I approach the table, feeling weary from my summer cold and the late hour. Hopefully this will be my last round of guests before I can finally go home and get some rest. It is table of four – with an older gentleman (my dad’s age, maybe older), and two young women and a young man. I greet them with a smile, welcoming them to our restaurant, and ask them what they would care to drink. I am looking at the older gentleman, mostly because he is the ranking adult, but also because he is position “one” in my lineup.
One of the younger women, perhaps my age, speaks up immediately. She tells me what she would like, in a polite but assertive tone, and adds “waters all around” at the end. I look at her, bemused, and smile and nod and write her order down. I then watch as she helps the older gentleman select the wine he should drink. I am then puzzled; clearly this young lady is wearing the pants at the table.
When I return with their drinks and take the order, she again speaks up immediately. She has questions about the menu, and again is polite but assertive. This chick knows exactly what she wants. She is direct, makes eye contact, and I immediately respect her for the way she carries herself. She is commanding the conversation and I, like the others, fall in line – bemused. I find myself wondering – who is this girl? How old is she?
When I return some time later, I find I cannot help myself and I politely ask her how old she is. She gives a knowing smile, and declares that she is thirteen. I smile, look at her, and say, “Honey, you are a natural-born leader. I want you to remember that when it comes time for you to pick your path in life. You are meant to lead others.” Her beaming smile warmed my heart and she proudly responded “I’ve been to several leadership camps.”
She was, in every way, just a thirteen-year-old girl. A little rough around the edges with the joy of a child in her eyes. It didn’t appear as though life had really taken away that spark. It made me very sad to think of all the things she might experience to take away that spark and self-confidence. Because I am who I am, I wanted to sit her down and give her some words of advice. However, that is not my job. My job is to create a wonderful experience for my guests at the restaurant, and I made sure they had a wonderful evening.
But, it kept me thinking all night and this morning, and so I want to write down what I would have told her if I could have – simply because every young person should know these things, and I could stand to remember them as well. I don’t pretend to have any grand wisdom at the ripe age of twenty-four, but if I could go back – this is what I would tell my thirteen-year-old self. And again at fourteen, fifteen, especially sixteen and seventeen, and onward. I should really be telling myself these things every day. So, in no particular order…
14 CHEAT CODES FOR THE YOUNG ADULT
1. No one, and I mean no one, decides what kind of person you are. You must decide, for yourself, who you want to be. Whatever you decide, it is you that must live with it. It can be hard, as a teenager, to want to fit in. For a lot of people, they have this problem in their adult lives. The pressure to be liked or to find a place never really goes away. You must decide what your place is and create it for yourself. You take all the credit for what you have built from where you started, and you have all the power.
2. How you feel about who you are is your responsibility. There will come a time when you fall in love. You will almost certainly pick the wrong person, through no fault of your own, and these intense feelings can change the way you feel about yourself. They can make you feel high and glorious… and when it’s over you can feel as low as a person can feel. This is not the other person’s fault. No matter what they do to you, it is on you to manage your own sense of self-worth. You have to believe – really believe – that you are a person deserving of love and respect without anyone helping you to realize that. When that external influence goes away, you will be left broken. So, remember to always be who you are, and accept the love from someone who appreciates you, not some version of yourself.
3. You will make mistakes. You will make a lot of them. You will feel pressured to make the right choices, but you won’t. You’ll make some good choices, and some bad ones. Such is life. Your parents, your older siblings, your teachers, anyone you respect – they all make mistakes, too. Sometimes an adult will look at a teen and be frustrated – but this is because we don’t want you to make the same mistakes we did, we want better for you. The truth is that you are going to make them. Try as hard as you can to make good choices, but at the end of the day remember that the mistakes you make are a part of growing up and it’s okay. Forgive yourself for not being perfect, because perfection is impossible.
4. Your parents will break you. When I say that, I mean that when we are born we are a clean slate, more or less. Our parents shape us into adults, and things influence us along the way. Whether you have the world’s best parents or the world’s crappiest parents, every young person becomes an adult and realizes, over time, that we are broken. This may be their fault, but it is on you to fix it. Sometimes it can happen even with the best of intentions, and sometimes it can happen because they are unprepared to be parents, or sometimes it can happen because they don’t really care that much. No matter what kind of parents you have – you must understand yourself and change the things you wish you could. You can say out loud “I am this way because my mom/dad did x-y-z…” but at the end of the day – it is on you to be different if you want to. You cannot blame them for something that, as an adult, is your responsibility.
5. Life isn’t fair. We all have these plans of grandeur for our adult lives. We are shocked to find that some things are impossible or some things take more work than we thought. And, even if we try our hardest and do everything right, we don’t always get what we want. The wrong person gets the promotion, the wrong girl gets the guy (or the wrong guy gets the girl), and the wrong student gets the scholarship. We realize – life isn’t fair. It doesn’t work how it’s supposed to. Don’t let this break your spirit! Make it work to your advantage. Be prepared so that it doesn’t knock the wind out of you with disappointment. And, things do balance over time. Even if you are struggling at 19, you will feel better at 20 or 21. Have patience and a little faith that it will all work out in the end. In the meantime, enjoy the experiences you are having.
