Wednesday, December 22, 2004

To a 12 year old girl about her future

She's a hormone-addled adolescent just like her mother was not so long ago. I don't see much of her because I'm on the road so much, and it's not clear that it would make much difference if I were around. But what I want her to do is take life seriously long enough to make some plans for her life.

Say what? - she's 12, for crying out loud! Yep, and in 5 years she'll be getting out of high school, and in 10 she might well be out of college. And anywhere along the line she could even have kids of her own. And it wouldn't surprise me to find that none of this had ever crossed her mind.

Well, que sera, sera my eye. She can start influencing her future deliberately right now. It's not too early, and in some extreme cases it's actually too late.

So how do I get her started? Beats me. For lack of anything better I'm thinking of starting with a letter or speech like what follows:

Merry Christmas, kiddo. This may look like the lamest gift you've ever received, but give it a chance. Pay attention and maybe it can help you get something a lot better for yourself - a well-lived life.

Yes, you're only 12. And in 5 years you'll be 17 and ready to get out of HS. In 10 you might be graduating from college. In 15 you'll be older than your mother was when she had you. This may seem like an eternity to you now, but ask any adult and they can tell you that it seems that the older you get the faster the time seems to go.

You've had a chance to observe your mother's life up close. It hasn't always been easy. You might have decided that you want to live your life differently. And you can.

How? The first step is to have some goals. When in doubt, aim high.

Let's start with some examples to come up in the next 5 years. Would you like to be valedictorian? Date the school hunk? Start on the basketball team? Be head cheerleader? Be homecoming queen? Get admitted to your favorite college with scholarships? Get a car? Get a good after-school/summer job? Learn to play guitar? More ideas of your own? All of the above? Fine - for most of those, if you can dream it you can do it. If you get started.

Now let's look 10 years down the road. By then you could be starting on a good career, going to graduate school to be a doctor/lawyer/professor/whatever, raising a family with a good guy you met in college.... Or you could be stranded in a small town with two kids to raise and a husband who makes a lousy living, drinks and abuses you. All of that builds on what happens in the next 5 years.

Now say you have some goals. But they seem big - where do you start? The same way you eat an elephant - one bite at a time. Break them down. Here's an example.

I hear you were cut from the basketball team. OK, so was Michael Jordan in his freshman year in HS. Do you want to go out again next year and show them they were wrong? What can you do to make sure you make it then?

Well, I don't know how to help you get taller. But you can get stronger and get more stamina by exercising and eating right, and that will help you with a lot more than basketball. You can build skills by playing a lot, shooting hoops, practicing dribbling, going to camps, etc. It's up to you.

One goal you might have picked is "to be the most popular girl". Please think again. If it happens that's fine, but ask me or any of your older relatives how much time they've spent with their HS or college friends in the last few years. And ask anyone who's been to a HS reunion what has happened to the "standings". Peer pressure can seem overwhelming, but there's nothing cool about being busted for underage possession or drugs, or sleeping around, or staying out all night when you have responsibilities, etc.

Alright, enough for now. The idea is that the future is coming whether you're ready or not. So why not be ready?


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