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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World by Marshall Brain, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9. Over 20 chapters from the book are available free online. For more information on the book please click here.

Chapter 0: You Get to Design Your Life

How many times have you heard the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" As a teenager you tend to hear this question a lot, but you have probably heard it since you were five years old. It is often connected to questions like, "Where do you want to go to college?" and "What will be your major?" and "What are you good at?"

You may also be asking yourself the same questions. You may find that you are sitting around one day minding your own business when the question, "What am I going to do with my life?" flits through your brain. And that is a good thing. You are in a position of incredible power when you ask yourself questions like, "Who am I?" and "Who do I want to become?" You are the only person who can answer these questions. You, and only you, get to choose exactly who you will become in the future.

Think about that for a minute. The power of these questions lies in the fact that you can choose to become anything you want! Imagine becoming anything. Think about the freedom that gives you. The great thing about being a teenager is that you are a blank slate. You can pick almost any answer to the question, "Who do I want to become?" at this point in your life, and you are in a unique position to make it happen. You can, to a large extent, design your life completely from scratch. You get to make thousands of choices that will determine exactly who you will become as an adult. Choices like these:

  • What will I choose for my career?
  • How much money will I make, and why?
  • Who will I marry?
  • How many children will I have?
  • How will I dress?
  • Where will I live?
  • What kind of car will I drive?
  • Will I go to college, and if so which one will I attend?
  • What will be my major in college?
  • What will be my attitude toward life?
  • What will be my values?
  • Will I smoke? Will I take drugs?
  • What sports do I want to play?
  • And so on...
As you can see, the answers to all of these questions are wide open for any teenager. You could decide today, "By age 25 I will be an architect in Hawaii, and I will drive a red Corvette." And you could make that happen. There is absolutely nothing to stop you. You could decide on just about any course and make it happen in just the same way. At no other point in your life do you have the absolute freedom of choice that you have as a teenager. That is not to say that you cannot change your mind later. You can completely redesign your life from scratch at age 30 or 40 if you find that to be appropriate. It simply is a fact that as a teenager all of these questions are wide open and you get to select the initial answers for all of them from an infinite pool. That is a lot of freedom.

The average teenager often faces three significant problems in making all of these choices:

  • Most teenagers never realize that they have total control of their lives. The questions "Who am I?" and "Who do I want to become?" never quite make it up into the average teenager’s conscious mind, so life just sort of bumbles along letting things happen randomly. These teenagers miss a great opportunity because they miss the possibility of becoming anything they want. Your range of options is wide open as a teenager. Much of this book is devoted to helping you understand your options and showing you how to make the most of the freedom you have as a teenager.
  • Most teenagers do not understand the realities of the world into which they are about to enter. American society is an exciting but tough environment. It requires quite a bit of knowledge to become successful in this environment. As a teenager you are fairly naïve about the real world (see Chapter 2). Most teenagers also live in a protected dreamland created by their parents (see Chapter 1). That is probably hard (or impossible) for you to imagine, but it is definitely the case. It is easy for you to make mistakes that can affect you negatively for the rest of your life. Therefore, the first part of this book shows you the fundamental facts of life that you must use as your base of reality. The rest of the book shows you what you need to know in order to succeed in American society, and in life.
  • Most teenagers do not believe in themselves, nor do they believe that there is any way to improve their odds of success. No matter what path you choose to follow in your life, you have to be confident and believe in yourself in order to succeed. You also need to learn key facts and techniques that will improve your odds of succeeding. One of the best ways to get started is to simply ask the people around you for their thoughts and ideas. Another is to experiment, and your time as a teenager is a great time for that sort of experimentation.
As a teenager you can explore a whole set of options to learn more about yourself and the world around you. You can pick something you really want to do well and you can go do it right now. You don’t have to amorphously think, "Acting might be fun…" Instead say, "I am going to be an actor!" and then pursue it. You can audition for acting parts. You can find some friends and do plays together. You can write and film your own movies (see Chapter 6 for details). One of the great things about being a teenager is that you can pursue many things at once. You can also afford to fail, and you don’t have to worry about it if you do. Head in a direction and see what you find there. That is one of the most important messages in this book.

Much of this book discusses concepts and techniques that you can use to become informed, confident and successful more quickly. You can also use it to make better and more effective choices. The book is divided into seven sections that help you to understand the fundamental facts of life and the world around you. Sections in this book include:

  • Part 1—The Hard Facts. These are the basic facts of life that you must understand before you can do anything else. Most of these are hard because they will force you to break down fundamental assumptions that you may have about yourself and your world right now. Start with them.
  • Part 2—Facts About Jobs and Careers. You will have a job—that is a fact of life. By planning ahead you can get a job that is both high-paying and enjoyable.
  • Part 3—Facts About Love and Marriage. You might have noticed that, as a teenager, your brain and body seem to be obsessed with members of the opposite sex. This section explains "the facts of life" and what they mean to you both now and in the future.
  • Part 4—Facts About Your Attitude and Values. You are in total control of your attitude and your values. You can choose to be happy or sad, optimistic or pessimistic, shy or boisterous, honest or dishonest, or anything in between. The only person who has any control over your attitude and values is you. This section will show you some of the possibilities.
  • Part 5—Facts About Success. There are a number of things you can do to help yourself become successful. This section explores some of the most important facts of life.
  • Part 6—Facts About Money. Money is incredibly important in American society. You become homeless if you don’t have enough. If you have more than you need, you can afford to do things that enrich your life or the lives of others. Money management can be fairly complicated, however, and it is easy to make mistakes. This section shows you the fundamental facts of money management so you learn the basic vocabulary and concepts.
  • Part 7—Other Facts of Life. There is a wide variety of other things that will be useful to you as you work your way toward becoming a successful adult. This section lists a number of other important facts of life.
After reading these sections you will understand a great deal more about yourself and the world around you than you do right now. You will be able to explore and think about your choices with a new clarity and understanding. You will be able to plan a path to success. Have fun!

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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9, published by BYG Publishing, Inc. For more information on ordering a copy of the book, click here.

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Keywords: teenagers, teenager, teen age, teenage, teens, teen, adolescents, adolescent, parents, parent