Dear 16 year old Drew,
I am writing to you now, as a 21 year old, to advise you and let you know what to spend your time on, what to not waste your time on, and mistakes that you should avoid.
A lot will change in the next five years, as you are soon to find out. You’ll fall in what you think is love, and get what you think is heartbroken. You’ll make new friends, lose old friends, and then lose your new friends. You’ll move out of your parents’ house at 18 and live on your own, which is more challenging than you anticipated. You’ll waste a lot of time and a lot of money on things you shouldn’t have spent any time or money on. You’ll learn a lot, lose a lot, and discover a lot about yourself in the next five years that will fly by.
Let’s start with the most important things first, shall we?
1. Spend more time with your family, especially your grandpa
You don’t know how little time left you have with your grandpa, and you will regret not spending as much time that you possibly can. Trust me, I regret it every day of my life. Your grandfather is a wonderful man, and you know that he has been your role model since you were a little tyke.
He grew up dirt poor during the Great Depression with seven brothers and sisters, served in the military, started from nothing as a Post Master, became an entrepreneur in the cattle business, and worked his ass off every single day so that your mother, your brothers, and you wouldn’t have to struggle like he did.
I know you’re preoccupied with 16-year-old things like chasing girls, hanging out with your friends, and spending way too much time in your room playing video games. You have to understand that these are just distractions, and that once somebody is gone, you can’t go back to change things.
Soon enough, you’ll realize that family is the most important thing in life. Surrounding yourself with people that love you and letting them know that you love them is never a waste of time.
Make time for your folks, make memories with your folks, or one day, when they’re gone, you’ll make yourself miserable fretting over what could have been and what you should have done.
I know you think PaPa is invincible and he’ll be around for a long time, but you’re just naive. Ask him how he’s doing, ask him about his life, find out what motivated him to become the great man he became. Go to Schlepp’s (local family restaurant in my hometown) with him, help him out on the farm, go fishing with him, sit down and shoot the shit – do whatever you can to let him know you appreciate him and everything he has done for you and your family.
One day you’ll regret not letting your grandpa know just how much you loved him and how much you admired him, you’ll regret sitting in your bedroom playing World of Warcraft for hours on end, you’ll regret wasting so much time on so much that never amounted to anything.
Spend time with the rest of your family, too. In a couple years you’ll be moving away to the (relatively) big city and won’t have nearly as much time as you’d like to spend with your loved ones.
One day, everyone you love will be gone, so take time our of your day and enjoy their presence while you still can.
2. Get off the internet and go to church
Yeah, I know. You’re an edgy 16 year-old atheist and you think you have the whole world figured out just because you have access to Google. If you could put aside your fragile ego and realize that all knowledge is based on blind faith, if you could get off the internet and talk to people in real life, if you could see how extremely blessed you are – you wouldn’t be such a fedora-tipping atheist.
Yes, I know, you think you’re smarter than everyone else and that’s what you base your entire self-confidence on – but it’s all a sham. Sure, you’re a smart kid, but you fail to see the bigger picture. You fail to see that nothing that happens in this strange, short life is a coincidence. You fail to see that placing your faith only in what you can observe and measure is a fool’s religion.
Somehow, in our modern world with all of our gadgets, all of our information, and all of our self-alienation… we have forgot how to connect with the eternal. You think you know everything because you have the entirety of human knowledge at the tips of your fingers, but you can’t see anything beyond what’s in front of you.
One day, you will realize that everything you place your misguided “faith” in – science, statistics, “logic” – roots from your fear of being wrong. You feel the need to feel right. You don’t care about being happy, or moral, or just – you just want to be right.
Naturally, it’s easier to feel “right” when you can cite studies, recite arguments, and share statistics to “prove” your understanding of the world. It is much, much harder to defend a belief that is seemingly irrational and idealistic.
Naturally, it’s easier to believe in nothing, to believe that we are just clumps of cells that were created by a random accident floating on a rock around the seemingly infinite universe. It’s easier to blur the line between right and wrong, to believe that morality is relative. It’s easier to believe that you’re just an animal who learned to use tools and develop language. It’s easier to believe that life’s purpose is to fulfill every single one of your solipsistic, materialistic ambitions. It’s easier to assume you’re right and that there’s no more intelligent being than Man.
It’s harder to believe in the eternal, to believe that our life has meaning outside of what’s obvious and tangible. It’s harder to know what’s right and what’s wrong, no matter the personal circumstance. It’s harder to believe that human beings are more than mere animals succumbing to our every whim and desire, and that our life has a purpose outside of acquiring more shit and endless cycles of getting dopamine rushes from sex, drugs, and making money. It’s much, much harder to assume that you are not the smartest person in the whole universe and that someone, somewhere knows more than you do and has a plan for each and every one of us.
