An Open Letter to my Brother, the graduate

by talkbackty on Jun 3, 2011

This is a letter to my brother. Who graduates from high school next week.

It is also a letter to myself. Who will graduate from college in a few months.

Both will forgive its length.


You may think that I'm a little young to be dispensing the advice I'm about to. Advice ranging from the relatively pointless to the (assumed) importance. I know for a fact that mom and dad will think I'm too young to be talking about things in such a way. Something that everyone will have to learn:

I'm old enough to feel old.

You and I were never particularly close. Unless one counts close as the incessant fear I continually struck into you while you were growing up. Which leads to the first life lesson I have for you...

1. Shit rolls down hill. Dad terrified me. I terrified you. You terrified Kelly (our sister). She didn't have anyone to terrify so she attempts to throw it back at you when she can. It's important to know that rarely will you ever be on the top of anything. Someone will always be smarter than you. Someone will always be better than you. Someone will always be faster, stronger, quicker than you. No innate ability that you have will propel you to the top of anything. It would be best to learn this quickly because...

2. Effort will overcome talent every time. You were blessed to be raised in the family you were. We were well off, but that's not what I mean. Both our parents were college graduates. Education, while never overbearingly stressed, was always going to happen. You owe all your natural gifts to our parents. Both genetically and environmentally. You and I both squander them too often. Which is why, in a world where our talents will never make us the best at anything, it is so important for you to put all your effort into the tasks you are trying to accomplish. That is the only way you will be able to rise from the mediocrity surrounding you and stand out. Keep working at life, it's not going to let you skate by.

3. People can be terrible. I don't know much about your friends. I don't know much about your love life. I do know a thing or two about this...people can be terrible. They can or will hurt you very deeply at some point in your life. The ones that aren't in your immediate field of influence will not blink an eye at your misfortunes, your hardships, or your trials. And I don't know if they should...I just know that it doesn't feel good. When people are terrible to, or around, you try not to take it too personally. If you figure out how to do this, tell me how.

4. Be kind. Too many people live in a bubble. Buffered by their own fears and defenses and remoteness. Whenever you can, be different. Accept who people are and do not judge them for their faults. Do not assume that because of your upbringing or you current status that anyone is lower in importance than you.

"The great challenge of being a human is comprehending that everyone else is human and is stuck inside of their own brains just as you are stuck inside of yours, and that all of them are also frightened and excited and desperately searching for friends and lovers and everything else." -John Green

5. You will get out of things as much as you are willing to put into them. While I would like to say that the world always works in a karmic fashion, I can't say for certain that it does. I do know that when you put effort into a project it will always turn out better than if you did not. Nothing will ever turn out as good as it could have without effort on your behalf. Things don't fall into anyone's laps. And if they do...

6. Never get to full of yourself. You are a collection of other people. The words you speak you learned from others. The skills you have you learned from others. 99% of what we do is not original. You owe everything you have, say, or do to other people. Most of what happens to us is luck because...

7. You are not in control. No matter what you try to convince yourself of. No matter what app you have for that, what new planner you buy, what you wish and hope for. You are not in control. I'm sorry. It's a tough one to learn. Whether it's God, or the Universe, or the Force- something is going on outside of your control. As far as I can tell IT does not care about you or your Google calender. That's okay if you...

8. Learn to accept things/people as they are. Don't try and change things that much. If you've got a plan then so do they, and as I've said- your plans don't matter anyways.

9. Breath. Most things in this world can be accomplished if you take a moment to calm yourself beforehand. Take as deep a breath as you can, let it fill your stomach and chest. Exhale. Repeat as necessary. Nothing will help you more as you encounter this world. Deep breaths are the universe's saving grace.

10. Stretch. I can't speak much for exercise. Others who are thinner and healthier than me can tell you all the benefits of that. However, become flexible. Nothing is worse than a tight body. It will cause you stress when you wake, when you go out into the world, and when you return to bed. Stretch every limb as often as you can. You'll thank me for it in 20 years.

11. Take walks. If breathing is the saving grace then walking is grace's best friend. Do both in tandem and you'll have a ball. Honestly. This world is a gorgeous place, you should be outside walking around and seeing it. It can clear your mind, relieve stress, and solve most emotional problems. Which brings me to...

12. Always swallow your pride to say you’re sorry. Being too proud to apologize is never worth it - your relationship suffers for no good benefit. If you have yet to learn this lesson then take it from me. I've ruined all my relationships, in one way or another, because of my pride. Say you're sorry. And when you say it, mean it. That takes...

13. Become happy with who you are. This is a life-long goal for most people. It doesn't have to be. Smile. Find the joy in little moments. Accept yourself, who you are, and what you do.

14. Slow down. This is even more valuable for you and I than the previous generations. Society is trying to pull you in a thousand different directions. Show you millions of different things. Again, breathe. Things society has to offer can wait. Most can be ignored entirely. You can have a perfectly happy life if you learn to tune out all the stimuli around you. Your emails can wait. Your text messages can go unanswered. Your facebook feed will always be there. Instead...

15. Be present. Open your eyes to the world. The world, not society. They are different. Learn to understand this difference. The only moments that matter are the ones going on right now. Take in all that you can because it is gone in an instant. There is no rewinding, no fast-forwarding. We are all slaves to the river of time. Enjoy the journey it takes you on.

16. Do not talk about Fight Club. That was a joke. Just making sure you are still around.

17. Get some perspective. Maybe that means travel, maybe it means becoming more aware of your surroundings. There is more to this life than your perspective on it. When you come to a problem do not be afraid to look at it from a view you've never had before. In every aspect of life, this will help you. But I'd suggest...

18. Travel. Nothing will give you perspective so quickly and in such abundance.

"No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection" -Patrick Rothfuss

19. Nothing you learn in school is that great. At the best, they can teach you to love learning. To show you things you've never seen before. To remind you of how small you are and how large the world is. At the worse...they can do far more harm. Which means you have to...

20. Learn things on your own. Soon enough you'll be asked to pick a major and then a job and then a million other things. Your major will be next to pointless. Read books, learn from others who love to teach, learn by fire. This is where the internet will come in handy. Use it wisely. The diploma they hand you next week and the one you will get from college is exactly what it appears to be...a piece of paper.

21. Don't drink. I mean this as much as I mean anything. There is nothing good about alcohol. And if you understand this list you'll realize that alcohol is just a poor tool people use in hope of doing some of these things. I have never met a man or woman I liked drunk. Go to enough gatherings sober and you will realize this even quicker.

22. Create. I don't know what your great at. Maybe you don't know yet. But you'll find it with time. Whether it's a product or service for people to buy, artwork to entertain, an invention that helps, or children to love and cherish. Create. We need to do it. Learn what you can create and never stop. It can be tangible or something more. Love and laughter is something the world could use a lot more of. If in doubt...try to create some of that.

I borrowed some ideas here and there. I cited some. Others have become so ingrained in me that it would be irrelevant to cite them at all. It is far from comprehensive. I am, admittedly, very stupid. I know a microscopic amount. I wanted to share what little I have in hopes that it will remind us both to keep searching for more.

Know that I love you. Not in a way that I love anything else. Familial bonds can be strange and powerful things. I don't understand them. Nor can I describe them.

Just know that we will always be here,