6. You have absolutely no idea what will happen to you. This can be hard to wrap your mind around, because maybe you want to feel in control of your life. If you are this kind of person, let go a little. I don’t mean some catastrophic event like getting hit by a meteor, I mean… you are only in control of you, and you might change your mind. Your boyfriend or girlfriend could do anything they want, and it could blindside you. Your best friend could stab you in the back, you could be fired for some bullshit reason – you could have cockroaches in your apartment! You never know what will happen. But there are good things that happen, too, and you’ll never know it. The right job could be just around the corner, and you may bump into your next great love. Never close any doors on yourself – the world will close enough of them for you, be open to everything and anything.
7. It’s okay to ask for help. Everyone does it. Whether it’s asking your parents for a little bit of cash to make rent, or seeking a therapist for talking this stuff through – because it is HEAVY stuff sometimes – asking for help does NOT make you a failure. It makes you smart. Smart individuals achieve things with the help of others. All great thinks are a collaborative effort.
8. No one is looking out for your best interests but you. No matter how close your friendships are or how great your relationship is – most people are selfish and are thinking of themselves. If you have a strong family, seek advice from them and listen carefully. Adults know more than you do only by living longer and experiencing the very same things you are experiencing. But, always remember that your well-being is your responsibility, and you should always look out for your own safety.
9. Most relationship are temporary. It can be hard to accept this when you are in high school or have just graduated and are in college. The relationships you make feel so permanent – whether it be a friend or romantic partner. It is possible that the relationships you make will last, but unlikely. Most relationships you make as a young person are based on mutual need or proximity. Don’t be heartbroken when in a year, all of your friends are different. Be careful with your heart, because your peers are figuring it out just like you are. They will come and go, and this is a natural part of growing up.
10. You are going to change… drastically. This is just a part of growing up, too. One year you’ll feel one way, the next year you will change. Your interests, your feelings, and your goals. This is all a part of becoming the final version of yourself, although you will change more and more your whole life. Embrace new things and expose yourself to as many new ideas as possible. Try everything – that is truly living.
11. It will feel super-important in the moment, but it’s not. That fight you had with your boyfriend, that thing your friend said, and that one class that just made you crazy. In a few weeks, or months, you will forget it ever happened. Keep this in mind when, in the moment, it feels like your world is falling apart. It’s not. You’ll be okay. Try to only invest in the things that benefit you!
12. Plans are important, but so is flexibility. Taking into consideration that you will change and you never know what will happen, it’s hard to say “make a plan”. The reality is, goals are important, and be flexible if they change, too. You should have a general sense of where you want your life to go, but that doesn’t mean you are a failure if you change your mind. That is the true beauty of being an adult – you have the power! You have the freedom to go wherever you want and do whatever you want. Embrace this mentality. Don’t be so rigid that you push through your life getting to the next checkpoint. You will find yourself wholly unsatisfied. As you grow, your needs will change and your goals will change too. That’s a part of growing up.
13. Money matters, but so does your happiness. Unfortunately, we live in a capitalist society and it takes cash to do everything. You’ll need all kinds of things and for that you need money – so you have to work. As an 18-year-old, even up to 25, you’re going to be stuck doing jobs that you hate. It’ll be some bullshit low-paying job that sucks away your soul. This is a necessary evil in order to survive. The best thing you can do is make wise financial choices – ie don’t go into debt, don’t max out credit cards, start saving immediately. You don’t want to be in a position where you are living paycheck to paycheck or at the mercy of your money choices, because then a lot of these cheat codes are moot. You won’t have as many options if you have to work at your job in order to keep the lights turned on. Your best bet is to have an emergency fund of three-month’s pay in case your car breaks down (which it most certainly will) or you have to find a new place to live immediately (which is possible, too).
14. Lastly, you will feel more or less lost and miserable for the first few years. It takes time to adjust to all these things, and I know that you’re not really going to remember any of them anyway, but if nothing else sticks – remember this: it’s gonna suck. There’s going to be a lot of nights when you can’t fall asleep because you feel so hopelessly lost and out of control. Remember that this is normal and it will pass. Things will normalize and you will get used to it. You’ll turn out just fine. Don’t be afraid, because you can do this. You have all the tools you need right inside your head, and whatever you are missing you can easily learn or acquire. You have the mental capacity to learn anything, do anything, and be anything. Trust yourself. On the other side, you will look back and just smile at how crazy it all was, and how you can’t believe you through it when, at the time, you thought you never would. But you will. And it’s going to be awesome.