So, I ask of you, get off the internet and go hang out with your grandma in church, read some G.K. Chesterton, some C.S. Lewis – realize that you’re young and arrogant and mistake information for wisdom.
Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning… — C.S. Lewis
3. Don’t waste time on girls that you can’t see yourself marrying
You’re an okay-looking kid, you don’t seem to have trouble finding girls who like you. As you grow older, you’ll become even more good-looking (I’m not being cocky, I swear) and it’ll become even easier.
Don’t waste your time on women just because you think they’re cute or because your friends will think you’re cool if you date her. Looks are important, sure, but what really matters – yes, it’s cliche, I know – is what’s inside. Yeah, you’ll meet girls who you think you “love” and may even get “heartbroken” a time or two, but you must realize that this was not love, but merely infatuation and teenage hormones obscuring your view of reality.
If you can’t see a woman raising your kids, can’t see yourself falling madly in love with her, can’t see yourself growing old and ugly with – don’t waste your time on her. Find a woman who has what really counts: integrity, honesty, faith, family values, warmth, femininity, passion, the ability to make you want to become a better man.
Find a good woman that makes you want to be a great man.
It’s easy to be cynical in this world where people only view relationships as an easy way to get laid, as a means to embellish their social standing, as as way to inflate their fragile ego. It’s easy to put up your defenses and keep a healthy distance from anyone you decide to spend your time with, to be objective and rational. But love isn’t objective and rational.
It’s hard to put your guard down, trust someone, and allow yourself to love them entirely. It’s hard to expose yourself like that, to give someone else the power to completely destroy you. But, it’s even harder to live a life without love and spend your final moments laying on your death bed, surrounded by all your material possessions, degrees, and memories of one-night stands and meaningless flings.
Wouldn’t you rather risk hurting your ego by taking a shot at love and a meaningful existence?
I’d rather die believing in love than live believing in nothing.
Even though you spent your time on meaningless relationships, you somehow managed to snag a wonderful, amazing girl who makes you want to become a better man. Hell, I wouldn’t be writing this if it wasn’t for her. Maybe these relationships were just a learning experience, and if so, they were worth it. Just don’t spend too much time or too much money or get too invested in these relationships, for they will fade from your memory once you meet the right one (and you will [I did.])
4. Stop playing video games
You spend the majority of your free time escaping from the reality you hate, diving into a digital world of monsters and dragons, where you feel like you’re a hero.
Instead of distracting yourself with quests, experience points, and leveling up – read books, hit the gym, work on a skill.
If you spent half as much time as you did sitting in your room killing time as you did working on being a better person, you’ll go further than you could have ever imagined.
Hell, you wouldn’t believe what you accomplished by half-assing it: climbing waterfalls in Iceland, having your photos of Iceland displayed in the Louvre, shooting behind the scenes at MTV music video shoots, eating foie gras on a mountainside overlooking a French village built into a cliff, becoming a famous Twitter celebrity (I jest.)
Just imagine what you could have accomplished if you spent your time honing your skills, reading books, and networking with people who mattered. You could be shooting for National Geographic right now, being paid to travel the world. Instead, you’ll be sitting in your living room, on your torn up couch (thanks to your future dog), drinking cheap cherry-flavored bourbon and writing this blog post.
5. Stay the hell away from the stock market
One day soon, you’ll think you have the whole word figured out – including how the entire world’s financial system works. Guess what? You don’t have a fucking clue.
You will gamble away your entire life savings, you will sell your Harley, you will sell your camera gear, you will beg for loans from your family that you won’t pay back – all to feed the delusion that you’re a stock market genius and will turn $10,000 into $10,000,000 overnight.
You won’t. You won’t make a single dime. You will lose every penny you have ever earned and will be forced to pick up a 9-5 office job just to pay your rent. You will regret being a greedy, arrogant son-of-a-bitch for the foreseeable future.
Spend your money traveling, meeting people, giving yourself the luxury of not having to work 40 hours a week to pay the bills. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but money buys freedom – including the freedom to be happy.
The risk is not worth the reward. You were frugal your entire life, why blow it all on some get-rich-on-derivative-trading scheme only to be a complete failure and make yourself miserable?
Yes, you will learn some very important lessons and meet some very influential people along the way, but the aftermath of your impulsive decision making will be your downfall.
Just listen to your parents. Nothing is as easy as it seems. Being successful requires hard work, not arrogance and greed.
The next five years of your life will be the most influential, most challenging, and loneliest years of your life, no matter what. The transition from childhood bliss and ignorance to the real world is tough for everyone, you’re not an exception. I can only try to steer you in the right direction.
Focus on what’s important in life, work your skinny ass off, don’t give a damn about what the losers in your hometown think of you, and become the person you won’t regret becoming when you’re older.
Sincerely, 21 Year-Old Drew