I have a confession to make. Yesterday morning I woke up and googled “David Beckham Hairstyles.”
Please, stay with me here. I turn 35 years old today and I want to shake things up a little this year so I thought I’d start with my hairstyle. Because you know, it’s Beckham and he’s got cool hair.
I’m telling you this because the rest of this article for some reason embarrasses me. So much so that I almost didn’t publish it. I’m not really sure why. I figured that if I told you something embarrassing before you started reading that maybe it would help. It did a little.
Getting older isn’t really my thing. I have a severe case of Peter Pan syndrome that I just can’t seem to shake. I’ve been to the doctors for it but apparently there aren’t any drugs they can give you to help.
So instead I’ve written my own prescription… and no, it’s not more cowbell. It’s a glass of wine (or 2. I’ll let you know by the time this is done) and an article about the most important life lessons I’ve learned in 35 years of existing.
As I do with any article that I write I like to do a google search to see what else has been written about the topic I’m diving into. What I found were thousands and thousands of articles and blog posts that basically gave the same generic advice over and over again.
- Exercise more
- Eat better
- Get better sleep
- Take more risks
- Life is a series of trials and errors
- Save more money
- Travel more
- Read more books
- Live for yourself
Yeah, no shit! We all know this. Hell, my three nephews already know this – but it doesn’t mean any of us will actually do it.
Now I could write an article about the 35 life lessons I’ve learned in 35 years of living but when I turned 32 I wrote and article about 32 Things I Wish I Would Have Known Earlier. So either I’ll just add 3 things to that or come up with an entirely new set of lessons. One of those makes for a pretty repetitive and boring article and the other would take me forever.
So instead I’ve decided to take a different approach to this. One that I hope you find a little more valuable and actionable.
Note: I had an extremely difficult time writing this article. For some reason I just could not get it going. So I decided to write it as if I was writing it to my son. I don’t have a son (at least one that I know of) but I figure when I eventually have one I can give it to him. His name is Brayden Thomas Miller (damn, this is already embarrassing).
Good Morning Brayden,
This is your Dad. But you probably already knew that. I just wanted to wish you a happy 16th birthday. You’re probably wondering why in the world I left you this letter on your bed and why I’ve decided to give this to you now. But please, humor me and keep reading. I think you’ll find it extremely useful.
First, I’ve decided to give you this letter on your 16th birthday because when I turned 16 it was when I officially became a dumb-ass. While you might not become a dumb-ass there’s a good chance over the next 10 to 20 years you’ll struggle with some things, do some dumb stuff, and really question who you are and what your place in this world is. I’m hoping that what I’ve written below can help you to navigate through those things – not effortlessly, but with more confidence determination, and persistence.
#1: YOU ARE NOT ALONE
At various points in your life you’re going to feel frustrated, empty, and “not whole.” Heck, you may even struggle with anxiety and depression. I just want you to know that you’re not alone.
In life when you struggle with things, experience failure, doubt yourself, battle insecurities, get embarrassed, feel confused, or think you’re the weird one, awkward, or out of place it’s very easy to feel like you’re the only one going through these things. You’ll feel alone.
These struggles may be related to your health, career, relationships (love), or your entire being. I just want you to know that if you knew everyone else’s failures, struggles, insecurities, and embarrassments you wouldn’t feel this way. And yes, everyone has them, yet most people are not willing to share. We live in a world of highlight reels and never get to see anyone’s behind the scenes.
My advice to you is practice vulnerability and be someone that others feel confident being vulnerable with. There are tons of ways you can do this but I’ll give you 2 that you can start practicing today.
- Be more vulnerable with people by expressing how you feel and not expecting anything in return. For example, if you tell someone that you love them don’t expect them to say it back. Just say it because you feel it. Be secure with the silence if that’s what you get.
- Let people express themselves to you without judgement. If someone tells you they’re scared don’t call them a pussy. Talk to them about how you’ve been scared before too. Tell them it’s ok and ask how you can support them.
#2: ASK AND TELL
The majority of conversations that I have with people revolve around what they’re thinking or feeling or what someone else is possibly thinking or feeling. The best advice I can give you is this:
- Tell them
- Ask them
You’ll avoid a lot of confusion and frustration because of these 2 simple things.
