The world is going to kick your butt. You better learn to kick back.
You’re not going to like this.
The world is not a nice place, but you already know that. Your family doesn’t understand you. The kids at school pick on you. Looking ahead to the possibilities of adult life, you see nothing that interests you. A psychologist tells you to grow up and go to school. He pulls coins out of his pocket and shows them to you. “This is the way the world works,” he says to push you into becoming a productive citizen.
He’s a jerk, but he’s right. Having problems doesn’t mean you can give up. Trauma does not free you from the responsibility to live a good life.
Yes, you didn’t ask to be born. You didn’t ask to be male or American or Christian. But you are these things. Their heritage belongs to you and informs your way of looking at the world. Accepting this is not surrender. Accepting it puts you in control of your identity.
Stop using illness and defects as an excuse to get your way. Did you know that Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys is deaf in one ear? He’s deaf because his father hit him in the side of the head. His own father. Your father never abused you. Be grateful for that. If Brian Wilson can write popular songs with only half his hearing, what can you do?
Don’t focus so much on what you want and what you lack to get it. Yes, you were not born in New York City. Yes, you were not born with a natural talent to play the guitar. Yes, your parents lovingly taught you to avoid risks instead of taking them. That’s okay. Focus on values instead.
Values. Yes, it’s an old-fashioned word. It’s survived for a reason. You already have some values. They came to you through Star Trek and comics, but they started with your parents. Yes, your parents. Embrace the sense of right and wrong they taught you. Embrace their compassion toward others. Embrace the vacations you take as a family. Embrace their work ethic. You will rely on these things more than you realize.
Don’t expect people to come to you. Go to them. Those kids at school who pick on you and whom you want to get away from? You will be thinking about them for the rest of your life. Yes, it’s wrong that they have treated you so badly, and, yes, some are bullies. Others are just going through what they’re going through in their own imperfect and immature ways. You will write stories about what might have been if you had stayed. You will miss the friendships that could have been.
Apologize. It’s okay to screw up. Everyone screws up.
The girl you hung up on when you were 12? You will see her again at Walmart when you are adults. You will be polite to each other, though you won’t call each other by name. But don’t think she has forgotten. You never will.
But, at the same time, let yourself off the hook. You don’t have to torture yourself forever. You’re not a martyr, hung on a cross in a painting with an arrow through the neck. You don’t have to die for your sins over and over.
You haven’t met your best friend yet. You will be best friends for many years, and it will be one of the most creative periods of your life. But he can’t follow where you want to lead. It’s okay. Enjoy what he has to offer, and don’t mistake loyalty for dependence. However, do call him when you move away. No, a letter won’t do. When he calls your dad six months later and asks to speak to you, only to be told you’ve moved, learning about this will be one of the worst feelings of your life — the moment you realize you really can hurt someone.
And guess what? It’s won’t be the last time you will up and leave a relationship. Sure, you will blame the other person. You will say you were just trying to avoid conflict. You will say your parents taught you to be overly cautious. All of this is true, but it doesn’t matter. It all goes back to values. Remember that word? Be the person you want others to be. Don’t let yourself off the hook just because they behaved badly. You can’t atone for their sins, only yours.
Get your driver’s license as soon as you turn 16. No, it won’t just happen. You have to work for it. Embrace the freedom of being able to drive to a comic book store or a convenience store for a can of pop on your own. Don’t dwell on the possibility of causing an accident. Look, shit happens. That’s no excuse to put your life on hold. You will never be fully prepared. The time will never be right. Again, values. Do the right thing and you can avoid lots of problems. When you can’t avoid them, you will learn to cope.
Volunteer. At an animal shelter, a hospital, a church. It doesn’t matter. Learn that the world isn’t about you. Learn the good you can do.
Learn to approach girls. You don’t have to ask one out just yet, but be comfortable around them. Be comfortable with yourself. Your feelings and thoughts are normal, and you won’t realize just how normal in isolation. You need others. They need you.
Learn the value of hard work early. No, it won’t kill you. No, you won’t be too exhausted to write. Experience builds motivation and gives you a pool of ideas to draw from. Trust yourself to grow.
Don’t limit yourself. Comics are great, but you will never write them for a living. All the trivia you’ve learned? Publishers don’t care about that — only fans do. Publishers care if you can tell a story and engage readers’ emotions. They care if your work sells, so learn how to market yourself as well as how to write. It’s not enough to have opinions or to believe the world should work a certain way. It doesn’t and won’t. Study the world you live in as well as the worlds in your head.
The world will kick your butt. It kicks everyone’s butt. You can’t avoid this. You can’t lie down and expect the world to feel sorry for you. It won’t. You can’t give up. What then? Learn when to kick back. It’s okay if the world beats you up. (It won’t — most of the time.) Stand up for what you believe in. Values build confidence.
But keep doing some things. Stay compassionate. Feel for others. Dream. Lots. Create characters and write songs (oh, wait, you haven’t done that yet). Spend time with your grandma. Hang out with your brother. Go to your first best friend’s wedding. Stick around to speak to him at his mother’s funeral. These people matter to you, and you matter to them even if you aren’t sure why. These things are good.
Do all these things. Then we’ll talk again in about 40 years.