Seldom do I ever write a column to a specific age group, nor do I try to dispense advice to folks when I am not qualified or trained to do so. I do have opinions, as does any decent wordsmith, and I do share them in various ways with those who choose to give me the time of day in reading my work. I have had some training in counseling services associated with the ministry that I served in for so many years of my professional career, but in no way do I think myself wise enough to help chart the course of most lives.
When it comes to the teens in my own life and those who are the grandchildren, nieces and nephews of other relatives or close friends, I do care enough to try to help. Most of you that have read my work for any length of time know that Ted, my husband, and I are rearing my eldest grandson, Steven, who is a senior in high school this year and on track to graduate in late May or early June. When my last adult child left home, I thought I was through parenting and that I would never have to deal again with “Can I drive the car tonight?” or “May I please have $20 to go out to eat with my friends,” or “Here is my report card. I did well.”
Life throws curves, and it is better if we try to catch them and make them score as well as we can. With that being said, I learned so much during the Christmas break when Brendan, Steven’s brother, was in the hospital for a collapsed lung. We had long conversations while I sat at his bedside when we could convince my daughter to leave to eat or take a short break. These kids have a lot to say, many questions to ask, and so much more intelligence than we ever give them credit for having at their ages. These conversations caused me to start thinking what I wished they knew at their tender ages.
If I had the power to convey to each of the kids that I love so dearly (and to yours, too, if possible) some basic rules or facts that could change their lives, here is where I would start: Decide on a job or skill or profession that you really love doing and seek that out for your life. A very wise man once told me, “Brenda, choose a job you love and you’ll never have to go to work a day in your life.” I have done that in writing in one way or another for these five decades since I first heard that advice and I admit, I love my job today more than I ever have. I now know from life’s experiences that time flies by and that if I am going to accomplish anything worthwhile in the years I have left, I must get busy.
Don’t chain yourself to a major in college that you are not really interesting in performing. Find something you really want to do and remain true to yourself. What is right for one person is not right for another. Just because your dad and granddad were firefighters does not necessarily mean you should be a firefighter. Making the right choice in the beginning to use the talent God gave you certainly helps to guarantee that you won’t wake up one morning 15 years down the trail and think, “Why am I doing this? I hate it and always have.”
My second piece of advice is one I have always tried to implement in my life. Don’t be fearful to ask questions if you don’t know the answers or you want help in understanding something. Some people are so fearful of having people think they are “dumb” or “ignorant” that they simply pretend to know the answer when in realty, they’ve never learned the truth about a subject, tried an experiment, or had training in an area. When the rubber meets the road, they are at a loss and then have to ask for that help that would have been so much better to possess in the beginning.
We are all very good in some things and not very learned in others. Admit that to yourself and make a list of your strengths and weaknesses. Go to a person who is good in the area you are interested in and ask for help and teaching. Chances are that the individual will be honored that you have askws. A man once chided me for not knowing something about a mechanical situation that I had never had reason to learn. I thought for a moment and then asked him what type of chocolate frosting he preferred making. “Do you use granulated sugar or confectioner’s?” I asked ever so innocently. He looked at me dumbfounded for a moment and then began to smile. I let him know I could bake a chocolate cake that he would want to devour, and that I was good at that, even if I did not know mechanics. He got the drift and we became friends.
Third piece of advice would be this: Be willing to explore new paths and walk toward exciting opportunities. We all harbor fears of failure, and none want to be embarrassed if it can be avoided. As a child, I suffered fear of failure or opening myself up for more hurt because of some unusual home situations. I needed a little help in realizing that I had potential and was as good as anyone else.
Thank God, I had a tough old teacher who gave me the push that made be start believing in myself and started me on a writing career. I will never forget the day that Erma Nowell, English teacher supreme and counselor for our school yearbook and newspaper, took me into her little supply closet, and said, “Look, Brenda, you have talent and you need to be using it. I want two columns by Friday, please, for the newspaper and then I want you to get started on the yearbook plans.” No one I knew was brave enough to argue with Mrs. Nowell, especially when she had that big wooden ruler nearby. So, I wrote the two columns and had a blast and I found my place and have been working ever since that day when I was 14 years old.
The next rule is very simple: Don’t be lazy. Let’s start with, “Get out of bed at a decent hour,” and end with “Never say it’s not my job.” Having had people working under my direction for many years, the one thing I could not or would not tolerate is the “It’s not my job” attitude. If you are on the team, you play any position that’s needed, and you play it to the best of your ability.
I challenge every teen reading this column today and every parent, grandparent, guardian and counselor to take a few moments and think about these four simple statements and see where you are at the beginning of the New Year. We’re really never too old to learn or teach, so let’s get busy. Our young people need us, and guess what, our older ones do, too. Happy New Year.
“… if any would not work, neither should he eat,” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). “Iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend,” (Proverbs 27:17).
Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.