#3: THE ONLY EMERGENCY IN LIFE IS DEATH
I didn’t realize this until the most beautiful woman in the world passed away. You’ll have friends call you at 1am and swear they have a relationship emergency. Something will come up at work or school and it’s going to feel like an emergency. You’ll get your heart broken and this will feel like the world is crumbling around you – it will feel like an emergency. Hell, maybe you invest in something dumb and lose a few thousand bucks. This will feel like an emergency too.
It may not seem like it at first but none of these things will be emergencies. You’ll realize this as you get older, as I get older, as your mother, friends, and your kids get older. The only real emergency is death. The realization and acceptance of death makes a lot of things insignificant.
#4: LOVE YOUR FAULTS
The ability to see and love your insecurities as well as to see and love other peoples insecurities might be the most important skill you can develop. It will make you more compassionate, empathetic, and loving.
Many people that you meet will seem like they have it all together. At some point you may even decide that it’s a good idea for you to present yourself this way. But this can may make you feel alone (see #1) like you’re the only one that’s a mess.
Failure to acknowledge your own insecurities will lead to emotional baggage that you’ll carry around with you until you finally decide to acknowledge those insecurities. You may end up becoming judgmental, jealous, anxious, or even depressed.
Failure to acknowledge that other people have insecurities will leave you as an un-empathetic dickhead (for a lack of better words. Or maybe that is the best word.)
Simply put. Everyone – EVERYONE doubts themselves. Acknowledge this. Love yourself and love others for it.
#5: RULES ARE GOOD FOR YOU BUT CREATE SOME OF YOUR OWN RULES
A quote from a favorite book of mine:
“When we are young we are often puzzled by the fact that each person we admire seems to have a different version of what life ought to be, what a good man is, how to live, and so on. If we are especially sensitive it seems more than puzzling, it is disheartening. What most people usually do is to follow one person’s ideas and then another’s depending on who looms largest on one’s horizon at the time. The one with the deepest voice, the strongest appearance, the most authority and success, is usually the one who gets our momentary allegiance; and we try to pattern our ideals after him. But as life goes on we get a perspective on this and all these different versions of truth become a little pathetic. Each person thinks that he has the formula for triumphing over life’s limitations and knows with authority what it means to be a man, and he usually tries to win a following for his particular patent. Today we know that people try so hard to win converts for their point of view because it is more than merely an outlook on life: it is an immortality formula.”
There’s no one size fits all approach to living your life so I am often confused as to why so many other people or institutions try to define it for us.
Hold that thought, actually I’m not surprised, the reason is because conformity, familiarity, and safety make life easier and less confusing for the majority. When you get those trouble-makers, questioners of the status quo, and rebels with a cause that constantly question why things are done a certain way, or have the ability to do things differently you create confusion and uncomfortibility.
Think about this for a minute, what is so inherently wrong with laying down in the middle of a Starbucks if you’re tired, turning to face the other direction in a crowded elevator, dancing in a clothing store if your “JAM” comes on?
The worst mistake any of us can make is falling into the trap of validation and trying to keep up with the Jonses. Just because everyone else is doing things one way doesn’t mean you have to. Ignore others expectations of you and start paying more attention to the expectations you have for yourself.
The best way to start making your own damn rules is to get yourself a mission statement. One of the best ways I have found to discover your own personal mission statement is to play the Eulogy game. It’s a visualization exercise in which you picture yourself on the day of your own funeral. Get as specific and as detailed about the room, the people in the room, and what you even look like.
Now I know this might be uncomfortable for some of you but like my Pops always has said to me:
“If you’re afraid of dying than essentially your afraid of living and none of us can escape that.” -Tom Miller
Now picture what your eulogy consists of. What is being said about you, what is the environment like, how many people are there?
- What are some of your lifetime achievements and when and how did you achieve them?
- How many people were you able to impact in a positive manner?
- What are your closet friends saying? Family? Those that barely knew you or have crossed your path?
This is the ultimate way to explore the highest expectations you have for yourself. It often takes “death-bed syndrome” mentality to get it out of us. To many of us have to have a gun to our head, feel so much pain, or uncomfortability in order to be motivated enough to pursue something. That’s a damn shame in my book, the possibilities of life in and of itself should be enough motivation for anyone to go after what is most important to them.
