Re: The Lessons I Have Learned in Life
I wrote this letter to Adam when he went to college in 2009, and I am honored to send it to you now.
Please take the time to read this letter thoroughly and carefully. I am taking the time to write this on my birthday to share with you the important lessons I have learned during my 62 years of life. After you have read the letter, please file it away in a convenient place so that you can refer to it often. If you do, you will do just fine in college and will have an amazing career afterwards.
When I was in college, it was always nice to go to the mailbox and find a letter from home. Of course, those days were long before email, text messages and cell phones. Still, I wanted to reach out to you in this way for several reasons.
First, let me say how proud I am of you that you made it this far. Not everyone is accepted in college. Not everyone gets the opportunity. The fact that you are there means that you labored through the tough classes—and all of my lectures—to get to this point in your career.
Still, in the rush to get you to New Orleans, there were so many things that I didn't get a chance to say to you to help you prepare. I kept thinking over and over if your mother and I had taught you the right values, if you knew proper manners and table etiquette, if you would stand proud and represent the strong work ethic of your family. To be sure, there are still many things you must and will learn during your college experience. However, I felt it was important to share with you what I learned are the ten most important values you should have to succeed in life's endeavors. Some will come easy, some will be difficult, but if you remember and practice them I guarantee you will reach heights you never knew you could accomplish. Hang in there. I know you can do it.
I will not attempt to recommend that you embrace organized religion even though you were raised in Catholicism. That's now your personal decision. However, I do believe that you should embrace the thought that this universe has a higher authority, a Holy Spirit called God, who is watching over and protecting you. From Him you learn to be humble and not boastful; you learn the difference between right and wrong; you learn to give and not to take; you learn to live your life in a manner that helps others. Your faith in Him will pick you up when you are down, restore your confidence when you are doubtful and help you do things you never thought were possible. Believe in God, and He will never fail you.
Good Health is Important
Most people your age don't give their health much thought. But if you are not healthy, nothing else matters. You should learn to treat your body as a temple. It is priceless and irreplaceable. If you are not healthy, what you can achieve will be limited. Therefore, it is important not to abuse this tremendous gift God has given you. You should improve this marvelous mechanism that houses your spirit by exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, eating nutritional food and avoiding harmful substances. You will feel better and have more energy as your temple grows stronger. Your body will serve you well for decades if you nurture it, but it will break down and fail you if you abuse it. Never ever take your good health for granted.
Have a Plan
Most people go through life aimlessly. They wake up each day with no idea of how the day will end, as if riding an ocean wave without a paddle to control their direction. Life controls them; they are not in control of their life. A plan is a path or roadmap for you to follow to accomplish your dreams. You should start every day with a plan (mental or written). Literally close your eyes and ask yourself what the important tasks are that face you this day. Have a plan to attend a certain class, read a certain book, or study a certain assignment. Have a plan for what you want to accomplish this week, this month and year. You should set personal goals and objectives with time tables for completing them. Then evaluate yourself on how well you did in achieving what you wanted to.
A plan helps you to stay on track and be focused. If you know where you want to go, and are in control on how to get there, it will be almost impossible for someone to derail you. You will not be successful unless you learn to do this. And, if you do not have a plan, chances are good that someone will recruit you to help you accomplish a plan of their own. The Army recruits thousands of people each year who don't have their own life goals or objectives. Remember if you fail to plan; then plan to fail.
Develop a Passion
Spend time thinking about what you really like to do. Develop an interest, skill or hobby that you find emotionally fulfilling. Do what you enjoy, and become passionate about it. Great dancers, athletes and musicians are passionate about their endeavors. This passion allows them to be highly focused. They spend hours each day practicing to get better. They don't regard this practice as work because they love what they are doing.
When you graduate, if you choose a job that you truly enjoy, your pay will not be what matters. The job will be fun, you will look forward to going to work and your greatest reward will be the joy you feel emotionally. Interestingly, when you do work that you enjoy, you will work harder at it. Others will notice. Chances are you will be promoted, and the financial rewards will follow.
Everyone who becomes rich, from Sean Combs (a.k.a. P. Diddy) to Oprah Winfrey is focused and highly motivated. They are never lazy. They start each day with an entrepreneurial spirit that compels them to try something different. They don't wait for someone to tell them what to do; they already have a plan of action. They take charge; they lead others. They are hungry for new challenges. They volunteer for tough assignments because they have confidence they will succeed, and they know they will learn from the experience. They persevere, they "man up," they gut it out to reach the top.
This "can do" attitude builds their confidence to the point that failure is never an option.
People judge you by what they see, and they size you up pretty quickly. You have dressed and carried yourself in a manner that is accepted by your peers, people your age and in your social environment. You and your peers have a unique value system regarding how to look. I would be hypocritical if I faulted you for this. We all experienced this growing up.
The problem, however, is that the people who will control your destiny for the rest of your life (teachers, employers, business associates) have a value system that is quite different. If you want a job and want to be successful after college, you will have to act and dress like people do in corporate America. They wear suits, not jeans. They belt their pants under their navel, not under their buttocks. If you don't look like them, they will feel you don't fit in. If they don't think you fit in, they will not help you, hire you or refer you to people who can advance you. There is a saying "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." That definitely applies to your appearance.
