To Cameron Charles Yarbrough:
For a number of years, I have written a letter at the beginning of the year offering some thoughts on living a meaningful life now and in the future. The letters were written to your dad, your uncle and their cousins — my grandsons. Now, it looks like it is your turn at bat.
In all that time, I never asked them if they read my missives or took my advice. And I won’t ask you, either. I am not giving a test. I am simply passing along some observations that I hope will be helpful as you navigate a world that gets more complicated by the day.
Granted, you have three little sisters and cousin Henry, who has just turned 1, but they are a bit young to be parsing my words of wisdom, so I share them with you, expecting you to be their role model. Being a role model is a heavy responsibility. Never forget they will be looking at what you do as much as what you say.
First, let’s start with the basics: Your name. Guard it like a treasure. Never let it be associated with anything that would bring shame to the family.
My father, your great-great-grandfather, was a simple man who came from rural beginnings and with little education. What he lacked in formal learning and sophistication, he made up with bedrock honesty and integrity. I saw how hard he worked, how much he loved his family and the sacrifices he made for us. He lived to see both his sons graduate college and have successful careers. We made him proud. Most importantly, we never embarrassed him or besmirched his good name. We owed him that. You do, too.
You are a bright young man but there is a chance that you are going to run up against people in the future who are just as bright or brighter. That was certainly my own experience. But I never met the person who could outwork me. Working hard doesn’t take a special talent. It comes from a desire to be the very best you can be at whatever you do.
As for what you choose to do with your life, you still have a few years to decide. I would simply offer this advice: Do something that gives you passion. Don’t take a job just because it is a job. Find something that brings you so much satisfaction that you can’t wait to get to it each day.
I have told you this many time before and I will continue to say it as long as I am able — dream big. Don’t put limits on yourself or let others discourage you from being whatever you choose to be. Just be realistic. Maybe you don’t possess the skill to be an Olympic sprinter or to sing like Pavarotti, but someone is going to invent a product that will benefit mankind or find a cure for an insidious disease or just make life better for people because they were here. Why not you? Why not, indeed. Always dream big.
Keep things in perspective. Don’t let your successes make you a braggart or your failures rob you of your self-worth. Chances are you will experience plenty of both before you are through.
Be loyal to your friends, but pick your friends carefully. Don’t try to be popular. That is a slippery slope that will get you in trouble. Be yourself. If your friends don’t like that, they weren’t friends to begin with.
Tell the truth, even if it is hurts. Lying generally requires a second lie to cover the first and on and on. It also means that you are not a man of your word and can’t be trusted. Don’t make excuses or try to rationalize bad decisions. And you are going to make some. We all do. Saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it is a much better option.
Life can be fragile. Relish each day as it comes. There are no guarantees there will be a tomorrow, so don’t waste a moment sweating the small stuff. You will learn one day, as I have, that most of it is indeed small stuff.
In closing, my prayer is that you reach your full potential, that you be the best person you can be, have few regrets and understand you carry the family’s good name and reputation with you. I have no doubt you will succeed. Happy New Year.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb