On Advice

Here’s my prompt for this week: What advice would I give a graduating class of high school students, and “do you think there’s any point to giving advice to young people or is experience the only source of knowledge that sticks?”

I only have two points of advice on this, mainly because when one is giving advice, one wants it to be short enough so people will read it, and because one doesn’t want to say something completely ridiculous. Reducing words reduces the chances of that happening. The following assumes that the graduating class is going on to university, as I did. So here goes:

  1. Get plugged into a campus fellowship or a local church with a good college group. This is super, super important. When you start college, you will be absolutely bombarded with activities and clubs and other people who want you to join whatever they’re doing, because every organization wants to recruit freshmen. This offers an excellent opportunity to try new things; some of it won’t work out that well (for me, it was field hockey) and some of it will get you hooked (ie. cycling). But your first priority should be finding that fellowship where the members will offer you strong spiritual support in the times of growth, trials, and service that will follow. College is a time of really cementing who you are as an individual; having good friendships and involvement in a Christian community will critically influence your development. It’s really easy to be dragged away from Christ and the church as a first priority; there are classes, friends, parties, sports, other clubs – the list goes on. Get involved in a fellowship and stay there.
  2. Time management is important; so is flexibility and spontaneity. When you start classes, you might have a carefully written up plan detailing exactly how much time you’ll spend studying, reading, and playing; you might just say that you’ll go with the flow. Regardless of your “master plan”, you won’t be a time management expert right away (or possibly ever). I think my point is: don’t get freaked out because you’re not in control of everything. Do keep your priorities in mind. If most of your time is spent on things that you’ve classified as “not important”, then you’ve wasted it. In university, time is a precious, precious commodity. To this end, learn how to say “no” to activities when necessary, and learn how to learn (cliché, I know). Figure out what music you study best to, how you memorize things most effectively, what the most efficient way of preparing for a test is. For example, when I’ve been staring at a book for hours on end, a three-mile run and a hot shower are the best way to refresh my brain. It will probably take a year or two for you to realize what works and what doesn’t, but that’s okay.

In terms of whether giving advice is actually effective: It all depends on whether your audience will not only hear, but also consider and apply the advice. Experience is less subtle; it happens to you whether you like it or not. As an illustration, think about a hot stove burner. Being taught by experience is a child touching the burner and learning through pain that he shouldn’t. Being taught by advice is being taught vicariously through experience: “Don’t touch that; you won’t like it. I touched it once and I got burned.” If the kid thinks he knows everything (and that the laws of thermodynamics don’t apply to him), he’s more likely to touch the burner. If the kid realizes that his adviser has actually had more experience than he and is probably right, he’s less likely to turn his hand into a cinder. “Young people” tend to be more like the know-it-all kid (there are plenty of adults like this as well), but that doesn’t mean that they always are. In the latter case, I don’t think that giving advice to them is worthless. I think it was only in my senior year of high school/freshmen year in university that I realized that my parents had lived longer than me and were probably worth listening to. Isn’t it odd that people who have lived longer than you might know more about living?

As a side note: Congratulations to SpaceX on yesterday’s Falcon 9 launch! This was the first achievement of orbit by a commercial launch vehicle, although still far away from placing humans in orbit. Here’s some video of launch, MECO and stage separation: http://spacex.com/multimedia/videos.php?id=51

Okay. I need another prompt. Leave a comment or email me or something. If you’re good, I might convince somebody in South Africa to write about the World Cup. Ready? Go!

“Thermodynamics is a funny subject. The first time you go through it, you don’t understand it at all. The second time you go through it, you think you understand it, except for one or two small points. The third time you go through it, you know you don’t understand it, but by that time you are so used to it, it doesn’t bother you anymore.”
— Arnold Sommerfeld, when asked why he had never written a book on the subject

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