Letter for my teen,
“the older I get, the less I know”
For a parent, watching the growth of their children is an amazing experience.
Stage 1: Blob to human (years 0–2)
For the first two years, the human infant is quite helpless. The child is unable to feed and clean itself. The language and mobility of the child is dangerously limited.
Stage 2: Growth spurt (2–12)
Finally, the baby has become a miniature human. The child can speak, walk and fend for itself. With each passing year, the physical, language and mental skills progress further.
Stage 3: Intellectual blossoming (13+)
As the child enters their teen years, their physical and language potential has largely been reached. This growth period centers on the teen’s intellectual growth. The teen can now grasp complex topics and importantly apply their own value system to a variety of subjects. The teen’s voice emerges. This voice will evolve with further life experience, but to a large degree, these core beliefs will remain consistent for the remainder of their life.
“don’t trust anyone over 30”
Confidence, youth and free thinking
The teen years are more volatile than any other stage in life. The intellectual awaking presents more “why” questions than answers. Often to a point of frustration with the defects in the world and people. This angst can be healthy. By asking these questions and challenging the status quo, young leaders can begin to chip away at seemingly intransigent problems. The impatience of youth is a boon. Complacency is the enemy of change. Change is the engine for progess. Raging against the machine and demanding change often leads to disappointment. The change agent falls short of the goal. Retrospectively, interesting results can be gleaned. The seemingly immovable barrier has endured slight movement and cracks due to the agent’s efforts. In time, as more adherents join the campaign, the cracks in the foundation continue to deepen. Eventually, the barrier crumbles and progress takes place. So rage on. Join or begin campaigns against wrongs in the world, no matter how improbable the effort appears.
“no one has the monopoly on knowledge”
A common complaint of parents is that their teens don’t listen. This is a rite of passage. The teen is entitled to their own world view. The teen is right to formulate their own assessments. When teens realize that elders, wise men and women, and so-called authories are not infallable, it is a shocking relevation. A natural response for the teen is to assume that they have the answers that have alluded those who came before them.
Here’s the challenge. The world is equivocal.
Humans are not mere logical machines. We have emotions and irrationalities that complicate seemingly obvious solutions. The messiness of humanity is what makes life, knowledge, and relationships interesting and challenging. For nihilists, they view our illogic as the absurdity of life. This viewpoint is self-defeating and counterproductive.
There is logic in our universe, but many mysteries still abound. We have unlocked many of the secrets with science, math and technology, and more will be uncovered as technology continues its march forward. Although science and technology are building pathways that are greatly improving the human condition, they also have the potential to dehumanize us. The mysteries and surprises are the spice of live. If we so fully comprehend the universe to the point where we no longer have deterministic control, or at least the illusion of this control, are we meerly pawns in a game that has already been decided? The human quirks and unknown univeral truths are necessary for a meaningful human existance. Fortunately, we have a long ways to go before we can fully predict human action, responses and emotions. Know that your actions matter. Exercise your ability to effect positive change.
One person cannot alone solve the world’s problems, and that is a good thing. Each of us is an important part of the interconnected global human fabric. Some scientists claim that one butterfly flapping their wings in China can create a monsoon in India. This is a fascinating premise. Each human has a role to play in our ever-changing universe. Not all human contributions are equal. Those who live a purposeful life will create a more profound ripple through this fabric than those simply going through the motions. The quest for a purposeful life is a difficult journey that has many setbacks. This is why many fear to travel this path. Remember that challenges build character. Also remember that humans are equipped to preserve under extraordinary conditions.
“It is always darkest before the dawn.”
On your life journey, understand that you are never alone. You have people that love you unconditionally and will support you through any challenges you face. Without risk, we cannot achieve our full potential. Take chances, we’ll be here to catch you if you fall.
“be true to yourself”
In our capitalist society, we are taught to seek money, fame and adolation. Those are all rational goals. Much of our innovations have been partially or largely driven by these incentives. Yet these objections are merely a means to an end. The true objective that we seek is happiness and connection. In Eastern religions, the material achievements are less important that the inner path to self-awareness. The pressures of fitting in and adhering to societies norms are tremendous, especially during the teen years. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. The problems arise when the desire to fit in puts one at odds with their true nature.
Humans are uniquely tuned to detect insincerity. By abandoning our true nature, others have difficulty in connecting with us. This in turn defeats the purpose of creating this artificial facade in an attempt to gain popularity. Know that we are all insecure, flawed misfits. By embracing our quirks and defects as characteristics that make us unique and special, we become genuine and confident. This leads to inner-strength. People are attracted to such “real” people. Being real does not need to come at a cost to material success and popularity. In fact this authenticity often enhances those outcomes. Take the advice from the cool kids, and “keep it real”.
“to each their own”
As we should embrace our own idiosyncracies, it is important to be empathetic to others. Each of us is entitled to our own world view. Rather than forcing our ideas on others, it is more valuable to learn and listen to opposing viewpoints. This open-mindedness is challenging, especially during the teen years. Our newfound knowledge and critical thinking is exciting. We are enthusiastic to defend our positions against opposition. It is important to stand our ground, but it is also valuable to have humility. We will come to realize that many of our opinions which seem so obviously correct at the time, will later prove to be misguided.
Wars are fought and relationships destroyed due to inflexible beliefs. As we mature and experience these broken connections, we come to realize that the cost of being right is often higher than that of finding common ground or at least settling with a respectful disagreement.
“live in the present”
This is a hard one. It is easy to dwell in the past, or race towards a desired future. In our ultra-stimulated, always-on world, there are constant distractions that pull us from one direction to the next. The ability to stay in the present takes discipline. In sports, this focus is often referred to being in the zone. All the noise, distractions and external life events are pushed aside. The athlete is laser-focused on the game, time slows, and they perform at super-human levels. When elite athletes reflect on the times when they have been in the zone, they can only recall a few rare instances. This ability to stay in the present puts the person in synchronicity with the universe. When this harmony is achieved, extraordinary things can happen. Life happens, and we should be present for the experience.
“sometimes you get lucky”
Your mom and I are very fortunate to have such a thoughtful and confident daughter. Much of the themes expressed in this letter you already know. As you probably guessed, this letter is as much for me as you. As children grow, parents naturally think back to that period in their lives and their subsequent journey. Many of the values and advice I suggest have been learned the hard way. Sage advice is easier to espouse than follow. I do believe these are important topics, and hope this letter helps you as you continue to evolve your value system and world view.