if Only Just to Feel Like Their Age is Useful Somehow”

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