1) Life speeds up from here, and the stakes just keep getting higher.
I know that you think your life is busy now. Maybe it is, with school, sports, a part-time job, family, social life. But after high school, responsibilities will get bigger and come at you faster, like cars and trucks approaching on the highway. And just like standing in the highway, life is lethal—some of your responsibilities will be life or death matters. Your perception of time speeds up as your brain processes all these new experiences, and one day you’ll wake up and be twenty, thirty, forty...until you’re old like me. Don’t be afraid of life, but enjoy these years because they are a gift, the pre-season games that let you learn and prepare for what’s ahead.
2) Your emotions are not calibrated to reality.
Right now, you can’t trust your feelings, especially their volume, or intensity. It’s like driving a car with untrustworthy gauges: the speedometer may say 60 mph, but it could be 45 or even 72. See, it’s not just that your gauges are off, but they’re off by unpredictable amounts, sometimes too high, sometimes too low, sometimes just right. I want to say that the problem fixes itself over time, but the sad truth is that some people never get around to calibrating their emotions to reality. Some drama queens never grow up. It takes experience and effort to adjust your feelings to the real world, and to figure out when and how to trust them. For now, really do rely on the advice and counsel of those who are older and have gone through all of this, whether it’s parents, relatives, pastors, teachers, relatives, whomever. Do not ask a friend whose emotional gauges are no more reliable than yours. When you’re emotionally worked up, slow down, take some deep breaths, and let one of them talk some sense into you.
3) High school is not the high point of your life.
If it turns out that it was, you will have missed the best parts of life. Despite all the heart-wrenching emotions poured out when you sign your friends’ yearbooks, most of them will not be your best friends for life. Your boyfriend or girlfriend is almost certainly not your soulmate, so do not trust them with your soul! You will probably never go back and visit your high school (why?), and if you are still proudly displaying your high school memorabilia or talking about your high school accomplishments twenty years from now, then you lost twenty years somewhere along the way. I’m not saying that high school is bad, or that you should hate it or not treasure it. But it’s a brief passage along the way to things that are bigger and far more meaningful than you can understand right now.
4) At this point in your life you can’t achieve great success, but you can fail spectacularly.
As a teenager, you can’t achieve too much, unless you become a teenage movie star or get drafted directly into the NBA. But while even those rare kids might get famous and make a lot of money, too many learn about just how badly you can fail at this age. And when I say fail, I mean the belly flop into a pit of acid and have your remains mauled by a cougar type of failure. In fact, if dumb enough, that exact scenario could actually happen (it probably has, somewhere). And while successes come and go, some failures are forever: teens who become paraplegics for life because they drove drunk or distracted; teens who got pregnant because of loose morals loosened further by alcohol; teens who got criminal records or a drug addiction or an embarrassing tattoo; teens who ruined their education or family forever because they were careless or emotionally immature or downright dumb.
You’re walking through a minefield. Watch where you put your foot.
5) The adults around you understand a lot more than you think they do.
I know what you’re thinking: they’re so old, and they felt what you feel, or had a [fill in the blank] like you do. But you’re going to just have to trust me on this one, OK? They were your age, felt exactly what you’re feeling, and did exactly what you’re doing (or are thinking about doing). They hated their parents (your grandparents) sometimes. They had boyfriends and girlfriends (probably not your mom or dad), and everything that comes with that—even that dumb notion you have that no one could ever understand how special your love is. If they don’t support whatever it is you want to do it’s not because they don’t understand, it’s because they do, and they want you to learn from their mistakes. If they’ve been where you are, why wouldn’t you want a guide to lead you through? Please tell them what’s going on, and really listen to what they have to say.
6) You are not special.
I know, mom and dad say you are, but come on: they’re your mom and dad. You are special, to them. I know that you feel alone a lot, but you aren’t alone in what you’re feeling. This is your first time around the block, and everything looks so unique and strange and intense. It seems that way to everyone the first time. This is just you discovering yourself and the world. You are not the smartest person in the world, or the dumbest. I know that you have ideas in your head that seem so original, but they aren’t. I know you think that no one else in the whole world can possibly understand what you’re going through, but that’s pretty much what every teenager has thought since Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel. Like I said earlier, your emotions are not calibrated to reality yet. So, no: you do not have superpowers and you will probably not be one of the ten most significant figures in history. On the other hand, if you feel isolated and worthless and depressed, please find a wise, good, and free adult whose been around the block a few times who will tell you that you are OK and everything is going to work out. Because it will, as long as you recognize that this is just life and you can grow up into it so that it fits.
7) You don’t know how to pick good friends.
You’re already sick of your parents telling you they don’t trust this or that friend, or that they don’t like your boyfriend or girlfriend. “How can you say that?!” you demand. “You don’t know even know them.” OK, maybe not. Of course, it’s possible that you don’t know they, either. See, at your age, you don’t have a lot of experience reading and filtering people, and you can’t put clues about people into context. You will learn, eventually, but mostly by getting burned, or having your heart broken. Most of the mistakes you can make right now come from making bad decisions about people. If some of the wise, good, and free older people around you see some red flags in your friends, pay attention.
8) Give your family a break.
Yes, they drive you they are unfair, you fight with them, and they don’t let you have any fun. Yada, yada, yada. Please give them a break. They are your family, the only one you will ever have. These years, when you are still living with them, will be over before you know it: we grow up, we move out, and we move on. There will be new seasons in your relationship with your family, and those are great, too. But don’t be in too much of a hurry to move on. You will look back on these few quick years for the rest of your life. And unless you have a seriously messed up family (which do exist, but see the next point), let me tell you a secret: they love you more than you can or will ever understand. They work as hard as they can to provide as good a life for you as they can. Yes, they make a thousand mistakes, but they are mistakes: they wouldn’t do anything to intentionally harm you. Despite all their flaws, they are doing their best for you. Please give them a break, and do your best for them.
9) Knock off the whole anger and victimhood routine.
I suspect that if someone took the effort to give you this book and have you read this passage (because I know you didn’t go buy the book yourself and read this many pages in), then you are not a real victim. In fact, if someone gave you this to read, my guess is that they are trying to send you a hint and buy you a clue: please drop the whiny, rebellious attitude. Some teens really do have legitimate complaints. They are victims of abuse, neglect, genuine hardship, or great injustice. Are you sure that you are one if them? If not, then you’re acting like this because you are self-centered and unappreciative of all the gifts and advantages you’ve been given in life. That attitude will corrupt your soul, lead you to make stupid and dangerous choices, drive those who love you away, and poison your opportunities. Stop it.
10) Happiness is a choice.
Happiness is not something that happens to you and which you cannot control, like the flu. It’s something that you can choose, and you need to learn how make that choice early in life because you’re going to have to make that choice almost every single day from here on out. There is so much you will not have control over: the economy, your health, the health of your loved ones, the actions of other people, tsunamis. If happiness is just a condition that happens to you when things are going well, you are going to spend a lot of your life unhappy. So right now, beginning learning to find joy and contentment in any circumstances, under any conditions. Learn the secret of choosing to be cheerful, controlling stress, and cultivating a happy heart. That doesn’t mean you have to settle in life for less than you dream, but does mean that when your dreams are delayed you are not devastated. You will be able to weather life’s storms and come out the other side intact.