When I asked myself these questions I came to the conclusion that I consider my life to be one giant canvas in which I hold the paint brushes to create any sort of masterpiece I wish. The definition of art is this.
The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination
My life has become art to me and I hope it does to you too. Every day you will get to wake up with an infinite amount of choices you can make that will lead you down a particular path. You have the ability every single day to choose a life that is authentic and meaningful to you.
So when I sat down to ask myself those eulogy questions I came up with this:
My purpose is to connect with the highest version of myself on a more consistent basis day in and day out. To be relentless in my pursuits and to be a source of contagious positive energy that others can use to ignite their own inner vision of what a limitless life is to them.
As a reminder, I try to read this quote by Marcus Aurelius to myself most mornings.
Everything—a horse, a vine—is created for some duty… For what task, then, were you yourself created? A man’s true delight is to do the things he was made for.
Am I able to do it everyday? Nope, but I’m ok with that. Perfection isn’t where it’s at for me, consistency is and I hope it will be for you too.
#6: YOU WON’T ACCOMPLISH ALL OF YOUR GOALS
Sorry bud but it’s true. You may not travel to all of the places you want to see. You may not sleep with all of the women you want to sleep with. You may not impact the number of lives you want to impact. You may not have the career you desire. You may not make the amount of money that you want to make.
Right now you may be thinking, “What the fuck Dad? What kind of letter is this?”
Just because you may not accomplish all of your goals doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue some of them. We tend to focus far to much on the end result – the accomplishment itself and forget about the process it takes to achieve them. It’s this process, successful or not that helps to shape you as a person.
Your goals won’t complete your life, they’ll just add to it.
#7: DO AND DO NOT SAY
People say a lot of things. You’ll say a lot of things. Judge other people and yourself by what they (you) do and not what they (you) say.
Let what you do speak so loudly that I cannot hear your words.
#8: YOU WILL NOT BE AN OVER NIGHT SUCCESS
Again, we only see and glorify results. Behind every “over night success” story is a tale of sleepless nights, self-doubt, pain, suffering, and internal battles with the self.
I’m confident Facebook is still around and it’s also probably worth a trillion dollars. Anyhow, one of the guys that helped start that bad boy was once asked how he felt about Facebook’s overnight success.
His response, “If by ‘overnight success’ you mean staying up and coding all night, every night for six years straight, then it felt quite tiring and stressful.”
#9: ANYTHING THAT BOTHERS YOU IS YOUR ISSUE. PEOPLE DON’T DO THINGS TO YOU THEY DO THEM FOR THEMSELVES
You have to take responsibility for your own actions and behaviors. It’s no one else’s fault but your own if you allow yourselg to get walked all over, are bored, upset, depressed, lazy, stressed, or a host of any other emotions. If you want something it is your job to go get it. If you don’t want something it is your job to not let it consume you.
Respect and empathy for others decisions, lifestyle choices, philosophies, and behaviors is of the highest importance. The majority of people in this world are good despite what you see on the news and I focus my attention on all that is right in this world as opposed to what is wrong. There will always be events and actions that are beyond your control, belief, and imagination. Embrace and marvel in those that are in the best interest of humanity and ask yourself what you can do to contribute positively and unconditionally to those that may need your help.
Considering you’re 16 and this is nearly 3,000 words I’d be luck if you’ve made it even half way through. But just in case you have or maybe end up reading the rest later on in life I want to leave you with this.
You will fail, struggle, and have insecurities and anxieties that will plague you. These will almost never go away but you can embrace them and get better at managing them. This in my opinion is the key to a successful and happy life. So now you’re probably saying, “great dad! But how do I manage them?”
I don’t know. Neither does anyone else.
The only answer I can give you is to struggle through them and to enjoy the pain that comes with those struggles.
Now you really may be asking yourself, WTF!
If you find yourself out of shape fall in love with the struggle of trying to get back into shape. If you find yourself in a job you hate fall in love with the struggle of trying to do more work that you love. If you find yourself frustrated with your relationships fall in love with the struggle that it takes to improve them.
Life is filled with both rainbows and rainstorms. You’re happiness with it won’t be defined by how many rainbows are created but instead by how many times you decide to dance in the rain.
The Old Man
PS: 2 glasses of wine
Photo credit: Negative space