There is much that I have learned in my 70 years on earth—most of it in the last 50 years. It’s important for the younger generation to learn of the successes, failures, and history from those who preceded them. I’ll discuss a few of the more important lessons I’ve learned that have enabled me to enjoy a peaceful and prosperous life.
Probably one of the most important lessons is the realization that life is not fair—it never will be. You have to accept this and not blame your circumstances on others. There will always be someone who is smarter, has more money, is more athletic, and better-looking than you. This should not discourage you from putting in the effort to be the best person you can be.
Accept the fact that no one owes you anything. Set goals for yourself, and never give up trying to achieve them. I started life with everything going against me—my parents were teenagers and very poor. When I was 7 years old, we lived in a one-bedroom duplex in Atlanta with no air conditioning or TV. My father was in trouble with the law, and as a result, my parents packed up and left Atlanta. Within a year, they were both in prison, and my sister and I ended up in an orphanage and subsequently raised by our grandparents. With no real father figure in my life, I drifted, not doing well in high school, though I did graduate. I never blamed anyone for this. This brings me to the next lesson learned.
Take control of your life. In my case, at the age of 19—in the middle of the Vietnam War—I made the decision to join the U.S. Marine Corps. The result was that, for the first time, I would have a genuine father figure in my life. He was waiting for me when I got off the bus at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina. My drill instructors taught me much of what I should have been taught in my early teens: Respect your elders, clean up after yourself, make your bed each day, and take pride in yourself. I learned skills I never knew I had. I learned to get along with others no matter their race and religion. I was surprised to learn I was more athletic than I had ever imagined and that I was good at marksmanship. All of these instilled a degree of confidence in me I had never felt before.
One of the more important lessons I learned early in Marine boot camp—and one that I still adhere to today—occurred on the obstacle course on a hot day at Parris Island. Each day, twice a day, we had physical training. There was a 20-foot rope we were expected to climb. With each attempt, using only my arms, I could only climb halfway up. Then one day, as I was about to drop off the rope, the drill instruction said, “Wrap your leg around the rope and stand on it, then use your leg to push your way to the top.” To my amazement, I went up to the top of the rope effortlessly. What I learned was that you can accomplish more than you think you can—it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it. This is a lesson that I have taught many young people over the years. Don’t ever underestimate what you can accomplish.
Another lesson I learned about being successful in life also occurred early in my Marine Corps career. I was a lance corporal (E3) at the time. Lance corporals are known for doing many stupid things on a regular basis. On one occasion, I was caught doing something that I shouldn’t have. I was sent to the sergeant major, and as I stood before him awaiting my punishment, he asked, “What did you do?” I told the truth and admitted what I had done. The sergeant major already knew the truth—he was just waiting to see if I would tell him one of the many lame excuses he had heard over a 20-year career in the Marines. He respected me for telling the truth, and I learned a valuable lesson: Always tell the truth and accept responsibility for your actions. You will respect yourself, and others will respect you.
I learned many skills in the Marines and went on to obtain an electrical engineering degree after I was released from active duty. While I had many skills and technical knowledge, I later learned—the hard way—that I was lacking wisdom. This brings me to my next lesson for success: You should try to gain wisdom at an early age. I didn’t, and as a result,I made many bad decisions. What is wisdom, you might ask, and why is that important?
Wisdom is the right use of knowledge, something that is usually not taught in the universities today. There are many knowledgeable people that teach in the university that are not wise—the universities in America are filled with them. Many young people in public schools and in our universities are being indoctrinated with knowledge that is often not true. If one is not wise, you act on this knowledge, which can lead to disappointment and frustration. You only need to look at what is happening at the riots and protests in many cities to realize many of these people are educated but not wise.
Where does one get wisdom? I would hope you start with your parents and other elders. I was not that fortunate. I began to learn about wisdom in the Marines; they make it painful to make unwise decisions. However, the best source of wisdom is in the Bible. There is no more complete book on learning wisdom than the Bible. You can start with the 10 Commandments, God’s moral law. Without wisdom founded in God’s moral law, no civilization can exist. America was founded on God’s moral law. There is no future for America without it. Freedom, the cornerstone of the American way of life, was founded in God’s moral law. Dennis Prager said, “Without wisdom, you will do nothing meaningful in life or at worst something evil.” Gain wisdom and make it a key aspect of your daily life.
In summary, life is not fair. Accept that and don’t be envious of what others have. God blesses us all in different ways, and the opportunities ahead of you are endless regardless of your race or religion. Take control of your life and start doing something meaningful. You are capable of achieving more than you may ever have imagined. Set goals for yourself and strive to achieve them. Always tell the truth and accept responsibility for your actions. Lastly, gain wisdom. Filter your knowledge through the lens of wisdom in all that you do.
These are but a few of the lessons that have served me well over the years, as I rose from poverty and a difficult childhood to ultimately achieve the American dream. If you do this, you can also succeed and find a level of peace and prosperity in your life few people will ever realize.
Dear Next Generation: Keep a Journal
Effective communication is the key to success, my college journalism professor told our class. It was a challenging statement to me as a freshman public relations major. Since that time, I have tried to be sensitive with the words I express to others. Over the years, I have found that keeping a personal journal is a good practice for helping me to express the right words.
My grandmothers introduced me to journaling when I was young. Both grandmothers kept diaries that I treasure today. Their words are part of my history and give me inspiration. One grandmother wrote joyful words in her diary on the day I was born and on my wedding day. I know by reading these journal entries that the highlights of her life were expressed in her diaries.
My other grandmother kept a journal when she was in her 80s. Her journal entries were often about current events. She read the newspaper daily cover to cover. One entry said only, “If you don’t have anything good to say, then don’t say anything at all.” A good reminder that unkind words can hurt others’ feelings.
Journals are the space to get thoughts out of your head and on paper, where you can analyze them. Before you express your thoughts on social media, write them in your journal first. An unclear stream of consciousness written in your journal can help you gain clarity before sharing your thoughts through texts, tweets, or with Facebook friends.
King Solomon—a ruler of ancient Israel—has often been referred to as the wisest man who ever lived. He wrote the Book of Proverbs in the Bible. The dictionary describes a proverb as a short saying that expresses some obvious truth. Proverbs 10:19 says: The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.
You can choose brevity as a way to express yourself. An example of word brevity is a haiku, an Asian art form that completes a thought in three lines. There are five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line.
Here’s an example:
Writing is freedom.
Journaling helps clear your head
of thoughts great and small.
Once a year, review your journal entries. Some days, your thoughts will be brilliant and should be saved for your grandchildren. Other times, your journaling will record the restlessness that you were feeling. Both writings are meaningful reflections for maturity and growth.
Journaling has taught me to express my thoughts in words and to be more thoughtful with the words I express to others. My hope for the next generation is that journaling gives them a safe place to process words, so that they can become successful communicators.
Leslie Stewart, Georgia
What advice would you like to give to the younger generations?
We call on all of our readers to share the timeless values that define right and wrong, and pass the torch, if you will, through your wisdom and hard-earned experience. We feel that the passing down of this wisdom has diminished over time, and that only with a strong moral foundation can future generations thrive.
Send your advice, along with your full name, state, and contact information to NextGeneration@epochtimes.com or mail it to: Next Generation, The Epoch Times, 229 W. 28th St., Floor 7, New York, NY 10001