This was the answer I made to a survey of questions by a high school student of mine. Not quite sure how he took it....
I was born at a very young age to a woman who had a wicked sense of humour. My little brother turned out to have Huntington's disease, a genetic disorder which results in severe mood swings. My father had it as well, though he was not diagnosed until long after I graduated from my personal school of hard knocks. Huntington's causes some severe rages, I learned to fight early on as a result. As I went through high school, I had to make a decision to be predator (school bully) or prey, and after some rather spectacular events which resulted in Bill getting suspended "yet again", and I had to pay for some dude's dental work "yet again", I decided that being the prey which fought back was kind of funky, and put me on the side of the angels. I don't recommend that path, but it is the one I took...it required me to develop a code of chivalry. Of course, once you leave high school, you never again know exactly where you stand in the pecking order, though twenty years of military did its best to continue the idea that such a thing exists, so it is difficult to actually figure out as an adult exactly what side the angels are on. The pecking order which is so powerful in high school is a lie. Not just a lie but a damned lie which is perpetuated by the bullies and ignored by the grownups. So what is the truth? Well, at the risk of getting all hippie dippie, I believe that we are all children of the universe, and nobody is any better than anybody else. I firmly believe in Einstein's dictum that a fish that sees a bird and thinks less of himself because he cannot fly is doomed to think his life is a failure. And I also believe that a single act of kindness wipes out days of self esteem crushing "social interaction".
My goal in high school was to get a laboratory like Tom Corbett Space Cadet had. Or at least an engineering or blacksmithing shop. Then I wanted to visit the place where King Arthur lived and died. Then the goal suddenly included marrying that sweetheart next door. I achieved all my goals, eventually. Luck had very little to do with it. Or rather, I positioned myself properly, and luck happened. Without the goals, and without the motivation to "do right by my fiancee", I would have stayed on as a sex obsessed, pot smoking long haired head banger who moved through life like a bowl of unset jello, dreaming of things I "might" do if I only had....whatever.
Remember the guy that goes around saying "I never had a chance", simply never TOOK a chance. FEAR of failure will destroy you faster than any failure could EVER do! I know so many people that never started a business (or picked up a musical intrument or learned to drive, whatever) because they were too afraid that it would not work. A good friend of mine worked on dead end jobs for 35 years, working for minimum wage right up until he was 50 years old and finally I convinced him to get his business licence, and start fixing contractor's mistakes the way Mike Holmes does. He now tells me that he wished he had listened to me twenty years earlier! He is now going to Algonquin College 2 full days a week to get his "inspector" permit.
What would I do over? I think I would have built in an exit strategy for when I joined the military. Ten years is enough of my youth to give away, but I ended up giving twice that just so I could get a pension. Mixed feelings on that! Well, back in 1975, the university system was very stodgy, and I was never any good at math, so I did't bother with it. I still am not specially hopeful about University, (engineering and medical fields excepted) but Colleges have become very progressive, with fascinating new courses on everything from robotics to forensics. In my experience, a military education has too many strings attached. What would I advise to a person looking to graduate from HS a year from now? I would I would recommend that they study "professions" as if it was a math class. Find out what does a forest ranger DO, what does a fireman DO, what does a policeman DO, What does an archaeologist or a blacksmith, newspaper reporter or pilot actually DO. Make a short list of career choices, and prepare to commit no more than five years to any choice...because in five years EVERYTHING will have changed, and your priorities are different. And you can do anything for five years, but you can't do anything well unless you devote a decent amount of time for it, so five years is about right. Remember, the prospect of twenty or thirty years as (insert any career) is just too daunting for words.
The five year plan will also accomodate changes like marriage, accidents, travel, moving to different schools or countries. Any of these things can affect your career path. Too many of my friends got stuck into a career, then got married, and found that they had not taken a family into account, and when they got into something that paid decently, they had already wasted four or five years on a dead end job.
Bill, what is most important in life? To crush your enemies and see them driven before you...no wait, thats Conan. What do I think is important? A stable home base, opportunity to travel, leisure to learn, a Tom Corbett style laboratory, a Conan style workshop which can build swords, and enough land to bring 8 cubic meters of pumpkins to slaughter once a year. A mead hall to await Grendel, and a "crew" of Viking warriors to drink with, and a loving and indulgent wife who can post my bail.
A motorcyle in the summer, a hot tub in the winter, and a ticket to Malta every couple of years.