It feels crazy that you are leaving for university so soon after being born! The past 18 years have been amazing but they have flown by far too quickly. I worry that I have not told you everything I wanted to or taught you everything that has helped me over the years. I know that some of those lessons you will learn for yourself through experience, but I feel I should have done more to prepare you. So here are my top ten… the ten things I wish I had known earlier in life and which I hope will help you flourish and fly higher and farther than me.
1. Believe in what you do. Only spend your time and effort doing things you truly believe in. Life is too short to follow someone else’s agenda. If you’re heart is not in what you do then you won’t stick with it in the long term and you won’t enjoy it. Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.” So whenever you have that niggle that you don’t feel right or comfortable with what is expected of you, listen to it. Don’t do anything that runs contrary to your core values. Believe in what you do.
2. Don’t do as you’re told. Ok so maybe I have taught you this one! And you know that I don’t mean to just ignore rules for the sake of it; I mean never blindly do something just because you’re told to. All rules are made up. Some of them are good and some of them are bad. They get changed all the time. The rules used to be that women couldn’t vote and black people could be bought and sold. The people who ignored those rules changed the world. Socrates was sentenced to death because he was ‘corrupting the youth’ – encouraging them to question the system, the accepted authority and norms. The basis of Western Philosophy rests on this: question everything. Never stop asking Why? Buck the trend. Do things differently. You’re an original. Don’t do as you’re told.
3. Be yourself. The pressures out there are immense, pulling you in all sorts of directions. A study by Ruth Berenda back in the 70s showed that 75% of people go contrary to what they know to be true because of the pressure to conform – to go along with the crowd. You don’t need anyone to validate you. You don’t need a man to tell you that you are beautiful, to be a somebody. You don’t need a certain number of Instagram followers in order to be valid. You don’t need the approval of your friends or of your boss. And you don’t need me to approve of your choices either. This is hard to say! Because obviously my instinct is that I want you to make choices that I would agree with. But I know that’s not why you should make those choices. I don’t want you to make choices based on gaining my approval or mum’s approval or for fear of disappointing us. You have my approval. I am proud of you and love you no matter what. So does Mum. So be yourself.
4. Whatever you do, do with all your heart. Remember when I nearly did myself a mischief jumping off that rock in Guadeloup? It was because I didn’t commit. I went to jump, but there was a niggle of doubt and fear and so I didn’t commit. I jumped half-heartedly. That is the most dangerous way to jump! “Do or do not. There is no try” said Yoda. You’ve heard me say loads to “Just decide… make a decision.” This is what I mean. Don’t go at life timidly or tentatively. Go at it full throttle. I don’t mean act on whims or to be rash or gung-ho. I mean once you have settled on a course of action, put your whole self into it and don’t look back. When Julius Caesar marched his troops up onto the cliffs of Dover after they disembarked on British shores intent on conquering, he ordered his generals to “Burn the ships.” His men looked down and watched as their only possibility of retreat was destroyed. There was only one option left. Advance and win. Whatever you do, do with all your heart.
5. Prioritise those you love – always. You will have lots of goals in life and achieve many things. You will impact many people and make the world a better place. But the most significant achievement of your life will be your relationships with those you love. Sorry to be morbid, but many years from now when you are close to the end, you will not be asking people to bring you framed certificates of your degree or awards. You won’t be asking for a bank statement to show the money you have made. You won’t be asking for a photograph of your designer shoe collection(!?). You will be asking for the people you love. They are all that matters. The quality of your life and happiness will be in direct proportion to the quality of your relationships. Your close friends, your family, your true love and your kids… these are not add-ons, they are not peripheral to the purpose of your life. They are at the core. The centre. They are what it’s all for. Never neglect those relationships. Prioritise those you love. Always.
6. Never stop seeking truth. This is the way out of the Plato’s cave. The prisoner who escapes the cave is the one who is not satisfied to simply accept the version of truth presented to her. Never stop being a Philosopher. The truth matters. This means staying open, recognising that there is always more to learn, a different perspective to consider, another way of looking at things. You don’t see the whole picture. Sometimes, especially when you’re young, things look so clear, so obvious that you will think that anyone who disagrees must be an idiot. But life is complex and “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” (anon). Recognise and acknowledge this. Emerson said, “In some way every person I meet is my superior, and in that I will learn of him or her.” Never simply accept the easy answer or the popular choice, dig deeper. Often the options ahead will be presented as polarised options: either this or that. The truth is always likely to be neither. There is always a third way. Look for it. Never stop seeking truth.
7. Listen, don’t judge. People are complex creatures. What they say and do will not always make sense. Often they may hurt you and you will be tempted to write them off; to label them and dismiss them; to take their words personally, whether complements or insults. But people’s actions or insults will rarely be about you, they are more likely to reflect the hurts, insecurities, hopes and fears of their own journey. There will always be a reason why people act the way they do. Believe in people. Anne Frank, writing in her diary whilst in hiding from Nazi occupation wrote, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” Look for the good. Find the good. Look past the words and the behaviour and listen. There is a story there. You never truly know what someone else has been through and what they’ve had to deal with. Listen, don’t judge.
8. Have confidence that your contribution matters. The world needs you darling. There has never been another you to ever walk this planet and there will never be another you ever again. You have something unique to add to every conversation, every job, every relationship. Something unique to add to this world. You will be tempted to think that your view doesn’t matter; that others are far better qualified; that their truth is more valid than yours; that you have to, in some way, live up to others’ expectations of you and what you should be or what you should think. But that’s not true. All standards are made up. There will be times when others make you feel small or like your perspective doesn’t matter. But it does. And it is needed. So many people keep their thoughts to themselves for fear of being judged stupid or ignorant. But your thoughts matter. So speak up. Have confidence that your contribution matters.
9. Take risks. Only please make them good risks not dumb ones! Everything inside me as a dad wants to say, ‘Be careful!’ But you know that I don’t live that way! The risks are where you grow, where you learn, where you find yourself. They are what makes life an adventure. Life is one big risk. The safe option leads nowhere. There are two kinds of people: The Brave and The Dead. Be The Brave. Make every day count. Of course, weigh the options, use your head, take advice, don’t be foolhardy; but once you’ve done that, don’t ever let fear hold you back. There is no such thing as a totally safe bet in life, nothing is certain, so don’t chase certainty, instead embrace the adventure. Things won’t always work out the way you think or hope, but you will learn from every mistake and each one will make you stronger. So take risks.
10. Have courage and be kind. Life is always better when you love. There will be plenty of times when you will feel offended or angry with people. You will feel hurt and rejected at times and you will have a very strong urge to hit back or take revenge or lash out. But when you follow that impulse you become part of the problem. You become complicit in the way of hate and fear that causes so much suffering. Love is always more powerful than hate. So choose to love, even when it hurts to do it. Love gives hope and builds bridges. Love makes the world a better place to live. Love, even in the face of gross injustice, is always a better solution. Jesus’ prayer for his killers as he was unjustly executed is still one of the most moving and inspiring prayers of all time… “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” Choose to see the world not as it sometimes is, but as it could be. So have courage and be kind.
So there you have it: my top ten pieces of wisdom… so far. Darling, as you start this new chapter and find your own way in life know that I will always be with you, on your side, fighting your corner, backing you up and sending you all my love, energy and positivity. I believe in you. You are an exquisite individual with so much to offer the world. I love you with all my heart. Go and smash it darling!
All my love always
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