By NICOLE BURROWS
IN LESS than a week, I will have my fifth coming of age. If I had to offer wise words to anyone, young or old, after 40 years of life experience, here is what I’d say:
1 Life is incredibly short. Time drags when you’re little and looking forward to growing up, but it speeds by when you’re older. Time is a beast of a friend, but an amazing teacher. The earlier you can appreciate this fact the better.
2 Parents have been there, done that. You may think they’re crazy or don’t understand when you’re young, but they know more than you think. The better ones will share their experiences without the use of force, and they will actually teach you something useful for life.
3 Choose everything wisely. It’s harder when you’re younger, because you don’t know as much, but you have to learn. Even though others can influence the outcome, you are responsible for your choices.
4 There are social constructs (race, religion, marriage, etc) that divide and disappoint more than they unite. Much of what the world tells you about how you should view it is based on inherited tradition which, too often, has little or no basis in truth, or is based on someone else’s perspective of the world. Form your own opinion. Learn to think for yourself.
5 At a very early age, learn to build useful things with your own mind and hands. Opportunities for growth and shared knowledge are what moves civilisations forward. Now, all of what is deemed progress may not be good, but if you don’t create things, methods, or avenues, your fate remains dependent on those who do.
6 If possible, learn as many practical skills as you can early in life. All those things you thought were for losers – sewing, painting, cooking/baking, woodworking, plumbing, etc – create more opportunities for personal independence and income through the hard times which inevitably follow.
7 Try being an entrepreneur. Create and sell something valuable and useful in human life. You learn financial responsibility early on and you learn the value of money. Bonus: you know the feeling of being your own boss, and more successful entrepreneurs make for a stronger economy.
8 Do as much as you can out of your own pocket, which means you have to learn to save, early and plenty. Avoid loans, especially commercial bank loans and credit cards, at all costs. If you have to use them, learn to use them to make the “system” work for you, otherwise, avoid debt. You’ll have more financial security and you won’t be beholden for decades just to get a higher education, start a small business, buy real property or pay for private healthcare. Banks exist to make money by making you need money. Avoid them as much as you can.
9 All humans are humans, like you, and their lives deserve respect. Unless someone is threatening your safety, or the safety of others, respect them. Your tolerance, as long as they’re not abusing your tolerance, is respectful. To respect other people, you have to respect yourself first. Know your value as a person.
10 Say “no”. “Yes” isn’t always necessary, even when it’s philanthropic. Most people take, not give. They are the ones who always need your “help” with something. If you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, you probably are. Have and know your own goals so you can allot your time more rationally, saving your help for those who really need and deserve help. Not all help is altruistic and not all people mean well. Give to the sick, the indigent, the elderly. Wherever you can help provide food, safety, or education, there is a good cause for giving or helping.
11 Trust must be earned, whether it’s yours or someone else’s. Prove you are trustworthy. Make others prove they are. Otherwise, the benefit-of-the-doubt rule-of-thumb is one chance, maybe two (unless it’s your child, in which case you are obligated to keep teaching and trying).
12 Not everyone who says she/he is a friend is, in fact, a friend. It takes time and experience to develop true friendship. You can have colleagues, associates, classmates, workmates, until they prove their worthiness of friendship under many circumstances, good and bad.
13 “Love” is an overused and abused word. Most people do not understand what love is, where it is, or what it’s meant to look like. To love someone is very different from being in love with someone. The first is permanent, the second is fleeting.
14 Being in love rarely lasts long, even though some people claim it does. Many times, it’s really not supposed to. The human, social creature has been groomed to believe in being in love forever. But that’s very rarely realistic. Being in love is the biggest reason people get married, but it’s the least of all reasons why they stay married, compared with other things like finances, children, social status, reputation, etc.
15 Relationships begin and end. Don’t force them. Don’t cling to anyone who no longer wants to be around or with you. If they want to move on, let them.
16 You can’t make a person love you. If you think you can, you don’t know what love is in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, if you have to “fight” for it, quite frankly, it isn’t “yours”.
17 Marriage is not for everyone. Stop making it your greatest ambition. Society tells you you should get married to settle down, but the truth is you shouldn’t get married until you are settled down, in yourself and in your thinking. Marriage is partnership and companionship, and it is for people who are wise enough to know that they can be contently single, but choose instead to share their later years with someone.
