Not too long ago, my son (I’ll call him Z) turned one.
Someone once told me that your child’s first birthday is a momentous one. Not mainly because your child has developed so much over the past year … But because you, as a parent, have survived one whole year of dirty diapers, sleepless nights, and uncontrollable crying.
So congratulations to all the parents out there who have passed this milestone!
When I envision Z’s future, I’m hopeful. But I’m also afraid.
Because, through my work, I interact with thousands of teenagers every year. I’ve worked with teenagers who are disciplined, focused, kind, and enterprising.
But at the other extreme, I’ve also worked with teenagers who are angry and out-of-control. Some of them even struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts.
So I wonder …
Will Z become more like the first group of teenagers described above, or the second?
Will he use his talents in the service of society?
Will he become a person of unwavering integrity?
I know that worrying about Z’s future won’t change anything. So, inspired by this article, I decided to list 15 things I want him to know by the time he’s 15. This way, my wife and I will be more intentional about the life lessons we pass on to him.
Dear Z, this list is dedicated to you:
1. Life will frustrate and disappoint you. Press on.
In life, you won’t always get what you want.
You might not get the grades you want. You might not get into the school you want. You might not get the job you want.
But that’s life.
Overcoming these challenges is what makes life meaningful. After all, nothing worth having or achieving ever comes easy. So press on, and you’ll emerge a stronger, braver person.
2. Looking successful is different from being successful.
We all want to be successful. But we often confuse looking successful with being successful:
- Looking successful is about achievement. Being successful is about contribution.
- Looking successful is about prestige. Being successful is about principles.
- Looking successful is about impressing others. Being successful is about adding value to others.
- Looking successful is about owning more. Being successful is about giving more.
- Looking successful is about avoiding failure. Being successful is about failing intelligently.
Don’t settle for looking successful, when being successful is what you actually want.
3. Invest in the relationships that matter most.
During your teenage years, you’ll probably think that spending time with your family is “uncool.” (I know I felt that way as a teenager!)
But remember that your mommy and I are here for you. We love you unconditionally, and we treasure all the time we spend together as a family.
Throughout your life, invest in the relationships that matter most. Don’t ever become too busy that you neglect your relationships with your family and close friends.
The quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life, so prioritize these relationships.
4. Show honor to everyone you meet.
I use the word “honor” instead of “respect,” because of what your grandmother once said to me: “Respect must be earned, but honor is an attitude of the heart.”
In other words, not everyone will earn your respect, but everyone deserves to be shown honor.
Show honor to every person you meet, regardless of their age, gender, appearance, job title, social status, or educational qualifications. Be polite and considerate, whether or not you respect the person.
5. Make time to think, dream, and reflect.
As you take on more responsibilities, you’ll become busier. You’ll have assignments to do, projects to complete, errands to run, and other obligations to fulfill.
But make time to think, dream, and reflect.
Think about the path you’re on.
Think about where you want to go.
Think about what kind of contribution you want to make.
Think about the things you’re thankful for.
Think about the mistakes you’ve made.
Think about what you’ve learned through making those mistakes.
Create an inspiring vision for your life. Dare to fail. Live with a sense of adventure and enthusiasm. And always dream big.
6. Take care of your physical health.
When we’re young, we take our health for granted. But age will eventually catch up with us, so we must take care of our health.
It isn’t complicated.
Sleep eight hours a night. Avoid processed foods and sugary drinks. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Exercise at least three times a week.
7. Passion isn’t found or pursued. It’s cultivated.
When you reach adulthood, you’ll want to have a career you’re passionate about.
Nobody wants to wake up every morning, dreading the thought of going to work. But somehow, many people end up like that.
To have a fulfilling career, you must understand this principle: You don’t find your passion or pursue it. You cultivate it.
The world is astonishingly complex, so it’s almost impossible to find what you’re passionate about. There are just too many possibilities.
To cultivate passion by becoming excellent at something meaningful, which makes a difference in the lives of others.
So start exploring, start serving others, start impacting lives. Do this and you’ll cultivate a passion that will stick with you for the rest of your life.
8. It’s okay to be weird or different.
Throughout your life, you’ll face the pressure to fit in. Resist this pressure with every ounce of your willpower.
Fitting in is about being average. But what’s the average person like?
