I guess I should keep this nice and to the point. I'm on a collision course with my own future, and it's terrifying me beyond belief. My future has always been a topic I dwell over in my own head—will I be successful? Am I too lazy or stubborn to make it out there?
With the pressure of high school and growing up slamming down on me full force, I guess I'm becoming more self aware. With that self awareness comes a lowered self-esteem, and with that lowered self-esteem comes doubt. I don't do too hot in school to be honest. Sure, I mostly get A's and B's, but I did slip up and get a C. This slip-up made me take a step back and think about myself and my personality. Can I succeed? I have no way to dab my toes in the waters of the future except stay in school (the education system's crap, so I still don't feel prepared. They just wanna make you into good little patriotic citizens, ah, No ranting, no ranting...) so I have no idea what I should do to feel more certain that I'll make it when I'm all grown.
I've been trying to work towards my dream (I've always wanted to be a writer and get a job in the ever-growing field of technology. TMI? Probably. Cliché? Yep), but all the work just makes me feel more discouraged. The truth is, the product I produce isn't as good as my aspirations. I just look at myself and what I do, and I can't help but doubt that I'll go anywhere.
Well, I should also clarify one thing. You might be thinking to yourself, "Well, what does she mean by successful?" My answer is simple. I want to be happy, and I want my family to be proud of who I become.
So, I'll sum up this tiny essay. I don't think I'll make it in the future, and it's scaring me. Papa, did you have these same doubts when you were little? Is there any way I can ensure I'll have a bright future? Should I just wait and see what happens? Should I try improving my grades? Wow, ignoring that one question rule, aren't I? I really don't know how to cut it down, though.
Thanks for reading the ramble, Papa.
Your bumbling squirrel,
Oliver (age 14)
* * *
You sound like quite a bright little furry. You’ve already figured out that the modern American educational system is garbage designed to turn people into good citizen consumers and to believe the hokum of the “official history” of our country. Society wants you to go to school, get a job, buy stuff (especially stuff you don’t need, which is why Christmas and other holidays have become consumer frenzies), and pay taxes (unless you’re mega rich, in which case you are encouraged to hide your assets overseas and betray your country by not paying taxes).
Hey, you had a rant, so indulge me LOL.
You say you wish to be happy and please your family. Everyone wants to be happy, Oliver, but how do you define happiness? Is it being successful in a career? Is it having lots of money and material stuff? Is it being a good spouse and parent? Is it finding something to do that you enjoy and excelling at it? You need to be more specific there.
When I was your age (since you asked) I definitely was terrified about growing up, going to college, getting a job, etc. One of my biggest regrets in life was that I thought school was all about getting A’s. So, that’s what I strove to do. In middle school, I was kind of an average student, but by high school and college I had upped my game to get a 4.0 and graduate at the top of my class. Know what? I was so busy getting A’s that I didn’t actually learn anything. I would study my ass off, belch out the answers on the test, and then forget the material by the next month.
Conclusion: Getting A’s is no guarantee of success. There are brilliant people who live in poverty (many stories of people with advanced degrees working at McDonald’s), and there are also people who dropped out of high school who are now highly successful (there’s the famous story of Einstein whose math teacher thought he was a dunce.)
Soon after college, I got married and my first job was working in a factory while my wife was an admissions counselor at a small college. Together, we managed to pay the bills, and then I got my first job as an editor and I was very excited. We moved to a suburb and I began my career in reference publishing, working my way up to senior editor in the young adult and children’s literature division of my company. I really loved my first few years there because it was a passion, but then the corporate atmosphere changed. No longer were we producing “books,” but, rather, “products.” We became all about making profits, and the staff got pressured more and more to make more and more products and increase the profits for the shareholders. The soul of the company was gone, and I grew to hate it so much that I left. I worked for a small company producing educational material for a while, and then went freelance. I couldn’t take all the emphasis on money. Money is not the key to happiness. Sure, it can make you comfortable—and I wouldn’t mind not worrying about bills—but it’s not the same as being happy.
Conclusion: working for a big corporation will likely not make you happy; most of the time, you are seen as a tool (and many managers actually see employees as a drain and an enemy, rather than an asset). Corporations have no compunctions about firing even the most loyal and dedicated employees. Happens all the time. Don’t expect a large company job to bring you happiness.
I, like you, also had dreams of being a writer. I, like you, was very self-critical of my writing. Most people don’t really appreciate that good writing is a skill like any other. Believe me, it is the most undervalued skill in this country. A good writer works at his or her craft, and it takes years to produce something decent. Don’t be too hard on yourself there; at 14, you have a long way to go. Be patient and work at it; also, read the books of other authors and soak in how they put words together.
If writing is something you really love, then you should practice it whether or not you actually sell your stories or articles. I became very discouraged in my efforts to publish. I’ve published a fantasy novel and ten nonfiction works, none of which have earned me any money. The publishing world is really hellish (be warned). It is cut-throat. Rare are the people like Stephen King and J. K. Rowling; common are those who sell nothing or don’t earn enough to make a living at it. It’s kind of like all the kids out there who want to be famous musicians or athletes. The wannabes are a dime a dozen; stardom is rare. What I’m saying is, if you want to be a writer be a writer because you love to write and tell stories, not because you want to be rich or famous.
Now, that aside, it sounds like you might like to combine writing with an interest in technology. If that’s the case, I recommend you look into becoming a technical writer. This is a profession that is in high demand and you could probably make a very good living at it.
Conclusion: if you have a dream, don’t corrupt it with the demand that it make you money. But if you can combine your dream with a practical application, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Back to your question of how to be happy and make your family proud. First of all, remember that life and happiness are journeys, not goals. Too often we are so focused on what is ahead of us that we fail to appreciate what is happening right here and now. You’ll only be 14 once, Oliver. Spend some time enjoying your youth by doing fun things and also spending time with family. In a few years you’ll be moving out and won’t see them nearly as often.
The teen years should also be a time for self-exploration. Looking back, my time would have been far better spent at your age trying new things and finding out what I was capable of, rather than studying so hard that I had no social life. If I had it to do all over again, I would have studied music and art. I also would have studied wildlife management rather than English literature. Don’t miss out on the things you should be exploring because you’re so afraid of the future and doing what you think others want you to do so you can make them proud.
I’m sure your parents and other family members will be proud of you if you strive to do one thing: be a good person. Be kind and giving and loyal and loving, and there’s no way they could be disappointed in you (unless they are misguided, too, about what a “success” is).
Relax and enjoy your life, enjoy your youth. Because, as you can see now, worrying about the future is making you a nervous wreck. And what fun is that? Live for now. Life is brief and is gone in the wink of an eye. Learn to appreciate your loved ones, nature, all the world has to offer you. Keep in mind, too, your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. These are all important parts of happiness (kinda hard to be happy if you’re sick, emotionally numb, and/or have no sense of the spiritual side of life).
I could write more, but I hope you see where I am going with this: learn the difference between “success” as it is defined by society and the real success of leading a fulfilling and joyous life free of the narrow pursuit of fame and fortune. Instead, focus on personal relationships and discovering what you love to do with your time, whether or not that is something that is a prestigious career. Take care of your body, mind, and spirit, and you will find contentment and happiness.
There are no guarantees in life, Oliver, so put that notion aside. The only thing you can control is you, so find happiness by doing what you can to make a better you—a better person. The world needs more good people, not millionaires.
Hope that helps.
Big Bear Hugs,
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