Before I leave this subject, I should add that people also judge you by your height—taller individuals have an advantage, perhaps because people have to look up to them. Always remember to stand erect, no slouching, with shoulders straight and with confidence. People will respect you. Obviously, personal hygiene is also important.
Learn to Speak in Public
It has been said that next to death, what people fear most is public speaking. Getting up and speaking effectively in front of strangers is hard, and this may be especially difficult for you because you seem shy by nature with strangers. But every time the opportunity presents itself, this is what you must do to be successful. President Barack Obama rose from obscurity to become president of the United States, primarily because of his ability to speak in front of large audiences.
Developing this ability gets easier with practice. Start small by raising your hand in class to seek answers or clarification. Set a goal that you will ask at least one question at each lecture. Engage people in conversation. Research and take a stand on issues, then offer your opinions to others. You will be amazed at how quickly people will listen to what you have to say.
Pay attention to other good speakers, join a debate team or a speakers' bureau like the "Toastmasters." (Look the organization up on the Internet for local chapters). Watch them at first and start to copy their speaking technique, when they pause, how fast or slow they say their words (speaking cadence), their hand movement, etc. Force yourself to stand up in front of a group and speak, if only to say one or two sentences. Eventually, your confidence will improve, and before you know it, speaking in front of others will be easy.
Remember that everyone knows how difficult it is to speak in public. Generally, they do not want to see you fail because you are doing something they wish they had the courage to do themselves. Therefore, they will respect you more when you learn how to do it effectively.
People Must Earn Your Trust
People take advantage of others. People lie, cheat and steal to get what they want from others. Bernard Madoff, an investment banker on Wall Street, stole billions of dollars from his clients. These clients were bright, successful and intelligent people. They gave Madoff their money to manage because he promised to invest the money to make them richer. But this is not what Madoff did. Instead he stole the money, and used it to buy expensive homes, cars and jewelry for himself and his family. There are many, many crooks like Madoff, young and old who prey on innocent and unsuspecting people. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in.
How does this happen so easily? All of the crooks understand if they can convince a person to trust them, they can convince the person to do almost anything. This is powerful. If a person trust's someone enough, that someone can literally convince the person to jump off a tall building because the person does not believe anyone he trusts would ask him to do something that would harm him. Never forget this.
People will always try to convince you to do something for their gain. A salesman will try to convince you to buy a car. A friend will try to convince you to loan them something you value. Someone you know may try to convince you to help them cheat on an assignment. Understand there are predators in the world who seek to gain at your expense. Always ask yourself, "what do they stand to gain, and what do I stand to lose" by trusting them. This "risk-benefit analysis" should help you determine the right action to take. For example, if you loan someone something you value, you risk never getting it back. You have to decide whether to take that risk. Remember, when someone uses the words "trust me," your initial reaction should always be one of suspicion.
Networking means establishing relationships and maintaining contact with people who can help you. It means getting business cards to pass along to others. It means going to social functions with the goal of meeting people like tutors, experts or successful business people, and asking their permission to contact them later when you need assistance. It means choosing your friends wisely, and associating with people who have the skills and contacts to help you accomplish your objectives. It includes finding someone you admire who is successful, and asking them to "mentor" you. A mentor becomes your coach and guide. You become a "sponge" that absorbs their knowledge.
Surprisingly, most young people are too bashful to ask for this type of help from strangers, but the people who do gain a tremendous advantage.
Manage Your Money Wisely
What is money really? It is a commodity used as a medium of exchange to purchase goods and services. Obviously, the more you have, the more you can purchase, and since most of the finer things in life cost a lot of money, you will be limited in what you can purchase unless you have a lot of it.
It takes a lot of time and effort to accumulate money because it is conveyed to you based on the decisions you make and the value of the services you provide to others. Since it is exchanged between people, and since everyone is trying to accumulate as much of it as possible, throughout your life people will try to transfer what you have to them. In many instances, this is appropriate, like when you buy a house, or when your mom and I invest in your future by paying your college tuition. But too often, people will cheat you as I have already mentioned, or convince you to purchase things you don't really need or want.
"A fool and his money are soon parted" is an overused cliché, but the words are dead-on accurate. If you are not careful you can lose everything you have earned in seconds because so many people are trying to take it from you. Money is like water flowing through a sieve. It is very difficult to stop it from leaking through, but your job is to do everything you can to contain it.
People write entire books about managing money. It would be impossible to explain the process in a few paragraphs, but the one thing you should remember is this. Whenever you can, buy things that appreciate (go higher) in value, and avoid buying things that depreciate (go down) in value to the point where they are almost worthless. Your grandmother bought a house for $27,000.00. Eventually, your aunt and I sold it for $150,000.00. Over time, the house accumulated wealth for us of $123,000.00 ($150,000.00 minus $27,000.00). Conversely, I bought my first car for $3,000.00. I drove it a lot of miles, and sold it after many years for $500.00 (for a loss of $2,500.00). Historically, buying houses will make you richer; buying cars will make you poorer.
Of course, you can't avoid buying things that go down in value, like food and clothing or goods and services, but the point is that you should know the difference and make a conscious effort to invest your money in things that go up in value as much as possible. This is the only way you can become wealthy.
These are my words of wisdom to you to help you with your endeavors. As I mentioned, tuck it away and reread it often. I know by now, you have developed your own beliefs and are formulating your own opinions about how you want to live your life. However, you will have a greater chance of success if you embrace what I have told you.