I have a cousin who is graduating high school this weekend. Her Mom sent out invitations for it in a large package that included several bits of paper on which the words, “Advice for the grad from…,” are written. The idea is that everyone gives her daughter a bit of life advice that will hopefully help her on the path of her own life. Words of wisdom, if you will. I’ve decided that I am going to share my words of “wisdom” here as well, mainly because there aren’t enough scraps of paper for me to write on, so here they are.
Here are my ten steps for a fulfilling life.
1. Find a church, if you don’t already have one, and attend it at least once a week. There isn’t anything else in this world that I’ve found that will keep you as grounded as humbling yourself to God and being sermoned to periodically. You will learn a lot about yourself, life in general, and other people. If you don’t have a church nearby, or generally don’t like being in crowds of people like I don’t, then find a church that broadcasts its services online. www.northpoint.live is one, as is buckheadchurch.org/live. They are both a part of the NorthPoint family of churches in the Atlanta, GA area. I highly recommend them.
2. Do not allow money to master you. If you live paycheck to paycheck, spending nearly everything you make, then you are a slave to money. If you start while you’re young, you have the best shot at being the master of your money rather than being mastered by it. If you’re not so young, then it’s never too late to start breaking your chains. How do you accomplish this? I suggest you do the following with each and every paycheck:
A. Stop assuming that every penny you earn is yours to spend. Pick a percentage of each paycheck you earn and give that amount of money away. Even if it’s one percent. It can be to the aforementioned church of your choice. (I learned these money mastering steps from a sermon at my church.) It can be to a charity (I like to periodically give to cancer research [Cancer Research Institute of New York, N.Y.]). It can be to someone you know who needs it. It can be to a stranger on the street. But pick a percentage, whatever that percentage is, and give it away.
B. Take at least the same percentage of the money you gave away and save it. Put it in an interest-bearing savings account. Put it in a CD. Put it in an IRA (it’s NEVER too early to start saving for your retirement). Save in a different account with each paycheck even – you will never regret having an emergency fund saved away, that is 110% for sure. Save whatever way to save that you want, but put it somewhere that you’ll actually save it and not spend it unless there is an emergency.
C. After you’ve done A and B, whatever amount of money you have left is what you have to live on, to pay your bills, and enjoy yourself. If you can’t do A and B and still live your life, then you are living above your means. You either need to take steps to find a better paying job (whether that means seeking higher education first or whatever you need to do), or you need to adjust your lifestyle.
I promise you this, though, that following these three A, B, and C steps will free you from being a slave to money. YOU will be in charge, and your life, as well as the lives of others, will be better for it.
3. Go to college. Stay in college. Graduate from college. I only did one of these things and I regret it all the time. Do not be like me in this respect. It takes a lot of luck and hard work to get through life sometimes, so don’t stand in your own way on the path to your future. Okay?
4. Try to avoid as many permanent life choices as you can until you’re at least 25 years old. The decision-making part of your brain isn’t fully developed until about then, so you’re going to be better off if you try to avoid major decisions until around then. Sometimes you won’t be able to avoid a huge choice. Sometimes life forces life-altering choices on you as well. In those times, if you can, seek counsel from someone older than 25 that you trust. Seek counsel from many others if that is something you can do. Heck, that’s not bad advice even after you’re 25. In any event, if you can do this, you will likely make fewer choices that you will regret the rest of your life.
5. Have as much fun as you can. Life is too short. It is way, way too short.
6. I moved 400+ miles away from my entire family and closest friends when I was 22. While I can’t honestly say I regret that because my time in Atlanta is still precious to me, I can say that I regret not spending more time with my Dad while he was still alive. Don’t be like me in this respect. Spend as much time with your family, and closest friends, as you possibly can, because they WILL be gone from this Earth one day.
7. Alcohol and drugs can master you in much more horrible ways than money can. Be very, very careful with what you allow in your body. Alcohol can turn the sweetest of people into monsters, and drugs have destroyed so many beautiful lives (River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain, Chris Farley, Layne Staley, Heath Ledger, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Petty, and Chris Cornell to name a few). So, please, be careful. Drug highs are short and fleeting. Death is forever, not only for you but also the family you leave behind.
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[Which is to say: One day I hope you will have your own “words of wisdom”. I don’t know everything, so I hope you will share them with me when you do. Never stop learning. Never stop seeking information. Never let yourself believe that any given person doesn’t have something of value to teach you.]
9. Have integrity so that you can be someone that others can rely on and trust. Be patient. Be kind. Be forgiving, even to those who don’t deserve it. Demand these qualities from those who say they love you and make sure they receive them from you. But always remember that it’s okay to forgive people for what they do to you and others, while also forgetting them and moving on with your life. Don’t give yourself away – once someone proves to you that they don’t deserve your time, don’t keep giving it to them. Love yourself. Respect yourself. Keep respecting and loving yourself even if that means you need to be alone for any given amount of time. You shouldn’t let money master you. You shouldn’t let drugs or alcohol master you. Do not let someone who claims to love you master you, either. Someone who loves you will make you feel free and special, not like a prisoner or a prize or a possession. Always remember: your life belongs to you!
10. There is no such thing as “fair”, especially where life is concerned. Your life will only get better if you make it better. That bears repeating because I’ve found it flies over the head of people far too often: YOUR LIFE WILL ONLY GET BETTER IF *YOU* MAKE IT BETTER! Again, your life belongs to you. Don’t seek “fair”. Don’t ask for “fair”. Anything that affects more than one person will most of the time be labeled as “unfair” by someone involved. Seek “better” instead. Seek to be a better version of yourself every day than you were the day before, in any way, even small ways, that you can. Help others around you to do the same. Demand it of those who say they love you and make sure they receive it from you. Yes, you can do this and remain humble and kind and generous. That’s why this one is last. Do 1 through 9, and do them well, and then this should be easy.
Well, that’s all I have. I hope this list is helpful to some, or at the very least entertaining. I wish I had spent my late teens, 20s, and 30s doing all of these things. I think “I wish” is the best endorsement of these things that I can give you. In any event, thank you for your time and take care.
And Happy Graduation, Savannah Banana!
P.S.: The New England Patriots ownership has obviously sold their souls to the devil. You should stop being their fan right away…………………………
Ok, I’m kidding.
…………………………………………..or am I?