Preface: This post was first published on LinkedIn in December 2014. It proved to be one of my most popular pieces of writing, racking up more than 10,000 readings and comments. Several of my regular readers have suggested that I republish it annually around this time of the year. Which is what I am now doing. I hope you enjoy and find worthwhile that which I wrote then.
Introduction: Several months ago, my daughter, who is a high school senior, asked me to write to her a “letter of advice at graduation”, as part of an advanced writing and speaking assignment she had been given in English class. I did, and I put a lot of effort into it. Then I promptly put the matter out of my mind. Until today — when I ran across it in my files. Reading it now, it seems almost as though it was written by someone else. Nevertheless, what I wrote still seems to me to be sound advice, clearly generated by a father who loves his daughter(s) very much. So, in uncharacteristic (at least for me) fashion, I propose to share the letter with you, for what it may be worth.
You’re preparing to graduate high school and move on to college and the rest of your life. So, I’d like to share with you some of the hard-won experience I’ve accumulated since being your age and at a similar juncture. I know that I’m your father, and consequently, there is only a very small chance that you will pay any mind to what I say. But in the hope that some small flicker of light may pierce the darkness of teenage obstinacy, I gently offer the following three key recommendations for your consideration:
Texting, Insta-gramming, and Snap-chatting are not writing…
The single most important skill that you will learn during your educational career is how to write well. For no matter what you choose to do with your life, clear and effective communication will prove essential, both in your work and in your personal affairs. Understand that texting and Instagramming are not writing. Most of the time they are not even communicating unless we equate grunting with oratory. Conversely, good writing is not really about grammatical structure, punctilious punctuation, or error-free spelling. These are all niceties to incorporate into your writing, but they are not the flesh and blood of communication. Thought is, and so thinking clearly and well is the handmaiden of writing well, and should not be overlooked.
Questioning is not the same as rejecting out of hand…
Additionally, you need to develop the habit of mind that questions the information, opinion, and pronouncements of all those who style themselves experts, teachers, and mentors — including me. However, keep in mind that questioning is not the same as rejecting out of hand. Some of what you will be told will be factual. Some opinions conveyed to you will be sensible. Some advice offered will be good. And some recommended courses of action sound. Of course, just as much of what is conveyed to you will not be. The neat trick in life is to develop the skills, knowledge base, and discipline of mind to be able to tell which is which.
No mind can develop properly by itself, in an intellectual wilderness…
Finally, as you move into your college years when your intellect will hopefully blossom and mature, you need to find and connect with at least one or two friends with whom you can regularly and without hesitancy share thoughts and opinions, as you learn and expand your knowledge base. For no mind can develop properly by itself, in an intellectual wilderness.
This is not an instance of “do what I say, not what I do.” I personally was very fortunate in my college and university years to have been able to conform to this advice, at least in large measure. The result was an incredibly positive educational experience that I have carried with me to this day. And it is a result that I sincerely and lovingly wish for you. — Dad
Author’s Note: As I mentioned, this was a labor of love, so I will not make the usual appeals for ongoing readership, additional followers, or connections, which are so common on social media. If you have teenage daughters or sons, and what I’ve written here rings true for you and may help them on their way, that is enough for me. — Phil Friedman