Advice to my nephew on becoming a man

W. Thomas Smith, Jr
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Posted: Jun 11, 2007 12:02 AM
Advice to my nephew on becoming a man

Dear Michael,

Watching you grow into a man has been nothing less than humbling: joyous in ways almost impossible to describe, yet somehow wishing you were still the little boy who once traipsed with me through the woods and was content to draw pictures or listen to my simple versions of stories about the great people of history.

You always listened eagerly, asked lots of questions, and took heed when I explained some of the things of this world you needed to be aware of: The things you should prepare for. The realities you might expect. And what it would take for you to succeed in whatever you chose to do.

Now that you have graduated from high school and are beginning college and Naval ROTC, I hope you will listen to me again in the same way you did as a boy.

The advice I am about to give you is the same as I’ve always given in the sense that it is freely given from an uncle and a godfather who truly loves you like a son. But it is different in that it is specifically meant for you at 18, and about to take your rightful place in the world … and in the company of men.

The 25 points of young adulthood:

1. Pursue your college degree with a feverish commitment to the fact that there is nothing more important, more personally defining, and more necessary to who and what you will ultimately be in life. This commitment and pursuit to become a college graduate should come before all others, because without a college degree in the 21st century you may be destined for mediocrity at best.

2. If after a semester or so of ROTC, you choose to become an officer – I’ll need to write you an entirely new set of guidelines specifically for leadership – be the best officer and leader you can be: Always put your mission first. Those under your command should also be a priority seconded only to the mission (Do everything you can to protect your charges and see to their well-being). Look to yourself last. That doesn’t mean neglect your needs: You’re no good to anyone unless you take care of yourself. Just remember: Mission first, then the men, then you.

3. Exercise your body everyday.

4. Like your body, your brain needs exercise and stimulation. Read everyday, and not just simple material or books and articles you want to read. You should READ UP everyday. In other words, read books and articles that are personally challenging or difficult: Things that will force you to work your brain, think, and learn.

5. Take care of your soul. Meditate and pray to God deeply everyday. Don’t just do it while you’re taking a shower or stuck in traffic. Take some time in the early part of the day while you are still fresh and with energy, go to a private place, bow your head, and pray devoutly. Then you can have shorter conversations with God as the day progresses. Taking care of the soul also stimulates the body and mind in ways you cannot begin to imagine.

6. Do something kind for someone everyday, and do it in secret. It should be an act of love and humility known only to you and God. This should be done independent of other acts of kindness which you should do daily. Always give something of yourself to others less fortunate than you (remembering that most people in the world are not nearly as fortunate as you, but they are just as valuable). And don’t just give to those whom you hope might be able to reciprocate. If you do these things, in time you will begin to develop an aura of kindness and compassion that others of like hearts and souls will be drawn to.

7. Contribute in some way to your community. Set the example.

8. Breathe life everyday: Watch the birds. Notice the color of the grass after a rain. Pay attention to the architectural details of old buildings and bridges. Drive out to the country late at night and look at the stars. Go Hiking. Cook bacon over a wood fire. Throw a football. Shoot a gun. Row a canoe. Watch a ballgame without obsessing over it. Attend a play. Draw or paint a picture. Read poetry. Enjoy music. Plant a tree. Pot some flowers. Play with children. Talk with elderly people. If your girlfriend or wife is sitting on the sofa and reading, move over next to her, smell her hair, feel her warmth, appreciate her as God’s gift to you. Go for a drive, park your car, get out and walk to a church during the middle of the day when there are no services and the pews are empty, take a seat and sit very quietly. As my friend Joe Pinner, a 40-plus year anchor/broadcaster for NBC-affiliate WIS-TV in Columbia, S.C., always says, "Don't postpone joy."

9. Never lie, cheat, steal, or deliberately hurt others (even if they’ve hurt you). Never make promises that you do not intend to keep. Most people say “promises you cannot keep.” I say “promises you do not intend to keep.” There is a big difference: Some circumstances out of our control may prevent us from honoring our best intentions. That cannot be helped. However, if a promise is broken for reasons beyond our control, we must repair it with something of equal or greater value.

10. Don’t despair over things you cannot control, and never give up. If you suffer a career, financial, or personal setback, put it behind you and move forward. If the setback is reparable, fix it. If it is not, learn from it and move forward. As Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

11. Be slow to anger, even slower to physical violence. In fact, avoid violence at nearly all costs; the exception being in defense of yourself or others when danger is at the door.

12. If you do find yourself in a position of having to defend yourself or others from the wolf at the door, don’t scrap with the wolf. Don’t toy with it: Destroy it.

13. Forgive others, and accept the fact that people (sometimes those you love) are going to betray or lie to you. Forgive them even if they don’t see the error of their ways. Retribution and hate will only sap your own energy and degrade you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That said, never let others take advantage of your forgiveness.

14. Avoid mediocrity like the proverbial plague: Never listen to anyone who dismisses your good efforts, or tries to sabotage your accomplishments by saying your working hours are too long or your competitive spirit too keen. Deep down many of those people would love to see you marginalized and brought down to their level, thus justifying their own mediocrity. They are afraid of your success: It fuels their own guilt for not striving hard enough to realize their own dreams of success.

15. Don't be afraid to dream. Ideas and concepts are incubated in dreams. But don't fall into the trap of being a dreamer and not a doer.

16. Always be organized. Never procrastinate. Do not waste time on mindless trivialities that have no benefit. And meet your deadlines. Time wasted is time you will never be able to retrieve. Napoleon once said to a courier, “Go sir, gallop, and don't forget that the world was made in six days. You can ask me for anything you like, except time.”

17. Embrace competition and new technologies. Both will keep you in the game.

18. Always think outside and in front of your career. Fighter pilots often talk about having to think outside and in front of their aircraft. The reason? The plane is moving so fast that it could outpace the pilot’s own ability to control it. Benjamin Franklin said it best: “Drive thy business or it will drive thee.”

19. Never sell yourself short. Don’t work for free, and don’t be afraid to ask for a raise when you know you deserve it.

20. Don’t be afraid to take risks or summon the courage to do what you know to be right and good, even if in doing you risk being physically, emotionally, socially, or financially injured or condemned by others. As a young Marine rifle squad leader, one of the first things I learned about courage is that real courage is not without real fear. We are all afraid of something, and there is nothing wrong with that. But the difference between a brave man and a coward is that a brave man will do what he knows to be right and what must be done despite his fear.

21. If you have something to say, say it. But don’t shoot from the hip: Know what you are talking about. Also, talk less and listen more, always.

22. Don’t confuse arrogance or dominance with confidence. That is how a child perceives his or her own confidence.

23. Be proud, but never to the point of conceit or vanity.

24. Always protect your honor. It is, as Continental Army Col. John Lamb once said, “the only jewel worth contending for.”

25. You’ve heard the cliché, “Remember where you come from.” It’s cliché because it’s important enough to have been repeated countless times. You’re an American. You’re free. You have the means to make your own way in the world. You have people who love and respect you. And you’re my nephew.

Never forget these things.

Love and respect,
Uncle Tom