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10 Things I Want to Tell My Kids Before They're Too Cool to Listen

05/21/2014 05:25 pm ET | Updated Jul 21, 2014

This week, my daughter turns 10, and two things occurred to me about this:

  • How the hell do I have a 10-year-old? Is a real adult going to show up and help out with this sometime soon?
  • There are so many things I want to tell her -- now, before she is in the onslaught of middle school and too cool to listen.

So, here are 10 things I'd like to tell her and her younger brother, before I suddenly go from Mommy, who knows everything, to Mom, who couldn't possibly understand.

1. “Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.”

I truly believe what John Lennon said with all my heart. We've had some tough times, and you'll have a lot of tough times on your own--but it's worth it. It builds character and teaches you compassion. I can trace some of the best stuff in my life right now to things that were really hard when I was going through them. So when things seem like they are impossible, or you're never going to feel better, just know you'll eventually look back at them in amazement. It's going to be okay.

2. The whole drugs and alcohol thing isn't really about drugs and alcohol.

You're going to try stuff; I'm okay with that. Most of us do, whether it's bumming a cigarette from a friend you think is cooler than you, getting drunk at a party or smoking pot because it feels like everyone else but you has. But here's the thing: all of that stuff is just another way not to be present. Being present, being aware of what's actually happening is pretty awesome. And when you try and push away those feelings of being uncool with alcohol or drugs (or food, or shopping, or anything) they don't really go away. Eventually you're going to have to deal with them, and life gets exponentially better when you do. (And on a side note, if things get out of hand and aren't sure what to do, call me. And if you're too embarrassed to call me, call your uncle Charles.)

3. Figure out what you love and own it completely.

If you spend your life trying to define yourself by what someone else loves, you're going to be miserable. Try things, try everything. See what makes you hear music inside and what makes your heart swell and then go do it. Find out everything you can about it. Find other people who love it too. If you waste time pretending to like something because other people you think are cool like it, you're going to end up with the wrong people in your life. Love what you love and be yourself. You end up with people who genuinely fit that way.

4. Don't be afraid to make mistakes.

I always loved the Neil Gaiman quote:

"If you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world."

We can't make anything valuable without making mistakes. Not a painting, not a relationship, not a career -- not a life. If you wait until you have it all figured out to try, you will be waiting forever. I still don't have it all figured out, but I keep at it. The mistakes aren't failures; they're how we learn.

5. You deserve respect.

You deserve it from me, from your dad, your friends, your teachers -- from everyone in your life. The best way to receive respect from others is to begin by respecting yourself. Speak clearly and keep your head up. Stand up for what you believe. Make choices that you feel good about. And if someone in your life is being disrespectful‚ call them on it. If it doesn't change, limit the amount of time and influence they have in your life. We need people in our lives who challenge us and disagree with us, so we can learn new perspectives. We don't need to be constantly torn down by people who don't respect us.

6. The first person who catches your eye isn't "The One."

And probably not the second, third or fourth either. You know why? It's because you are the one. Love isn't something out there somewhere that someone else can give to you. It's already inside you. It's that golden part of each of us that makes us alive. And some of the best moments in life are when we truly connect with someone else and share the love we have inside with them. But don't ever forget to love yourself, first. When you start by loving and respecting yourself, it makes giving that to other people infinitely better. You're going to meet so many amazing people in your life, and I hope that at least once you meet someone to share that love with and truly find partnership. Before you do, fall in love with your own life, because no one else can do that for you.

7. Romance is great and it isn't the same thing as love.

Sex with someone you love is a wonderful thing. It also isn't the only thing. You're going to have first kisses you feel all the way down to your toes and think "OMG, I love him," but really... you loved the kiss. You are going to see someone and feel something that feels like movie love, but is actually just phenomenal chemistry. You are going to explore this part of your life with people who aren't in it for the long haul -- and that isn't a bad thing. Life is a series of stories and the way our stories intersect is fascinating. Sometimes people are in our lives for the whole story. Sometimes they are just a chapter. It takes a brave person to know when that chapter is over and let go gracefully.

8. Kindness is always an appropriate response.

When you get to be an adult, you'll forget a lot of the stuff that seemed so important in high school and college. You won't remember what your GPA was. You will look at your old classmates on Facebook and wonder why you ever had a crush on that guy. You will look at your old yearbooks and wonder what the hell you were thinking with that haircut. But you will never forget the people who were genuinely kind, who helped when you were hurt, who loved you, even when you felt unlovable. Be that person to your friends.

9. I don't have all the answers, but I'm always here to listen.

Right now, you guys think I have all the answers. I know that time is going to come to a close pretty quickly here, but in a way, I'm glad. One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me wasn't their wisdom, but setting the example that adults aren't static: they keep growing. They keep learning. When they find one way doesn't work, they get up and try another one. Real maturity is letting go of what doesn't work and being open to try something else. You're going to make your own mistakes and find your own answers, and while you're sorting it out, I am always here to listen.

10. It's never too late to live a life that makes you proud.

If you don't learn anything else from me, learn that. We get one shot at this. There's no age limit on changing your course, and to settle in and be stuck in a life that isn't authentic is a tragic waste. F. Scott Fitzgerald said it best:

For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.

I love you. Go make brilliant mistakes and fall in love with your life.

Correction: An earlier version of this blog did not identify John Lennon with his quote.