Things Everyone Should DoPosted: August 10, 2012
While I am still (relatively) young and hope to do many things in my days, I have had a wide and varied experience of life that has taught me a great many things. In particular, it has taught me that there are some experiences that change you in ways you cannot truly understand until you have had them. Not all of them are good, but I believe they are all necessary in order to be a complete person.
I am sure as I continue down the road of life I will add to this list, but for now here is the list I have compiled, and why I think each experience is important and unique.
Hold a job. If you have never had a job, you will never understand why it is important to have a job, or any of the myriad things that go with it, like showing up on time, listening to your boss, and getting along with your coworkers. They try to teach you that in school, but it’s not the same. After all, they can’t fire you from school. Which leads me to the next item on the list…
Be fired from a job. There seems to be something pervasive in American society today, some perverse sense of entitlement that I don’t think is endemic to just one generation. Believe me when I say that being fired from a job relieves you of that sense of entitlement very quickly. Even if it is because the company went under, staffing cuts, or any number of reasons that are through no fault of your own, simply knowing that you are not in fact indispensable instills a sense of humility in no time. If you are fired for cause, it is a lesson that stays with you for the rest of your days.
Quit a job. On the flip side of that, there is something uniquely empowering that is captured in that old country song “Take This Job and Shove It”. There comes a time when you have swallowed just as much as you can, when you have reached your breaking point, and you discover that no amount of money is worth your pride. Being able to hold your head high is something that can never be bought; it has to be earned.
Work many different jobs. I don’t just mean in one field, either. I mean as many different kinds of jobs as possible. You will meet a wide section of humanity this way, you will develop all kinds of skills, and you will view the world in a new and different way each time depending on the demands that are placed upon you. Each new job is a new challenge, a new chance to grow and discover anew both who you are and who you can be. Capture it.
Work in retail. One of the few things we all have in common in American society and most societies in the world, from the richest to the poorest, is that we have to interact with someone in retail on a fairly regular basis. Even if it is just at the checkout line at the grocery store, you will inevitably have to deal with someone in this field. Having some idea of what their life is like will at least engender some empathy, and maybe even sympathy and patience.
Be unemployed. Even if only for a day, being unemployed is a scary feeling. Not knowing where your next paycheck will come from, how you will pay the bills, or even if you will be able to buy food in the coming weeks is a terrible sensation. Regardless of your politics, having that personal gut-level understanding of what it means to be unemployed is truly instructive.
Be homeless. Again, even if it’s only for one day, not knowing where you’ll be hanging your hat that night is terrifying. It makes you reassess all of your priorities, reconsider every choice you made leading up to that point, as well as every option you have. Again, regardless of your politics, a personal understanding of what it really means to not have a place to live changes how you approach the issue, as well as how you approach life.
Go hungry. This is the third part of the “if only for a day” trifecta. Not knowing where your next meal is coming from changes your priorities in a very real and immediate way. Things that seemed important before, like entertainment, planning for the future, or even just “what will I do tomorrow?” get consumed in an eternal and desperate now. Being able to empathize with that essential human drive, and what it can push you to, will give you a better understanding of more of the world than I care to admit.
Learn to cook. I have heard some people claim that for them food is nothing more than body fuel. I still don’t see them eating ramen every night. Cooking is an art, and it is worth doing well. Even if you only cook at the most basic level, it beats cheap take out, both for flavor and health. Also, it will get you dates. Ladies, the way to many a man’s heart truly is through his stomach, but trust me guys, ladies also love a man who can cook.
Learn to clean. According to my wife I still have to sort this one out, but I’m getting there, and I’m not as bad as the bachelor I used to be. Cleaning is a skill, and it is worth picking up. Not only does a clean house help to separate us from the animals (my dog never cleans up after himself), it improves morale and health as well, and just makes you a more attractive person to be around.
Love someone. I don’t mean have a crush on someone, and I certainly don’t mean lust, although there’s nothing wrong with either of those. I mean the soul-deep kind of love that you only experience a rare few times in your life and for some of us only once. This is the sort of experience that you can’t know about until it has happened. You don’t plan to fall in love; in most cases it sneaks up on you, grabs you when you’re not looking and says “Surprise! You’re mine now!” Songs have been sung about it, poems written about it and more than a few movies have tried to capture the idea of it, but every effort is a pale shadow of the real thing, even this description of it. You’ll know when you’ve had it.
Have your heart broken. Yeah, it sounds trite, and that’s because it is, but the truth is you aren’t really an adult until you pay taxes and have your heart broken at least once. Learning to deal with heartbreak is one of the few rites of passage we have left to us, and it is one of the most powerful. How you deal with it says a lot about you as a person, and learning to deal with it better (because nobody deals with it well the first time) makes you a better person.
Express yourself. Sure it sounds self-serving from a guy who writes a blog, but I truly believe everyone has something to say, no matter how trivial it might seem to others. Every life is unique, and will never be lived again. Find a way to capture that life, share it with others, in story, rhyme or song. Tell jokes, make movies, compose dirty limericks, put together a cookbook of your best recipes, or just talk to your friends and family and tell them about the story of you. You never know when you will be gone and we won’t be able to know those stories, so share them while you can. We want to hear them.