During this graduation season, I always have the urge to offer my unsolicited advice to young people. Why? Because that’s how I am. I’m middle-aged and think I know everything. Of course, I don’t, but I do know more than most young people. Young folks are bombarded with advice from parents, friends and even strangers. Most of that advice is ignored. That’s not necessarily bad. Take a look at who’s offering the advice. Could be that they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about it.
On the other, maybe they know a lot of stuff, but just pass on the same poor advice they received in their youth. Strictly speaking, I’m not offering advice here, as much as I’m critiquing advice. You’re going to be told things that either just aren’t true or are too simplistic. Who tells you things? They do, of course. They know a lot and are anxious to tell you about it. Watch them, though. They may not be as smart as they think they are.
Here are five of those things they’ll tell you–and what they won’t say:
1. HARD WORK PAYS OFF
Hey, I’ve got nothing against hard work. In fact, if I were giving advice, I’d advise you to work hard. It’s difficult to accomplish much unless you make some effort. Here’s what they won’t tell you: Just because you work hard doesn’t mean it will pay off. Let’s say that you really aren’t very good at something, but you work hard. Chances are that the more you work, the more mistakes you’ll make. You’ll make a bad situation worse.
Another problem is that hard work simply doesn’t always pay off. You know who works hard? Farmers. A lot of farmers barely get by. Their hard work can get ruined by weather, insects, the economy or plain old bad luck. A lot of jobs are like that. Just because you work hard doesn’t mean you’ll be the CEO or that your lazy boss will even care. Sorry, but that’s true.
So, work hard, but work smart. If your hard work gets you nowhere, then go somewhere else or do something else.
2. YOU HAVE A SOUL MATE
Well-meaning people will tell you that you have a soul mate, that person that God or fate has selected for you. This person, among all the people you meet, is The One. Find this person, and you will live happily ever after.
Think about this. There are 7 billion people on Earth–half male, half female. That’s 3.5 billion for you. I’ll concede that some of those will be too young under societal taboos. Let’s say there are a billion or two available to you. So, somewhere among those billion or so people is one for you. Only one. Assuming you can actually cross paths with this one person, you’ll have to know it. Then you’ll have to do something about it. Complicating matters is that this person must also recognize his or her good fortune. If you’re bisexual, the odds getting even greater or maybe they’re better–I can’t figure it out. Regardless, good luck with all of that.
Half of all marriages end in divorce. This means we are woefully incompetent at finding our soul mates. Our soul mates are also incompetent, because they should have found us, too. It also means that God has a twisted sense of humor. He made us a soul mate, yet made it damn near impossible to find that person.
3. MONEY ISN’T IMPORTANT
They’ll tell you that happiness is better than money. Of course, it is, but that doesn’t mean money isn’t important. I’ve had times that I lived paycheck to paycheck and times I didn’t. The times I didn’t were better.
The old saw tells us that money can’t buy happiness. This is true, but it can buy comfort. Comfort isn’t necessarily happiness but it sure helps. It can even make unhappiness a tad easier. I say everyone should be happy. But, if you can’t be happy, at least be comfortable.
All of this is much different from believing that money will actually make you unhappy. Hey, I’ve known quite a few poor people, and they haven’t cornered the market on happiness, either.
There is a limit to the need for money. Ponzi schemes, thievery and various forms of graft should be avoided, if for no other reason to avoid prison. Prison will make you unhappy.
4. THIS IS THE BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE
You’re a young adult. You have your whole life ahead of you. The world is your oyster. This is the best time of your life. Boy, I sure hope not.
What are you–18, 20 years old? You should have 60+ more years left. If this is the best time of your life, then you have a long slog to the grave ahead of you, assuming you even care to try.
By the way, you are an adult. If you can vote, marry, sign contracts and join the military, that’s all for adults. You also may not have a good job or be doing poorly in school or living in your parents’ basement. If these are the best times for you, life is going to be tough.
I have to qualify this. When is the best time of your life? How should I know? Actually, now should be, but now changes. Now is the best time of my life, but I’m in my 50’s. I intend for my 60’s to be the best, too. Now matters. I used to 18, but that was then. So, maybe now is the best time of your life, but later should be too–except not right now. Don’t peak at 18 years old. There’s too much ground left to cover.
Is that confusing? You bet it is. Life is confusing. When you’re my age, you’ll understand.
5. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING
This is the most dangerous advice you can receive, because it simply is not true. You can’t or, at the very least, shouldn’t. Oh, you can try. (See Item No. 1 above). You are likely to fail at certain things. Most of us do. Failure is temporary, unless you continue trying the same thing. As you continue trying, at some point you become insane and then you really can’t do anything.
Have you ever heard this? Failure is not an option. Oh, how wrong that is. Failure is always an option.
You may dream of being a professional athlete. If you can’t do it, at some point you must stop trying. The same applies to intellectual endeavors. Maybe you’re not smart enough. That’s not a sin. It’s just a fact.
Bad luck is another stumbling block. You might not get the opportunity to do whatever you want. Paying bills, eating, living indoors and the like often take priority.
Here’s something that could happen. You could end up with someone who is not your soul mate. This person could be a mill stone around your neck keeping you from doing anything you want. It happens.
You also might have really crappy judgment. The things you want to do may be terrible ideas. Mobile meth labs, amateur pornography and random death threats are examples. Yes, you may well be able to do these things, but you’ll wish you hadn’t.
So, what’s my point? I don’t really have one. That’s one luxury of getting old. You can talk and talk and make no sense, but people feel like they need to listen. Now, go out there and work hard, find your soul mate, ignore money and do anything you want to do. This is the best time of your life or so they say.