Dear Next Generation: ‘Find a Passion’

March 30, 2021 Updated: March 30, 2021

My Advice for Young People

At the age of 63, I have solid, direct advice to young people to obtain the greatest rewards from life. First, don’t expect to walk on a plush, red carpet every day.

You and only you are in charge of your life, not your parents, friends, or teachers, though their influence plays a critical role. Somewhere along the time growing up, I assume you learned the basics of right and wrong and avoided the slippery slope into crime, violence, and alcohol and drug abuse—obviously a recipe for a horrible life.

However, being engaged in satisfying one’s curiosity by climbing the highest tree, bicycling a hundred miles, damming up a stream (regrettably, I caused a neighbor’s basement to flood doing this!), watching trains operate at a nearby railroad yard, and noting what happens to a penny placed on the tracks, along with other countless real-world adventures are essential experiences.

Additionally, find a passion! I happened to love natural science and collected butterflies, had a science laboratory in my basement, and built a telescope. Maybe you collected rare books, love ancient history, have a passion for art, love working with tools, enjoy religious activities, gourmet cooking, or writing—perhaps keeping a journal. Hobbies are rewarding, educational, energize responsibility, and teach discipline, which is the ultimate key to a good life. Combining your passion in a manner that generates economic rewards adds further motivational incentives.

Do you enjoy sports? Team activities and competition are great for our physical, emotional, and psychological health as well as helping us set goals, another major ingredient for success. And how about music? Whether playing an instrument or simply cherishing the sounds, music has a positive influence on nearly everyone. And by all means, travel! Experiencing varieties of places, people, and cultures is incredibly stimulating and mind-broadening.

Work! My first experience operating a business was selling lemonade for a nickel a cup to supplement my 25 cents a week allowance. At the age of 8, I quickly learned that money has value based on work productivity. Then one day I asked the high school football coach what he would pay me to pick up trash after games. Wow! I made $5 a week plus change that dropped in the soil under the bleachers. By age 10, I was making $17 a month delivering newspapers and saved up for a camera, which led to my lifetime passion for photography and economic prosperity. During my teens, I mowed lawns, painted houses, raked leaves, and worked in restaurants while improving my photography.

So what role does formal education play in your life? Certainly, all should work hard to achieve whether in the classroom or not, but don’t depend on the classroom solely to move you forward. In fact, going deep into debt for college could set you behind substantially, plus four years of lost earnings, therefore choose your major wisely. Do depend on your life experiences, your moral integrity, and your determination.

Here are the priorities:

1. Take nothing more seriously than your health. You have little without good health! Being healthy, living longer, and saving a fortune on health care only make sense.

2. Maintain love in your life from romantic love to the love of family and friends. A happy social life is crucial for optimum health in all areas!

3. Follow your passions over money. When you are naturally talented at something you enjoy, pursue it and the cash will flow.

4. Wealth accumulation is about proper money management, not big salaries! The finance game is not hard to win despite seemingly every entity trying to take what you earn. There are simple, cardinal rules as follows:

Always pay yourself first every month no matter the sacrifice. Live at least 10 percent below your means forever. Avoid or eliminate debt ASAP. Learn safe places to invest in your 401k and Roth IRA making the “magic of compound interest” gradually replace work income. Hire a trusted, qualified professional if not comfortable doing it yourself.

And last but not least, always engage in fun and humor. I didn’t place a live snake in my fourth-grade teacher’s tissue box for nothing!

James Steamer, Pennsylvania

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Dear Next Generation:

One fact I have learned repeatedly in my life and career is—you can’t pass on experience. You can talk about a job and you may be able to show it. But until the recipient dives in and has their own experience, the new information—what you went through—does not really transfer.

At age 27 as a rising talent in operations in the steel industry, I was assigned to the No. 1 trainer to become a melting supervisor, the person whose crew ran the 225-ton, 2900 F furnaces with their raw materials and refining process that produced the chemical and physical specifications ordered by the ultimate customer.

