Your Parents Don’t Want What Is Best for You

Charles Wheelan has a message for the graduating class of 2012, and it is wonderful. He writes that he became sick of commencement speeches when he graduated. In the decades since his graduation,  he has studied happiness and well-being, and dishes out ten bits of wisdom to the graduating class. It’s a great read.

I completely agree with this advice:

Don’t make the world worse. I know that I’m supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I’m going to lower the bar here: Just don’t use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already. And if you really want to cause social mayhem, it helps to have an Ivy League degree. You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that “changing the world” also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.

This one sounds way easier to say than to carry out:

Marry someone smarter than you are. When I was getting a Ph.D., my wife Leah had a steady income. When she wanted to start a software company, I had a job with health benefits. (To clarify, having a “spouse with benefits” is different from having a “friend with benefits.”) You will do better in life if you have a second economic oar in the water. I also want to alert you to the fact that commencement is like shooting smart fish in a barrel. The Phi Beta Kappa members will have pink-and-blue ribbons on their gowns. The summa cum laude graduates have their names printed in the program. Seize the opportunity!

I embrace this strategy/advice daily:

Don’t model your life after a circus animal. Performing animals do tricks because their trainers throw them peanuts or small fish for doing so. You should aspire to do better. You will be a friend, a parent, a coach, an employee—and so on. But only in your job will you be explicitly evaluated and rewarded for your performance. Don’t let your life decisions be distorted by the fact that your boss is the only one tossing you peanuts. If you leave a work task undone in order to meet a friend for dinner, then you are “shirking” your work. But it’s also true that if you cancel dinner to finish your work, then you are shirking your friendship. That’s just not how we usually think of it.

And this one was my favorite:

Your parents don’t want what is best for you. They want what is good for you, which isn’t always the same thing. There is a natural instinct to protect our children from risk and discomfort, and therefore to urge safe choices. Theodore Roosevelt—soldier, explorer, president—once remarked, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” Great quote, but I am willing to bet that Teddy’s mother wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer.

Worth reading in its entirety. What do you think the author missed?

Ten Wisdoms from Thomas Jefferson

In 1825, Thomas Jefferson was asked by a father to supply a few words of wisdom to his young son, Thomas Jefferson Smith (who had recently been named after Thomas Jefferson). The president responded with a handwritten letter, at the end of which was the following 10-point list of advice for the youngster titled “A Decalogue of Canons for Observation in Practical Life.” Following were Thomas Jefferson’s ten bits of wisdom:

1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do to-day.
2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
3. Never spend your money before you have it.
4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.

The advice is as applicable today as it was almost two hundred years ago.

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(via Lists of Note)