SAN DIEGO – Most of us close out the holidays hoping we’ll be happier, more fulfilled and more successful in the new year.
For some of us this might mean being able to achieve a goal, start a business, spend more time with family or find that perfect job.
Yet wherever it is we want to go, there are rules about how to get there. Over a lifetime, we’re given tips, short cuts and pieces of advice that we’d be wise to take to heart.
Much of the help comes from our elders. After all, experience and the passage of time are great teachers.
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Sometimes, I’m tempted to say that I’d like to live my life over again – knowing as a younger man the things I know now. But there’s the catch. It doesn’t work this way. A lot of what I know came from living the life I’ve lived, blemishes and all. I’ve learned a lot from making mistakes, falling down, choosing the wrong path, making bad decisions, trusting the wrong people.
In recent weeks, I’ve been asked to speak to groups of young people – who are finishing high school, starting college or entering the workforce. I’ve had the chance to tell them about the road ahead, and give them directions about how to navigate it.
The insights I’ve gained are worth sharing. Some of it boils down to “gifts” I’d like to give these folks that I consider more valuable than gold or diamonds. The rest are standards to which I’d like them to hold themselves.
I told my audiences of young people:
▪ Develop and strengthen your social skills. What you know and who you know won’t be worth much if people don’t enjoy your company or want to be around you.
▪ Make a conscious effort to be a better listener. The folks you’ll meet throughout your life will have a lot to teach you if you pay attention.
▪ Think deeper and more critically about the difficult issues our society is facing. You can’t understand something until you’ve considered it from all sides.
▪ Be accountable for your actions. If you do something wrong or make a mistake, take responsibility and learn to say “I’m sorry” rather than simply offering excuses.
▪ Preserve your integrity. Once it’s gone, it’s impossible to get back. If people can’t trust you, they won’t want to do business with you or want anything to do with you.
▪ Persevere. When you strive, you’re going to fail. But what matters is that you learn from failure and don’t give up.
▪ Nurture an appreciation for the life experiences of your parents and other older family members. Those who came before us often have great stories to tell and wisdom to share.
▪ Stay curious. Never stop asking questions and exploring new worlds, even if it’s only with your imagination.
▪ Be courageous. Most people instinctively avoid conflict and take the easy way. But the brave can change the world.
▪ Know your self-worth. People won’t value you, or what you have to contribute, until you value yourself.
▪ Strive for a good work-life balance. Providing for your family is important, but not at the expense of enjoying it.
▪ Use common sense. This commodity is incredibly valuable precisely because fewer and fewer people seem to have it.
▪ Be present, in your life and the lives of loved ones. It’s easy to get distracted by television, computers, cellphones and other gadgets. But it doesn’t do any good for your body to be somewhere if your mind is somewhere else.
▪ Treat others with kindness, respect and thoughtfulness. Our most important and lasting legacy in this world won’t be what we accomplish but the impact we had on everyone else.
▪ And above all, choose your life partner wisely. In a society that worships the individual, we convince ourselves that we alone have the power to shape our destiny. But that’s not the whole story. You have to walk alongside the right people. Nothing else you do, and no other choice you make in life, will be a greater determinant of happiness and success.
Following this path could make for a good year. It might even be the key to a good life.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.