The two of us, trainer John, and trainee Ron, could not have been more different. He came through the crew and had seen everything. I was five years out of college and had seen very little of note in my previous two years in the department. I was not a metallurgist. He was a thorough, knowledgeable teacher while I was an eager but green student. The scenario is part of what shapes my own advice here and had a major impact on the many opportunities I had to pass on “my experience.”

The key points were these. I followed John around for three weeks taking notes, listening to him, watching what he did, absorbing everything. Then he followed me around for two weeks while I was doing his part of the job, gently guiding me in his image. The one indelible, unforgettable thing he said to me along the way was, “Do exactly as I told you unless you have a really good reason to do something different.” I went off on my own and I remember thinking, “I am going to add this alloy to the batch” in a given situation but then I realized I was taught and told to follow my training and mostly because I did not have a good reason to do otherwise.   

To our young people I say, “Soak up the knowledge of your trainer—there was a reason they were assigned to shape you.” When this person crosses your path, hang on for the ride and consider yourself fortunate for this opportunity—not to know their experience—but for them starting you on yours.

When you get the opportunity to do the same, there is great personal and professional satisfaction in so doing.  Even today, half a century later, I reflect back on my life experiences. I still treasure my successful time making steel that could not have happened any other way.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years in many sales, marketing, and operational scenarios I have followed John’s single enduring priceless piece of advice. I now pass it on. “Do as you are taught unless you have a really good reason to do something different.” Companies need a succession of good people. Embrace your chance to be one of those good people with your career having been “jump-started” by sound advice.

Ron Hart, Pennsylvania

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Dear Next Generation,

Set personal goals and don’t be a victim. Whether it’s because you are older or younger, a man or woman, a different race, perceive you are poor, or are not given that which you think you are entitled to. We are all struggling with something.

Growing up in London seven years after World War II ended, I had never heard the word “entitled.” We were grateful—grateful for friends and neighbors—and shared what we had. We happily unraveled knitted sweaters to make new ones, cut up flouncy dresses to make skirts and darned nylons. Scarlett wasn’t the only one making dresses from curtains! It wasn’t until I was 16 that my mother acquired a washing machine. Unfortunately, the washed clothes still had to be rinsed in the sink.

The latest Texas storm reminded me of the cold London winters with no heat in the bedroom, frost on the inside of the windows, and we wore layers of clothing to bed and cuddled a hot water bottle at night. Life was hard, but we didn’t know it. And we all had goals. These goals were for us to achieve, not to expect others to give to us.

I was in my late 20s when I had the opportunity to move to California. I thought it would be like the Doris Day movies, wardrobes full of clothes, summers at the country club, weekends in a mountain cabin, backyards with swimming pools. But I soon learned that all these came with hefty debt and I chose to live frugally as I had in England and apart from a mortgage, I saved for anything I wanted or needed.

So, my advice for the next generation is to have goals. Not a dream, but a goal that you can plan for and work toward within a specific time period. You may not accomplish it in the way you thought you might, but keep going.

Cherish simple things, a family get-together, a walk in the park, or coffee with friends.

Although there are times when you may have to incur some debt, only do this as a last resort and not for frivolous things (save for those). Then plan to pay it back as quickly as possible. With limited income as a single parent, I was able to pay off a mortgage in eight years. I put together an Excel spreadsheet and added every extra cent I earned toward my goal (I saved thousands in interest).

Set up a budget. This doesn’t have to be restrictive, but more about being aware of where your money is going.

Be kind and help others. My family was always willing to lend a hand, whether it be to railway workers when a train derailed by making and handing out soup on a cold night, helping at events for the blind, and in later years knitting hats for newborn children at local hospitals.

Don’t look at what anyone else is doing. It doesn’t matter if someone has a newer car, more clothes, expensive toys. You’re not going to keep up with the Kardashians, and honestly, who would want to?

Ann Summerville, Texas

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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