In my 22 years, I’ve gotten around a fair bit. I’ve been to 5 continents, 16 countries, and countless cities. I’ve met people from all walks of life – rich, poor, old, young, bold, shy, gay, straight, liberal, conservative, married, single, the works. And, while I’m certainly no expert on either success or people, I have learned a few things in my wanderings. Here are 10 pieces of advice that I would share with America if I could.
10) Learn your history and geography! No one expects you to know everything about the past and present world – that would be rather excessive, and there are plenty of better things to spent your time on, rather than memorizing boring facts and figures. But come on people, when a large percentage, perhaps even the majority, of young Americans can’t name most of the states that make up their own country, or don’t know that the Nazis oppressed the Jews in World War II, or think that Mexicans speak Mexican, you’ve got to admit that there’s a problem. The single biggest reason that I have come across in my travels as to why foreigners dislike Americans, is because of their ignorance. We are not the only people on the planet, and it’s time that we started acting like that! Wake up, open your eyes and ears, and get informed about the world around you. People will take you so much more seriously if you do.
9) Travel. Yes, I know that travelling is expensive. I know that it’s time-consuming. I know that it’s hard and puts you out of your comfort zone. But that’s exactly why it’s so important. You don’t have to go to the other side of the world, you don’t have to be gone for months on end. You would be amazed how even just a week in a Latin American country could change you. So skimp on the coffee. Skip going to the movies a few times. Walk or bike when you can instead of driving. Look for scholarships. Do fundraising. Do whatever you have to do to get there. Experiencing another culture is the best way to have an awareness of the big, beautiful world in which we live, the best way to fully realize that we are not the only country in the world. It’s the best way – perhaps the only way, to have a balanced worldview, a worldview that accepts others for who they are, even if they are different from you.
8) Be sensitive to cultural differences.
Of course, if you travel with the assumption that everyone else in the world is automatically inferior to you, that kind of defeats the purpose of traveling. In Costa Rica doors are always left open, and people just walk into each others’ houses to greet them. In Spain you could know someone your entire life and never be invited to their home. In America there is no cultural protocol for giving gifts, but in South Korea it is considered enormously rude to give or accept something with a single hand. Cultural differences exist. And just because someone does something differently than you, that doesn’t make it wrong. Instead of assuming that they should change their habits to be like you, maybe you should take a step back and give their way a chance. Especially if you’re living in their country. Probably the second biggest reason that foreigners hate Americans is because they often don’t care what the social protocol is; they’re going to do things their own way, period. Come on, people. You would want them to change if they were in America; you should do the same when you are in their country. So be respectful, accept cultural differences, and don’t dig in your heels and insist on doing things your way. Even if you don’t understand why what you’re doing is wrong or upsetting, just accept that it is, and try to be understanding.
7) Don’t tell yourself that you can’t do something. What you can or cannot do is a largely self-fulling prophecy. If you are convinced that you cannot excel in school, then you probably won’t. If you don’t think you can get a better job than working the customer service counter in Dillards, then that’s most likely as far as you’ll go. However, if you go into it determined to succeed, then that’s probably exactly what you will do. Make your goals way higher than you think you could ever possibly reach. W. Clement Stone said this: “Aim for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Humans have built skyscrapers, they have walked on the moon, they have cured countless diseases, they have created complex computers and solved impossible algorithms. We were not made for small things. So don’t limit yourself! Pick a goal wayyyy higher than you think you could ever even hope to achieve, and then go for it with everything you have. If you make it, good for you! But even if you don’t, you’ll still have gone much farther than most people.
6) That brings me to my next point. Don’t stop. The easiest way to get stuck in a rut is to stop learning, to stop trying. Even if you don’t know exactly where you want to go in your life, do something. Apply for college, try to get scholarships, go to trade school, travel, get a job, try out a new hobby….it doesn’t really matter what you do. Just do something! The more you do, the easier it will be to narrow down what interests you and what doesn’t. Don’t think that if you follow a path that turns out to not be your cup of tea, that you will be stuck doing that for the rest of your life. It’s much easier to change the direction of a moving ship than a stationary one. As long as you are going somewhere, you will be able to find new doors that are more suited to your temperament and goals.
5) Laugh things off. When I was young, my mom would always complain that being around me was like walking on eggshells – I was so sensitive, no one ever knew what would set me off. I always insisted that it wasn’t my fault – they were the ones who were always so rude! If they would only stop being so inconsiderate, I wouldn’t get so angry and offended! But as I grew up, I finally realized that I can’t change what other people do. I am only responsible for myself. And being happy is a far more pleasant way to pass your life than the opposite. So get a thick skin – don’t get upset when people insult you, don’t yell when nasty stereotypes are thrown in your face, don’t assume people are always out to get you. This way, you can be joyful regardless of what’s going on around you – your happiness won’t be dependent on others. An added bonus of that is that people generally try to be nicer to happy people, which would make your laughing things off and staying happy even easier! 🙂
4) Find good friends. I’m often criticized by people who hear my philosophy on friendship. Basically, I will be nice to you, I will do my best to not insult you (both intentionally and unintentionally), but unless our personalities “click” and our relationship is edifying to each other, we’re not going to become very good friends. Many people say that I’m too judgmental, that I should be friends with people who are different from me. And that I do. But here’s the rub. We are all only given 24 hours in a day, and many many things to do within that time. If you don’t use your time wisely, you will end up wasting your life. And you do not have time to waste on people who cause drama and worry and are always bringing you down. Of course everyone has their moments; but if you consistently find yourself in stressful or uncomfortable situations with friends of yours, it’s probably time to find new friends.
3) Develop good habits. There’s a saying that says, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” Busy people are busy because they have learned how to manage their time, and thus are able to accomplish a lot. Lazy people get nothing done because they have no self-discipline. Don’t be one of those people. Go to the gym, eat right, manage your time, make to-do lists and check them off, learn a language, pick up a new hobby; whatever your method may be, find a way to develop good habits and become a disciplined person. I don’t mean become a straight-laced dictator; but rather just someone who is able to get things done because they know how to prioritize and manage their time.
2) Do uncomfortable things – often. I have frequently been told by people who hear about my year in Korea, that they would never be able to do what I have done. Living on the other side of the world for a year, not speaking the language, teaching almost 400 students with no prior teaching experience, eating strange foods, living with a family with whom I cannot communicate….it’s just too difficult! Yes, it is difficult, no argument there….but that’s exactly why you need to do it! Now, I realize that my situation is a bit extreme and not applicable to everyone. But you can still find things to do that make you uncomfortable. So enroll in a class to learn something that you’ve never done before. Take a homeless person out to lunch. Go on a random road trip with no plans and no map. Befriend someone who has a different worldview or background than you. Uncomfortable situations are how we grow. If you are always in your own little bubble of comfort, then you will never progress to bigger things. Plus, you’ll never know what you may like until you try it!1) Get to know Jesus. Ahh, here it is – I can’t keep a post entirely devoid of Jesus! 😉 At the end of the day, Jesus is what will give you true purpose in your life. Really, it doesn’t matter what you know, what you do, or where you go; if you don’t know Jesus, it’s not going to matter in the end. But don’t take my word for it – or the word of anyone else, whether they call themselves a Christian or not. Get to know Him for yourself – search the scriptures, pray, and decide for yourself whether He’s someone that you want to have a relationship with. Jesus is the best thing that will ever happen to you. Don’t let some flawed human convince you otherwise.