I have twin cousins who recently turned 16. For their birthday, my uncle solicited letters of advice from men in their life to offer counsel on what it means to "be a man." From his request: "It can be anything from what you admire in other men, what characteristics you value in others, what you think the key to success or happiness is or whatever you think is important." I thought this was a pretty fantastic idea and began thinking about what I would write shortly after receiving the request.
And then I was stumped. Not so much on what advice to offer (I've had a lot of mistakes I now call "experience"), but rather how to communicate it back to my 16 year-old self.
Here was my attempt:
Happy Birthday! The age 16 carries with it a great deal of responsibility as well as excitement as you take on the new opportunities presented to young adults. I wanted to write to share a few things I’ve learned along the way at just about double your age (now I feel old).
First, be reckless in your care and support of others. Always be safe and never put yourself at risk, but never be afraid to go too far or do too much for the least fortunate. It will be a never-ending source of energy, inspiration, and motivation. You will also find company in good people who share your dedication and will want to see you succeed.
Second, refine your skills in empathy. The most important education is the ability to see the world from someone else’s eyes. It will get you further than anything you will ever read in a book or hear in a classroom. But it takes work! Every time you are frustrated with someone else, that is an opportunity to refine your toolkit. Why is that person acting that way? Do they have something going on in their lives that I haven’t considered? Have I been unintentionally rude or inconsiderate? Do I intimidate them? Are they jealous of me? Always question the unseen factors surrounding you to examine how things went wrong. Do the same when things go right.
Third, have a sound foundation within yourself. Never let anyone else decide whether you have a good day or a bad day. Now that you’re on the road, people will do things to upset you or trigger emotions. Don’t give them the honor of having any influence over you. Pray for them and for the other people they will infuriate in their inconsiderate behavior, but stay in control. On this same subject, be introspective. Examine your thoughts, motivations, and temptations. It’s not vain to want to improve and be the best version of yourself.
Finally, push yourself outside of your comfort zone. We’re only on this planet for a set period of time. No one finds satisfaction in living an untested life. That doesn’t mean you should pursue dangers, but rather you should pursue passion. You’ll have some hiccups along the way, but if you pursue your passion, you will never be “wrong”. You will just be finding your way to what is “right”.
I am very proud of you both and hope your 17th year brings you joy, adventure, and enlightenment.
That's all for today. Have a great Friday doing what you love!