Eric Greitens is a champion boxer, a Rhodes Scholar, a best-selling author, and a Navy SEAL. He also happens to be the current Governor of the state of Missouri. A good friend of Greitens has a son, Grayson, who recently celebrated his 13th birthday — and asked Greitens to share some life advice. So the Governor wrote a letter, and that letter found it’s way to us. With the Governor’s permission, we decided to publish it.
Today you turn thirteen years old. You are becoming a man.
That’s a good thing. It’s good for you, and—because you are going to grow into a strong, wise, compassionate man—it’s a good thing for all of us.
I’m proud of you, and happy for you.
I’ve talked a lot with your Dad, who—by the way—loves you more than you know, and I know that things haven’t always been easy for you. I also know how awesome you are, and how incredible he thinks you are.
In any strong culture, older men help younger men to grow into the responsibilities of manhood. You have a wise Dad, and he asked me to put down a few thoughts to help you on your journey.
Take a deep breath. I’m going to tell you something you already know: you aren’t perfect. Now I’m going to tell you something you need to know: you won’t ever be perfect. None of us are. Not me, not your Dad, not a girlfriend, not your teachers, not your coaches, not your buddies. It’s important—really important—to accept this. It’ll allow you to learn from your mistakes, and it’ll make you more forgiving of the mistakes of others.
Be kind to yourself.
That might read funny to you. Most people would tell you, “be kind to others”. And you should be kind to others. (I’ll talk about that later.) But you’re going to find–I bet–that in the next few years you’ll often be tempted to engage in self-criticism and self-doubt. That’s natural. You’re growing to be a man. And there is doubt and worry and self-criticism that can come when you compare the man that you want to be with the man that you are today. You’ll find that there’s a gap between the two, and you can be tempted to be too rough on yourself.
In those moments, be honest with yourself about your mistakes, but be kind to yourself as well. Despite your imperfections, you have to find a way in life to be satisfied with yourself. This is important for your health. But it’s also important for everyone else as well. You might know this already, but if not I bet that you’ll find in life that people who aren’t satisfied with themselves can never be satisfied with others. People who regularly and viciously criticize others are almost always dissatisfied with themselves. People who are content with themselves, can usually find a way to see the good in others as well.
Remember that God made you. And he made you for a purpose.
You may or may not believe in God. If you’re like almost every other teenager you have or will have moments of great doubt about whether God even exists. That’s ok. Doubts are natural. They are often good. It’s the presence of doubt that creates the power of faith.
You might embrace this thought now. If not, then please just tuck it away somewhere in your soul. There’ll come a time when you need to remember this for yourself. It’s also important to remember that God made others. (That’s true, even, of the idiots who torment you now and the people who test you later.) If you can remember that every human being is one of God’s creations, it’ll help you to love the good in people, and to embrace even the bad as an opportunity for you to practice courage, patience, and resilience.
Have good fun.
Life is really, really great. It’s really beautiful. There are some things that you can only learn in time, and one of the things that I hope you’ll grow to learn is how truly rich and magnificent and beautiful the world is. There’s a lot of magic and pleasure and beauty in life. Enjoy it. Take time to create and to savor all the good stuff.
Now, you’ll notice that I also said, have “good” fun. The “good” part is important. A lot of stuff that’s stupid—harmful for you and hurtful to others—can often be fun in the moment. Drugs, alcohol, reckless behavior of a thousand varieties. A lot of adults try to pretend that doing stupid stuff isn’t fun. That’s a lie; and those kinds of lies are part of the reason that a lot of kids don’t trust adults. Driving 120 mph is a thrill.
It can also get you killed, and can kill other people. It’s easy to say that it’s a dumb thing to do, but telling young men not to do dumb things is—by the evidence of human history—not a really effective strategy for preventing stupid stuff from happening. What I’d tell you instead is just this: be a protector. You are precious. So are your friends and family. Children think about themselves. You are growing to be a man. Men think about others. You have a responsibility to make good choices.
(And one final word here. If you are like every other teenage man in the history of the planet, there will come many moments when you won’t care about your own safety or your own health, even though you should. You’ll believe that you are bulletproof and invisible. Try to remember, though, that if you hurt yourself, you’ll be hurting your parents and your brother and your sister ten times as bad. They love you. They want you healthy and whole. Please make good choices not just for you, but also for them.)
Be good to girls.
If you are thinking about girls at your age, it’s unlikely that you’ll read more than one sentence, so here it is short and simple: when a girl leaves your side, she should always feel better about herself.
In a strong, well-ordered culture, the process of becoming a man is understood well. You grow from being a child who thinks about himself, to a man who is capable of serving others. That’s easy to write, but hard to do, and the only way to learn to do it, is to do it.
You have gifts. You have abilities. You were meant to serve a purpose. So try to make a positive difference. Just be good to other people: in your family, your school, your church, your neighborhood. You become a stronger servant by serving. Boys focus on themselves. Men serve others.
Know that your Dad loves you.
He does. I know it. I know that you know it. Man, he loves you so much. I’m telling you this, Grayson, anything that you want — your old man wants it one hundred times as bad for you. You’re his world. In the years ahead, you’re going to fight with him from time to time. When you do, you’ll probably feel like he’s a moron whose sole purpose in life is to make you miserable. You don’t have to tell him that you know this, but you should always remember this: he loves you, and as much as you are trying to be a good man, he is trying to be a good Dad.
Be kind whenever you can.
It’s amazing how many guys never get this right. It’s not that hard, but it might well be the single biggest difference between a happy life and a miserable one. Be good to other people. Help ‘em out. Other people will appreciate it, and you’ll bring a lot of joy to yourself, just by being a kind person.
Be ready to fight whenever you have to.
This is a touchy one, and your Mom — heck, even your Dad—might not like me writing this to you. We’ve grown up in a culture where “fighting” is always frowned upon. But here’s the hard truth; the surest way to prevent a fight is to be ready for one. Your whole life, you’ll find that there are bad people who want to bully others. Bullies prey on the weak. Be strong in mind, strong in spirit, and strong in body, so that you can protect yourself and others. Don’t look for fights. And don’t respond to every slight. A strong man can long ignore the weak words of wimps.
But if you’ve been patient, and you’ve been kind, and you’ve tried to reason and tried to do what’s right, and people still look like they are going to hurt you or hurt others, be ready to drop ‘em.
Take action. Work hard. Be bold.
You’ve got one life. Make it rock.
Having dreams is easy; creating dreams is hard. A lot of people want to “win”; fewer people want to do the work that it takes to prepare to win. There are no shortcuts to greatness. Be willing to sweat.
Everybody around you is better than you in some way. Remember this every day that you live. If you do, it’ll help you to see the potential in everyone. It’ll also help you to see how everyone around you can teach you something. If you see everyone as a potential teacher, you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from others.
When you say goodbye, say “I love you” to people you love.
I hope this doesn’t happen soon, but one day you’re going to lose someone you love unexpectedly. Everyone has some regrets, but it’s best to try and live a life with as few as possible. Let people know that you love ‘em every day, because none of us know how many days we have.
This one I’m leaving blank for you, man. I hope that one day, you’ll have a friend of yours who you admire as much as I admire your Dad. And if that man asks you to write a letter to his son on his 13th birthday, I hope that you’ll be able to fill in all the good stuff that your Dad and I haven’t yet figured out.
Love you buddy,