New Years Message (credit: Jonathan Tepper with additions and twists from Dad)
Dear Nicholas, Alexander, & Annika,
I’m writing this on a plane. The reason I started writing this was that I feared the plane might go down, and if it went down, all the lessons I’ve learned in life would disappear with me. By writing this, I hope to pass on the few lessons I’ve learned.
The most important lesson is that the vast majority of things you worry about will not bother you the next day. A year later you will not even be able to remember them if you try. When you grow older, you will not worry about what grades you got. You won’t worry about games you lost. You won’t worry about what other people thought about you. Most of the things you worry about will never happen. Even if the worst things that you worry about happen, life will still go on. Learn to enjoy every day, and try to enjoy it as if it is your last. It has taken me a long time to understand this, and I wish I had understood it sooner.
Happiness is not a destination but a journey. You will never be smart enough, rich enough, have a pretty enough girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or wife, or win enough prizes and awards. Whatever it is you want, there is always something better. Enjoy the journey of learning, working, and living. If you enjoy the journey, you’ll probably achieve a lot more than if you focused on goals.
Money can provide security, but once you have security, more money cannot buy you more happiness. Show me someone who thinks money can buy happiness and I’ll show you someone who has never had a lot of money.
Things don’t make you happy, but memories will always stay with you. Whatever it is that you buy, you will soon get used to it. It will make you happy for a short while, but it will not make you happy forever. Experiences and memories can make you happy forever. I can’t even remember most of the toys I’ve had in my life, but I still think of my times with your Mom and your Grandmother and Zedo with great happiness and fondness. I remember walking each of you to school and how happy we were. I remember hugging your Grandmother and Zedo when I came home for a weekend. Those memories will never go away. The happiest memories of my friends are my travels and dinners with them, not the things I’ve bought for myself. You’ll remember dinners and travels with friends and family more than any shiny things you’ll ever have.
Nothing I will ever do will surpass spending every waking moment with you for an entire year while together experiencing the wonder and beauty this world has to offer, without fear or prejudice or time constraint. To see you develop as insightful learners, knee-deep experiencers and caring sharing citizens of the world brought great joy to your mom and me. To see you use your skills, be they languages, compassion or even your %#<># computer games, was gloriously satisfying. And your ability to observe and adapt will serve you a lifetime.
Your family is the most important thing you have in life. Friends, boyfriends, girlfriends and co-workers come and go, but the only thing that you can always count on is your family. (If you find a friend who is always there for you, you’re extremely lucky. They exist, but they’re very rare.) One day, you will have your own family. You must love them and look after them. You will understand one day that just as your grandparents die, your parents will as well. Strive to be a good son and daughter. One day, you will be like your parents. Your parents are not perfect, and you will not be either. But you can be loving and be a good son and daughter. One day you can be a good parent.
Try to appreciate early in your life what a smart, loving and deeply caring mother you have in Stacia. She would die for you without hesitation, and as someone who has benefited like no other from her grace and generosity for nearly two decades, smile and carry her kindness and goodness with you like a calling card.
Never stop learning, and always be ready to teach yourself things you don’t know. The only things you will remember are things you care about. You will forget about all the rest. As Jacques Barzun said, “Civilization is all that remains after you have forgot all that you specifically set out to remember.” You must teach yourself and care about what you learn. No one can teach you everything you need to know at school or university. You will forget most of what you study, and that is fine. In truth, much of what you learn now is obsolete by the time you’ve digested it and go to apply it. It is said that by the time a medical school student graduates over half their knowledge is outdated. Therefore the vital skill is learning how to use fresh information based upon your developed sense of awareness, keen analysis and your adaptability to reason in entirely uncharted waters.
Never live someone else’s life. Find your gifts and the things that give you pleasure, develop those gifts, and pursue them. Do what makes you happy and be great at it. You have skills and gifts that no one will ever have or see again. If you’re a businessman, build businesses. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a scientist, discover. If you do what you love and love what you do, you will work very hard, but you will enjoy every day.
One of the things that most influenced me was something Steve Jobs once said:
“When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.
That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
And the minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just going live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.
I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
I hope that you will find what you love and you will change the world.
Life is full of struggle, and bad things will happen to you. This is one thing that I can guarantee you. Bad things happen and cannot be changed. Many people suffer great tragedies and live full and happy lives. I have now met in person a survivor of Jonestown, of serial killer Ted Bundy, and Auchwitz. Together with you three, we have met survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb and the Khmer Rouge genocide. When I think of their travails I try to remind myself, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’ll be ok.” Remember the people you love and mourn them. Accept that terrible things happen, and try to live as if each day is your last with those you love. There is nothing else you can do.
The best way to avoid anxiety, stress and unhappiness is to avoid internal contradiction. Don’t think that one thing is right and do the opposite. Listen to your conscience and obey it. Be a good person and live according to your convictions. You cannot answer for other people, but you can always answer for yourself. As long as you live according to your most basic beliefs, you will not have regrets or guilt. You will be able to die happily knowing that you looked after the poor and needy, that you were loving to those around you, and that you failed often but did your best. You will not lose a night of sleep if you always try to do your best.
I love you very much…and always.
Maybe my favorite sentiment of which I wish I’d have written it all!