(This post was one of the most popular I’ve written and it appeared on my old blog in 2013. Since it is time for graduations around the country, I am replaying it this week.)
Two of my nieces, Megan and Katie, graduate from high school this month. They are both gorgeous redheads, full of potential and possibilities. They’re so young, so fresh, so unaware. That’s not a criticism, that’s actually right on schedule. That big picture perspective only comes with time and experience. They’ll get it. Life is always willing to teach. All Megan and Katie have to do is listen.
I remember being their age like, yesterday. I was busting with promise. I remember being so very proud of myself, full of teenage wisdom. In other words, a total block head. Didn’t realize it at the time, but I was clueless. I was a big fish, but didn’t know how tiny my fishbowl was. If you want to cultivate a healthy ego, grow up in a small town. If you want that ego to get resized by reality, leave that little town. Eventually, you’ll have a bigger, better life but first your pride is going to get pummeled.
It’s a big world. What a kick in the teeth to find that you aren’t quite the superstar your Mama said you were. There is always going to be someone smarter, faster, better than you. You’re going to bump into them all the time. Don’t hate the hot shots, hang out with them. You’ll find yourself getting smarter, faster, and more talented to keep up.
I would not presume to tell my nieces what they may encounter in life and how to deal. They wouldn’t listen anyway. They probably shouldn’t listen. Lessons shared by others don’t stick like the lessons life beats into you personally. You’ve got to figure stuff out for yourself. If you’re smart, you’ll do it quickly. If you’re a dullard like me, life will keep heaving the same lessons in your face until you learn. I was a member of the National Honor Society but in life, I was as remedial as they come. So I have decided that the best way to celebrate my two beautiful, brilliant nieces is to address the idiot that I was. Maybe they’ll appreciate it.
You don’t know me but I am you in 35 years. I know, I know. Ancient. Shut up, it’ll feel young when you get here. You’re going to do a lot of really bonehead stuff in your life and I thought maybe I could give you a few pointers to smooth your path a bit. You won’t listen because you’re a thick wit, but I feel obligated to try. Please pay attention.
Lesson 1: Just because a guy waves something sparkly under your nose does not mean he’s the right guy for you. It only means that he had enough cash for a diamond. Big whoop. In fact, the quicker a guy coughs up a ring, the more disastrously wrong he is for you. (I was engaged five times and married twice, I have learned. I am still a sucker for sparkly things but I don’t make life decisions based on them anymore. I buy them myself.)
a. Never date anyone who is rude to waiters and valets. That’s asshole behavior.
b. Never marry anyone until you’ve seen them with some sort of stomach ailment like food poisoning or flu. It’s a real window into their true personality.
c. Never date anyone whose values vary wildly from yours. It will crop up in embarrassing, shocking, and destructive ways.
d. Things that merely annoy you about a person when dating will make you homicidal in ten years. Never believe that things will improve after marriage. If personal idiosyncrasies change at all, they get worse.
e. Always date someone who makes you a better person. Someone who has your back. Someone who encourages your dreams. (Ding, ding, ding, ding! Big, honking clue here. Not Rick. Never Rick. Forget Rick.)
f. Interesting factoid for you. You do not have to marry at all. Society, friends, and family haven’t a clue what’s best for you. Don’t conform to their expectations if it feels wrong. The worst thing you can do is marry because you think you’re supposed to. (Ding, ding, ding, ding! Big, honking clue here. Not David. Never David. Forget David.)
Lesson 2: Before you marry anyone, sit down and write out a job description for them as your spouse and have them do the same for you. Everyone grew up in different households and what is normal is one family is unheard of in another. By talking out roles ahead of time, there are no hidden expectations that go unfulfilled. Trust me, you never want to have the conversation where someone shouts, “My mother always did that in our house, why can’t you do it?” That talk does not end well. Continue reading