Dear 12-year Old Phil

Dear 12-year old Phil,
I know life is hard right now. The adults in your life just want you to follow the rules and do well in school. But it’s been so long since you really tried to do well in school, you wouldn’t know where to begin. Besides, you can’t fail if you don’t try. You are a square peg they continuously try to jam into a round hole. Why devote so much effort to attempt to succeed in a system that would seem to be working against you, a system seemingly made for people who are unlike you?

The simple truth is that it is unfair. This system, as futile as it may seem, is the system on which our society functions. The try to fill your brain with facts you will never need to recall after they have quizzed you on your retention. All of this in an effort to grade you, to prove your value as a person, to prove whether you deserve a nice car, a house, and a wife, these things they’ve told you you need to be happy. And who are they to say whether you deserve to be happy?

Well, here are two secrets about life it took me 20 something years to discover:

First, happiness is within you. It is not something you earn or something someone else can bestow upon you. Happiness is all about how you react to the happenings in the world around you. If you fail a test, it is up to you whether you want be upset about it. Your father makes you feel as though you are not enough. You only have to be enough for you. Your standards are the only ones that matter. Your peers make you feel as though you are too weird to belong anywhere. Weird is the best thing you can be. Be proud of your uniqueness. Others will accept you for who you are once you’ve accepted yourself.

Second, you should set your standards really high. Because you are capable of so much more. This system that would seem to work against you, this system of grades and test and social groups that would seem to reject you without giving you a chance is only a game. You never volunteered for it. But you were born into it. Continuing to not play the game will cause you pain. But, if you choose to try, to give a considerable amount of effort to winning this game, you will succeed. You cannot fail to try as a result of your fear of failing. If you fail to try, you have already failed. Keep pushing. You will never fit into that round hole. But you may make it a slightly more square shape.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are freaking brilliant! That doesn’t mean you have all the answers. It only means that you can succeed at anything you try, if you try hard enough. It will not be easy. Ask for the answers. If you don’t understand, ask again. It is not your fault the system was made for people unlike you. There is not something wrong with you. There is something wrong with the system. So use this broken system to your advantage. Play the game as hard as you can. And, when you are old enough, change the system, so children like you have a better chance.

Love,
31-year old Phil

P.S. You will always be different. You always have been. Some people will try to make you feel bad for being different. They are wrong. They are afraid. Different is the best thing you can be.

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