18 There is such a thing as being too young for sex. Sex is risky business. Even people who look healthy can be a risk. Sex requires maturity, which you do not have as a teenager. You really don’t. It requires personal, emotional responsibility and financial responsibility, which you do not have when you are just trying to make your way in life. Having sex means you have to be prepared for all the consequences, like pregnancy and illness – there are lifelong diseases you can contract even when you use protection. Be informed, and know that the pleasure is not worth the expense.
19 Education is crucial, formal or informal. It opens doorways. But it doesn’t work on its own. You need drive to propel yourself to achieve your professional goals. Knowledge always empowers, but be sure you know how to use your education, which is something taught far less often or not at all.
20 The most beautiful person on the outside can be the ugliest person on the inside. Don’t choose what’s beautiful just because it is. Most times, people choosing physical beauty are only trying to feel better about themselves, anyway. True beauty has great depth. Hint: avoid the shallow end of the “pool”.
21 Everyone, at some point in time, has “cheated” on their partner. Physically, emotionally, consciously, subconsciously. We are all humans and we will be attracted and distracted. And when a human being really wants something (or someone), she or he will rationalise a million reasons why they should have it.
22 Sometimes the people closest to you are the ones holding you back. It is necessary to shed what is familiar and comfortable when you’re trying to achieve something others don’t understand. If you wait for their understanding, you’ll never achieve your goal.
23 Very few people will ever leave the person they married because a) they are already comfortable where they are and won’t upset that equilibrium for any thing or person, and b) they are just trying to entertain themselves with someone new (boredom), or feel better about themselves (insecurity). Don’t be fooled.
24 Always seek to separate yourself from what is normal or average. Do as many things as you can in life, study as many subjects, try your hand at different crafts, to find out what you’re good or best at. Millionaires are usually unusual.
25 People who don’t understand themselves, people who aren’t happy with themselves, tend to find joy in making other people miserable. If you meet any of these people, run. They suck the life out of you and poison everything they touch and every person they encounter.
26 No one truly understands your goals and dreams, even the people closest to you. Don’t allow the need for their approval to deter you. Go after what you want, in spite of any who mock, challenge, or discourage you. It’s usually them who end up asking for your “help” later on.
27 We all have opinions and are not required to agree, but we should still respect one another’s lives, safety and individuality. Anyone who tries to make you think like they do is someone to be avoided. And that applies as much to the proselytising Christian as it does to the radicalising Muslim.
28 Religion and politics are the two most divisive institutions of society ever known. Their divisiveness is most often at the root of every bad thing in this world. People have the right to choose where they stand with respect to either, but your faith and your politics should really be private, and should never enter the larger discussion about the well-being of humanity, except to say that they divide and conquer.
29 There is no such thing as “the one”. The sooner you stop thinking that, the sooner you’ll get to enjoy a fulfilling relationship. The music, the movies, as fun as they are ... they’re fiction. Real life does not equal fiction.
30 Have fewer expectations, have fewer disappointments. Expect respect only.
31 Accept people as they are. Meet them where they are in life or don’t meet them at all.
32 Having a baby never keeps a man who is not interested and it never saves a relationship or marriage that is doomed to fail.
33 If you’re not having sex with your partner, and your partner is healthy and not complaining, someone else is ... or will be.
34 Relationship ultimatums always backfire.
35 What you don’t know can still hurt you. Know it if you can.
36 Experience is still and will always be the best teacher. That said, learn as much as you can from other people’s experiences, to save yourself some time and heartache.
37 Say what’s on your mind or in your heart as soon as you have the opportunity, because you never know if or when you will again.
38 Protect yourself – your heart, your mind, your body – in all things. Don’t rely on anyone else to do it for you; they’re busy trying to safeguard themselves.
39 Reserve judgment, until you know the facts. Always. And when you do, be firm, but merciful. One day, you may need mercy.
40 Live your life as if there were no promise of tomorrow, or an afterlife. That’s the best way to get and give the most out of your today. If you believe this is all you have, here and now, you’ll be a better steward of it and a greater help to others in the life you know you have, not the one you believe you do.