Growing up, I experienced what you might gently call “instability.”
Before I graduated high school, I moved over 15 times. My mother and father shared a total of 6 divorces between them. I saw firsthand what it’s like to live in a shelter for battered women and their families. And there were times as a young child when I had to fend for myself without adult supervision and figure things out on my own.
I don’t write this to elicit sympathy or praise for “how I turned out.” I write this because I know that somewhere, a child or young adult is going through something similar, struggling to see beyond today let alone think about their future. If this sounds like you or someone you know, I have a message: there is a way out.
I’m here to share 10 lessons and opportunities that got me through those hardest days of my life. My hope is that they might reach a young person (or even an adult) who needs support as they work their way through life.
1. Have Somewhere to Be
Sports changed my life. They were my babysitter when I didn’t have one. I played them year round, from football in the fall to basketball in the winter to track in the spring and baseball in the summer. Having somewhere to be helped keep me out of trouble. It instilled discipline, provided mentorship, and kept me active in a community. Whether its sports or something else, have somewhere to be.
2. Ask for Help
It’s one of the hardest thing to do in life, and yet I implore you to do it. Ask for help. Most times, good people in your life may not know that you’re going through a tough time. If they did, odds are they’d be more than willing to help you navigate the thorny parts of life, learn something new, or even hit a goal that seems out of reach. People want to help. But you have to be willing to ask for it (Tweet this).
3. Don’t Be Ashamed or Embarrassed of Where You Come From
One of the toughest things for a kid is feeling embarrassed or ashamed about who they are around their peers. I experienced this in the lunchroom every single day because I got reduced lunch — a discounted lunch I received because of my mother’s low income. I remember being teased about this so much that I would sometimes deliberately skip lunch. If you’re experiencing anything like this, I ask you to stand tall. And eat. You may not understand this now, but what you’re embarrassed or ashamed of now can lay the foundation for grit, strength, and courage in your life.
4. Make Reading and Writing a Part of Your Life Now
I didn’t become a regular reader until after I graduated from college. When I attended graduate school at an Ivy League university, I was embarrassed that at the time, I couldn’t tell you what a verb, predicate or pronoun was. I had to humble myself and do a crash course. It wasn’t until I began my first professional job that I learned how important it is to be able to write clearly and concisely. Right now is your time to learn. Read anything you can. A book, magazine, comic book or blog. And write. Do it every day, whether it’s a journal entry, short story, or blog post. Learn how to articulate yourself — your words matter.
5. Find Your Faith
It’s bigger than you or me. It’s about us. Find your faith. Pray. Ask for strength, courage, and guidance. Surrender, release, and trust. I’m still learning doing this.
6. Find Mentors
For young people, there are always people in the community to look up to — to go to with questions that don’t have easy answers. These could be teachers, coaches, aunts or uncles, the parent of a friend, etc. Find a way to make these people your mentors — surrogate parents, if you will. The best way to do this isn’t to ask them to be your mentor, but to treat them like they already are.
This is one that most adults still struggle with, including myself. For a while, I was an angry kid. I was angry at everyone: my parents, my siblings, and many others who I crossed paths with. Nothing ever felt right. Today, I have the perspective to see it isn’t about right or wrong. I acknowledge that the people around me were doing their best with what they had. It may not have been what I wanted, but it was what I got. Now when I look back, I can forgive. And the act forgiving takes a weight off of your shoulders. If this sounds hard, try to forgive one day at a time.
9. Whatever Your Goal Is, Dream Bigger
You can accomplish amazing things in this life. In fact, I know you will. Growing up in a small town in rural Michigan, I thought the farthest life would take me was Detroit. I was playing small. I just didn’t know it at the time. I want you to know that you live on a planet. A massive planet with amazing places to visit and explore. An amazing place where you can pursue work that matters to you, where opportunities abound. Here’s the catch: you have to go to these things. They won’t come to you.
10. Don’t Feel Guilty for Succeeding — or Leaving
As you stretch yourself and grow, sometimes you’ll notice a distance or tension being created with you and those around you if they aren’t also positively evolving. The hard truth is that sometimes your family and friends won’t always understand the choices you make. They may even attempt to make you feel guilty or give you a hard time. Don’t allow someone else’s story or path to change the trajectory of your life. When you grow and others don’t, they may feel like they’re being left behind when you’re actually just moving forward. Remember: your success and happiness hurts no one.
When my wife and I had twins, they were born premature. It was immensely hard watching them struggle early on. As they fought for their lives over the course of weeks at in the hospital NICU, it was obvious that they, and we, are born to live. Today, our twins our thriving and healthy. From the day you took your first breath, you were born to succeed.
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