A friend of mine once said to me:
“The average person doesn’t get enough sleep, doesn’t exercise regularly, doesn’t eat healthily, doesn’t have a fulfilling career, doesn’t have many meaningful relationships, isn’t very compassionate or generous, and isn’t very happy. Are you sure you want to be average?”
If you’re not average, then – by definition – you’re weird.
And that’s okay.
In the entire world, there’s only one of you. Don’t waste your life trying to be someone you’re not.
9. Building your character is more important than building your résumé.
As you get older, people will give you plenty of advice on how to build your résumé:
- “Take up this leadership position.”
- “Do more community service.”
- “Enroll in this course.”
- “Work on this project.”
- “Do this internship.”
None of this is bad advice.
But keep in mind that résumé-building leads to temporary success, while character-building leads to permanent success. Who you are matters more than what you know, or what you can do.
So invest your time in things that will make you a person of greater courage, compassion, generosity, gratitude, patience, and perseverance.
This is an investment you’ll never regret.
10. Your habits determine your future success.
As Horace Mann once said, “Habit is a cable. We weave a thread of it every day, and at last we cannot break it.”
Your habits will impact your life more than your intelligence or abilities ever will.
Think about your goals. What habits do you need to reach those goals? Have you already developed those habits? If not, what steps will you take in the coming days and weeks?
Start small and take action daily.
After all, great habits aren’t built in a day; they’re built day by day.
11. When you make a mistake, apologize.
Everybody makes mistakes. The question is: What will you do after you make a mistake?
Many people will push the blame, cook up excuses, or run away.
Few people will take responsibility for their actions, and even fewer will be humble enough to apologize.
Be one of those people. Dare to say, “It’s my fault. I made a mistake, and I’m sorry. How can I make amends?”
By doing this, you’ll earn the respect of others. More importantly, you’ll earn self-respect.
12. Be a man of your word.
Keep your promises and commitments, without exception. This applies to the small things too: being punctual, sticking to deadlines, doing the household chores.
It’s in the small things that you prove you can be trusted with bigger things. So don’t despise the mundane or the insignificant.
Every broken relationship in our personal and professional lives begins with a broken promise – someone who didn’t do what they said they’d do.
Don’t let that “someone” be you. Be a man of your word, and you’ll be trusted, respected, and admired.
13. Your attitude is your most valuable asset.
Your knowledge, abilities, talents, and personality are valuable assets. But your attitude is your most valuable one.
The good news is that your attitude is completely up to you. If you want to develop an excellent attitude, you can. It just takes time and effort.
To improve your attitude, think positive thoughts. Hang out with awesome people. Cultivate a spirit of gratitude. Read inspiring books. Watch less TV. Compliment others. Write thank-you notes.
And remember the wise words of John Maxwell: “Your attitude determines your altitude.”
14. The key to success is doing what other people aren’t willing to do.
This principle applies in every area of life. Most people aren’t willing to:
- Set specific goals and write them down
- Learn information that’s outside the syllabus
- Ask questions for fear of looking dumb
- Voluntarily attend educational workshops and seminars
- Put their mobile phone away when they’re trying to focus
- Delete the games on their mobile phone to reduce distractions
- Ask for forgiveness when they’ve wronged someone
Without a doubt, doing these things is hard.
But to achieve enduring success, you must be willing to do hard things. You must be willing to do the things that others aren’t willing to do.
15. Happiness isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice.
As the saying goes, the grass isn’t greener on the other side. The grass is greener where you water it.
How do you water the “grass” of your life, and find happiness in the process?
By making the right choices …
Choose to persevere (Point #1).
Choose to be successful, instead of look successful (Point #2).
Choose to invest in the relationships that matter most (Point #3).
Choose to make time to think, dream, and reflect (Point #5).
Choose to take care of your physical health (Point #6).
Choose to cultivate passion (Point #7).
Choose to develop the right habits (Point #10).
Choose to have the right attitude (Point #13).
Choose to do what other people aren’t willing to do (Point #14).
My dearest son, you have your whole life ahead of you. May you choose to be happy. May you choose to pursue excellence. And, most of all, may you choose to lead a life of courage, contribution, and commitment.
An earlier version of this article first appeared on Yahoo!.
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Image: Father and son