Dear Cameron Charles Yarbrough:
It is a new year and once again an opportunity for me to share some thoughts with you as you face a future that is going to be full of challenges. But, then, all futures are challenging because they are filled with unknowns. What counts is how you deal with those challenges.
First off, take nothing for granted including life itself. When you are young, the assumption is that whatever you didn’t get done today you can make it up tomorrow. There are no guarantees that there will be a tomorrow. Every day is a precious gift. Don’t waste a single one.
Be the best you can be at whatever you choose to do. Pursue excellence. But don’t try to live up to other people’s expectations. Be self-motivated and keep raising the bar yourself. There is no finish line.
Be able to look yourself in the eye at the end of each day and tell yourself you did your best. It may not have been good enough but in your heart you will know it was your best effort and that is what matters.
If you break it, own it. I’m not talking about dropping a doodad in a gift shop. I am talking about making a mistake. We all make them but what is important is how we deal with those mistakes. Remember Grandma Jane’s admonition: You are free to do whatever you choose to do in life. You just have to be prepared to deal with the consequences of your decisions. If it was a bad decision, don’t make excuses, try to rationalize it or blame someone else. Learn from it and don’t do it again.
Your last name honors your great-great grandfather who was one of the most principled men you could ever have known. Please don’t do anything that would sully his memory. If your name is in the paper, be sure it is for something good you have accomplished and not for something that would embarrass us and bring dishonor to the family and to a man we loved and admired.
Don’t try to be popular with your peers because you want to be liked. Be yourself and you will find out who your friends really are and that they will like you for who you are. There will be those who don’t have your motivation or your abilities and will try to drag you down to their level. Don’t let them. Don’t be a follower.
Be careful what comes out of your mouth. Don’t brag when you have success or whine when you don’t. Avoid hyperbole. And keep your language decent. You can make your point without taking God’s name in vain, throwing in a reference to excrement or using the f-word. It is not necessary and it makes you look like an inarticulate hoodlum.
I hope you will say “Yes ma’am” and “Yessir” and not “yeah” and “no” when talking to adults. Also, don’t forget to say “thank you” when someone does something nice for you, whether it is showing you how to tie a bowtie or checking you out at the grocery store. You will never offend anyone by showing them your appreciation.
Know that there is more to life than work. There is life itself and it is composed of little things that are, in fact, not little at all. Swinging in the hammock. Hanging out with your dad. The laughter of little sisters. Ice cream with sprinkles at the beach. Waffle House on Saturday mornings. In years to come, you will remember these things long after you have forgotten your grade point average or where you finished in your cross-country competitions.
I urge you to dream big. Someone is going to discover a cure for an incurable disease, become president of the United States, write a great piece of music or invent something that will change lives for the better. Whoever does, had big dreams. There is nothing to keep you from dreaming big except yourself.
That’s enough advice for this year. I hope you find some of this useful. Frankly, some of it I wish somebody had shared with me when I was your age. It might have made my life a bit easier.
Chances are I won’t be around to see how you turn out but from what I have seen so far, I think you are going to do just fine. And never forget how much I love you. It’s a bunch.
Dick Yarbrough is an award-winning columnist from Georgia. Reach him at email@example.com.