Things are about to get messy. You’re only 8 and 10 years old right now, but life moves mighty fast, trust me. You’ll be teenagers in no time, and when that happens, our lives will get a lot more confusing and complicated. You’ll be changing physically and feeling lots of new emotions. You’ll be spending more time on your own and making decisions for yourselves. You’ll be driving cars and (ugh) dating boys.
I’m a dad, so it’s my job to worry about things. It’s also my job to prepare you for life, at least to some degree. And even though your mom and I are divorced, we both love you more than you can imagine and we want you to be as prepared as possible for this crazy thing called life.
My parents were not the kind of people to give advice. They just set rules and punished me when I broke them. But I wish they had been able to explain to me some of the lessons they had learned from life so I could be better prepared for what was coming.
They weren’t able to do that. But I am, so here goes…
Keep your sense of wonder.
You’re about to enter a bizarre time full of constant change. You’ll be tempted to think only about yourself but I want you to think bigger than that. Life is a big, mysterious, magical journey, and it’s a gift just to be able to take it. The time when you’re a teenager is important, but it’s just the beginning of bigger things. Try to remember that everything that happens is part of an amazing story of life and growth that we’re all telling ourselves. We don’t know the ending to the story but your part in it is beautiful and important.
Every feeling is temporary.This one is hard to remember so I’ll remind you often. Lots of crazy feelings will hit you when you’re not ready for them. You’ll fall in love and you’ll expect the happiness to last forever. It won’t. You’ll have your hearts broken and you’ll expect the pain to last forever. It won’t. Big feelings will come and go in waves, but the waves are always temporary. Just like the ocean, things will rise and fall, and then eventually calm down again. The key is to ride out the waves until things are easier to manage. Don’t do crazy things or make big decisions – especially ones that can affect the rest of your lives – when you’re in the middle of a big wave.
Keep your guard up.Other than your family, no one else in this world has your best interests at heart. Because you’re young and female, there will be people who try to take advantage of you or hurt you, in big or small ways. As you get older, I won’t be able to watch out for you as much as I do now, so I want you always to be careful about your surroundings, your relationships and the messages you’re sending out to the world. The way you dress and the way you use social media are big parts of this. I don’t want you to be fearful, but I want you to remember that things can go from safe to unsafe in a hurry. Always stay alert and ready to protect yourself.
Develop your talents.You’re both talented in lots of different ways. The more time you spend working on and perfecting the gifts you have, the more enjoyment you’ll get out of them. The most fun I ever had as a teenager was in developing my musical talents and performing with my friends. It was hard work at times, but it was totally worth it and it created some of the best memories of my life. Don’t ignore your talents. Keep working on them and you’ll be able to keep them for life.
Finish things.Lots of parents tell their kids, “You can be whatever you want to be!” But there’s a second part to that message that everyone always leaves out, which is, “Get your stuff done, get it all done, and do it right.” The first part doesn’t work without the second part. If you want to be successful in school, work and life, you have to finish your jobs. Most of the world quits halfway through things. Don’t be like most of the world. Finish things and you’ll get way ahead in life.
Practice being patient.Neither one of you is particularly good at this, but it’s an important skill. Being able to wait for things makes you better at life. Besides, getting the thing you want doesn’t bring nearly as much satisfaction as working toward it and anticipating it. And most of the time in life, the things you want won’t be the things you really need anyway. When patience is hard, focus on the “now” and get comfortable with a little uncertainty. Patience can get you through a lot of confusing times.
Be leaders.You’re both good at taking the lead sometimes, but this will get harder as you get older. Why? Because when things are hard or boring, nobody wants to lead. For example, who’s going to stand up for the kids who get bullied or left out of groups at school? Who’s going to help the people who aren’t as lucky or gifted as you? Who’s going to show kindness to people who are unkind? You can make a big difference in lots of small ways and when you do, people will want to follow your lead and do it too.
Stay best friends.It’s always made me happy that the two of you are so close and supportive of each other (well, 80% of the time anyway). The older you get, the crazier your lives will get and the more you’ll need each other. Sisters are lifetime friends. Always be good to each other and learn from each other, because even if no one else is around in a difficult time, you’ll always have each other.
Help others.Every person you’ll ever meet is having a hard time, and most are having a much harder time than you. You’re blessed with a loving family, two nice homes, and lots of resources and support. You’re lucky. Lots of people don’t have it nearly as good as you do. Look around and notice the people who need help, and figure out ways to give back some of what you’ve gotten. When you do, it helps you just as much as it helps them.
