A Letter to My Son, on Starting Out In Life | Zen Habits
A Letter to My Son, on Starting Out In Life
You’re only three years old, and at this point in your life you can’t read, much less understand what I’m going to try to tell you in this letter. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the life that you have ahead of you, about my life so far as I reflect on what I’ve learned, and about my role as a dad in trying to prepare you for the trials that you will face in the coming years.
You won’t be able to understand this letter today, but someday, when you’re ready, I hope you will find some wisdom and value in what I share with you.
You are young, and life has yet to take its toll on you, to throw disappointments and heartaches and loneliness and struggles and pain into your path. You have not been worn down yet by long hours of thankless work, by the slings and arrows of everyday life.
For this, be thankful. You are at a wonderful stage of life. You have many wonderful stages of life still to come, but they are not without their costs and perils.
I hope to help you along your path by sharing some of the best of what I’ve learned. As with any advice, take it with a grain of salt. What works for me might not work for you.
Life Can Be Cruel
There will be people in your life who won’t be very nice. They’ll tease you because you’re different, or for no good reason. They might try to bully you or hurt you.
There’s not much you can do about these people except to learn to deal with them, and learn to choose friends who are kind to you, who actually care about you, who make you feel good about yourself. When you find friends like this, hold on to them, treasure them, spend time with them, be kind to them, love them.
There will be times when you are met with disappointment instead of success. Life won’t always turn out the way you want. This is just another thing you’ll have to learn to deal with. But instead of letting these things get you down, push on. Accept disappointment and learn to persevere, to pursue your dreams despite pitfalls. Learn to turn negatives into positives, and you’ll do much better in life.
You will also face heartbreak and abandonment by those you love. I hope you don’t have to face this too much, but it happens. Again, not much you can do but to heal, and to move on with your life. Let these pains become stepping stones to better things in life, and learn to use them to make you stronger.
But Be Open to Life Anyway
Yes, you’ll find cruelty and suffering in your journey through life … but don’t let that close you to new things. Don’t retreat from life, don’t hide or wall yourself off. Be open to new things, new experiences, new people.
You might get your heart broken 10 times, but find the most wonderful woman the 11th time. If you shut yourself off from love, you’ll miss out on that woman, and the happiest times of your life.
You might get teased and bullied and hurt by people you meet … and then after meeting dozens of jerks, find a true friend. If you close yourself off to new people, and don’t open your heart to them, you’ll avoid pain … but also lose out on meeting some incredible people, who will be there during the toughest times of your life and create some of the best times of your life.
You will fail many times but if you allow that to stop you from trying, you will miss out on the amazing feeling of success once you reach new heights with your accomplishments. Failure is a stepping stone to success.
Life Isn’t a Competition
You will meet many people who will try to outdo you, in school, in college, at work. They’ll try to have nicer cars, bigger houses, nicer clothes, cooler gadgets. To them, life is a competition — they have to do better than their peers to be happy.
Here’s a secret: life isn’t a competition. It’s a journey. If you spend that journey always trying to impress others, to outdo others, you’re wasting your journey. Instead, learn to enjoy the journey. Make it a journey of happiness, of constant learning, of continual improvement, of love.
Don’t worry about having a nicer car or house or anything material, or even a better-paying job. None of that matters a whit, and none of it will make you happier. You’ll acquire these things and then only want more. Instead, learn to be satisfied with having enough — and then use the time you would have wasted trying to earn money to buy those things … use that time doing things you love.
Find your passion, and pursue it doggedly. Don’t settle for a job that pays the bills. Life is too short to waste on a job you hate.
Love Should Be Your Rule
If there’s a single word you should live your life by, it should be this: Love. It might sound corny, I know … but trust me, there’s no better rule in life.
Some would live by the rule of success. Their lives will be stressful, unhappy and shallow.
Others would live by the rule of selfishness — putting their needs above those of others. They will live lonely lives, and will also be unhappy.
Still others will live by the rule of righteousness — trying to show the right path, and admonishing anyone who doesn’t live by that path. They are concerned with others, but in a negative way, and in the end will only have their own righteousness to live with, and that’s a horrible companion.
Live your life by the rule of love. Love your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, with all of your heart. Give to them what they need, and show them not cruelty nor disapproval nor coldness nor disappointment, but only love. Open your soul to them.
Love not only your loved ones, but your neighbors … your coworkers … strangers … your brothers and sisters in humanity. Offer anyone you meet a smile, a kind word, a kind gesture, a helping hand.
Love not only neighbors and strangers … but your enemy. The person who is cruelest to you, who has been unkind to you … love him. He is a tortured soul, and most in need of your love.
And most of all, love yourself. While others may criticize you, learn not to be so hard on yourself, to think that you’re ugly or dumb or unworthy of love … but to think instead that you are a wonderful human being, worthy of happiness and love … and learn to love yourself for who you are.
Finally, know that I love you and always will. You are starting out on a weird, scary, daunting, but ultimately incredibly wonderful journey, and I will be there for you when I can. Godspeed.