IMPORTANT NOTE: When my son graduated from high school, I wrote an abbreviated form of this letter below on how to be happy and successful for him in preparation for college and his adult life. Since posting this letter online, tens of thousands have viewed it and passed it on to friends and family.
I offer it you in the belief that you may find some strong value in it too. And I encourage you to pass this letter on how to be happy and successful on to others who you think may benefit (and feel free to repost on your blog, Facebook, website, etc., with a link back to this page.)
After all, we’re all in this together.
As an adult, only I have changed my life. Because as an adult, only I can finally choose to do so. Or not.
Even if things happen to me that are beyond my control … a bird pooping on my head, an earthquake tearing my home apart beneath my feet … only I can choose how I will respond to it.
But other things help me, and have helped me, in my choosing to change. These are beautiful things … these are the catalysts and guides. And whether it lasts for decades or moments, I call the interaction with these catalysts and guides "intense experiences".
Nature has often provided me these intense experiences. Go to her often, including when nothing else seems to provide you the answers you seek. She may provide you answers, often by instead reminding you of the real questions, if you allow her to.
And it is also often other people who have provided me these intense experiences.
The Always People
This certainly includes the people who love me; even though they are human and therefore their words and actions are not always graceful – sometimes alarmingly not so – I know because they love me their intentions for me are good. That makes for some very positive intense experiences.
Always remember the people who love you; no matter what, be there for them, and remember we are always here for you. I am always here for you. I cannot tell you what to do, but I will tell you what I’d do.
And even on what I hope is a distant day that I am gone from this earth, know I will be there inside you, to turn to if you need a guide.
I have loosened my hold, and will continue to as you become a man, but I will never let you go.
The Potential People
In addition to nature, in addition to the people who already love me, it is also the strangers who have provided me the most intense experiences.
Never underestimate the positive potential of those you don’t yet know.
Everyone who has already influenced the direction of your life – even your parents and grandparents – was once a stranger to you.
Somewhere out there may be your wife. A best friend. Someone who hands you a dream job. Someone whose mentorship helps you live an even happier life.
Some of these people may only enter your life briefly, and the departure of some may bring you temporary heartache, but always remember to recognize what you discovered through them, and be grateful.
Somewhere out there are always more people who can help you positively transform your life. Stay open to meeting them.
And finally, it is also the great works of strangers that have provided me these intense experiences.
I realize that school, in its admirable attempt to break these works down for study, can sometimes seem to threaten to break their beauty and transformational potential in the process.
But remember that, while it can be necessary and even fascinating to understand the technical components that make up these works, they were created first and foremost from the heart. They were created from someone’s desire to put their experience with the world out there for the world.
They may be worthy of study, but they were created for you to experience them … delve into them and let them move you, let them also be your catalysts and guides.
And so nature, the people who love and care about you, the people you don’t yet know, and the great works of people through the ages … along with your formal studies, your work, exercise and healthy eating, and nurturing your spirituality and faith however you choose … these are worth your time and energy. No matter what your age, these are experiences that will help you grow constantly and become who you are.
The Deadly Imposters
Meanwhile, beware of the deadly imposters: alcohol, drugs, smoking, gambling, materialism and excessive shopping, brainless TV, heartless sex, fast and processed food, and other reckless behavior like dangerous driving.
These are all severely dangerous narcotics, empty illusions that may seem to momentarily caress your ego even as they slowly and subtly – or sometimes not so slowly and subtly – shred your being to pieces.
These are what kills bodies, brains, hearts, spirit and potential.
Maintain control over these deadly imposters vigilantly. Avoid them is my ideal advice; the more you do, the stronger, happier and better a person you will be. The less you avoid them, the weaker, unhappier and more distant from yourself you will be. There are no two ways about it.
If and where you will dabble in them – and yes, while I myself have done some of them, one of the key marks of maturity is that you don’t give yourself permission to repeat others' foolish mistakes, even dear old dad's – maintain the utmost self-discipline and self-honesty.
They are not good to you, they are not good for you, and the moment you find any part of yourself believing any of them are is the moment you must clamp down on them with all your heart and energy.
It is your life; do not allow the sinister lure of anything, and do not allow anyone else’s choices, to live it for you.
You are not merely graduating from high school. You are graduating into adulthood. What that means is that you are responsible for your choices.
You are the choices that you make.
Choose positive intense experiences that nurture you. Choose to recognize failings for what they are: necessary building blocks to success. Choose honesty, including unyielding self-honesty, and self-discipline. Choose love, which always starts and ends with self-love.