You’re OK just as you are.The world will be really good at reminding you of all the ways you’re not perfect. Girls especially get lots of pressure to be beautiful, smart, popular and nice. I want you to remember that the expectations of other people are far less important than your expectations of yourself. Happiness and love aren’t found outside of you, they’re found inside. You don’t have to become someone else’s image of who you should be. All the ingredients for happiness are within you. You’re OK and you’re loved, just the way you are.
Follow the rules (until they need to be broken).As a kid, I was always told to follow the rules and respect authority. I didn’t learn until much later that many rules don’t make sense. In most cases it’s good to follow the rules, but it’s also good to ask why things have to be that way. Everything in life is negotiable, at least a little bit. When you question the rules, you have a chance to change them. Sometimes you’ll need to speak up and challenge the way things are in order to create a better situation for everyone.
Ask for help.There will be times when things seem like they’re getting out of control. It may be related to school, friends, boys or something else, but you’ll get yourself in a tough spot and you’ll feel scared. These are the times you need to reach out for support. Don’t hide your mistakes and don’t try to handle everything by yourself. Ask for help. You’ll stop wanting to tell me everything as you get older – that’s totally understandable – but you need to talk to someone in your family. There’s no kind of trouble we can’t help you get through.
Almost everything in the media is fake.I’m talking about TV, internet, movies, news, advertising and especially social media here. As you get older, you’ll be spending more time looking at images and hearing stories in the media, but I want you to remember that what you’re seeing is not real life. On TV, people are always beautiful, funny and successful. In the news, the stories never tell the whole truth. On social media, people only show the good parts of their lives. Like I said, not real life. You should always be a little bit skeptical of what you’re seeing – especially when it comes to how women are portrayed. Remember that true happiness comes from within. You don’t need to try to be like the people you see in the media. You only need to be yourself.
Be different.When I was growing up, I always thought there was a “right way” to do things. I believed that if I followed the rules and did what everyone else was doing, everything would work out great. What I didn’t realize is that I was living someone else’s plan for my life instead of creating my own. It can be super hard to stand out from the crowd or try new things when you’re a teenager. But I want you to challenge yourselves to try lots of different things and experiment with being different from the crowd. In this life, you usually get what you settle for. Don’t settle for someone else’s idea of who you should be.
Read and write. A lot.You’re growing up in a crazy, internet-driven world that runs on communication. People who come up with new ideas and are able to communicate about them are the ones who can change things. And there’s no better way to practice these skills than by reading and writing. You’re both already good at this, which makes me super proud. Don’t ever stop reading new things. Don’t ever stop writing your ideas down.
You’re in control of your actions.Life can be crazy and unpredictable, but the only person who can control how you react to it is you. Others will tell you how you should act, what you should wear, and who you should hang out with. You don’t have to listen to them. If you’re in a situation that starts to feel uncomfortable or out of control, you have the power to leave. Take responsibility to speak up and change things. You’ll make mistakes of course, but when you do, learn from them without blaming others. Even when you feel helpless, try to remember that you have more control than you think.
Stay spiritual.Regardless of the changes happening on the outside, deep inside you is a spiritual being that is beautiful and eternal. That’s the real you, the part that you can always return to, no matter how difficult life gets. As you get older, we’ll work together to practice being mindful and living in the moment. You’ll also be learning meditation, a tool you can always use to reconnect with God and yourself. Doing these things will help you be more calm, loving and happy, and make it easier to focus on what really matters. Which brings me to my last thing…
Love is what really matters.Being a teenager isn’t easy. At times, you’ll have trouble loving yourself and others. You’ll want the whole world to disappear and you’ll even think I’m the worst dad in the world. But if you forget everything else I’ve ever told you, remember this: You’re loved, and that’s all that matters. No matter what, you’re beautiful and cherished and adored by both your mother and me. No matter what, you’re loved.
Your teen years will be scary, stressful, confusing and fun all at the same time. Some people say they’re the best years of your life. I hope not, because they’re just one small part of the big journey of life, and you have a lot of years in front of you in which to keep learning and growing.
I’m so proud of you and feel so lucky to be your dad. I’m excited to share this journey with you, even though it scares me. Oh, and I’ll be watching everything like a hawk. That’s another one of my jobs as a dad.