Life Lessons from 20 to 28

In Inspiration by Erinne Kennedy, DMD, MPHLeave a Comment

Every teenager dreads the day they acknowledge that their parents are right. At least for me, I was dead set on surviving my entire existence without breathing the words “You are right” to my dad. My father, as many of you know, is a successful small business owner, dentist and golfer extraordinaire. But most of all, he is my best friend, mentor and “bank-of-dad” when necessary. He taught me “the value of a dollar”, that “nothing is free”, to “rub it out” when I fell and to always get back up. My dad was my greatest cheerleader and toughest coach. To this day, he is a mentor that I look up to and value.

When I turned 20, he told me, “The next ten years of your life will be the hardest. Just trust me.” At that time, no indestructible young adult wants to hear that from their father. But, man oh man, as 21, 24 and 26 ticked away on the time clock, did I realize that he was right, and why!

Science cannot prove this next statement, but between the ages of 18 and 28, I can guarantee that you will change five or six times. When I look back on my 18-year-old self, I can barely recognize who I was. I changed as a leader, a friend, a daughter, a professional, a sister and a believer. Transformation is the beautiful result of growth, change and maturity. But remember, the growth, change and maturity that we are searching for generally comes from overcoming trials, failures and setbacks. The reason these years are so challenging is because you are figuring out who you are, what you want to do and where you want to go. You are building the foundation of a house. Visually imagine your life as a metaphor for building a house. You start by setting up re-bar, pouring concrete and creating something that is going to withstand a life of obstacles and triumphs. And that, my friend, is laborious work.

This article came about because a few parents approached me and expressed their anxiety about their 18 year olds or 23 year olds at home. Parents have an unrelenting desire for their children to be successful, and most have an image in their mind of the ideal path. My dad showed me that when a young adult is not listening, going down an alternate path or floundering, the most effective way of reaching them is love.

Love them through their struggles, their mistakes and their worries. Show them that you have been there too and everything will be OK. What I want to say is that even through their earbuds are in, they are still listening, so keep loving, speaking and teaching. Every saying that my dad preached (trust me this is the right verb) at me stuck. It stuck somewhere deep down, and it has bloomed in just the right moments—the moments of struggle or distress, when I needed it most.

As a young woman in dentistry, we must be these figures of hope for other women, as well. My dad had a desire for his daughter to have the pick of the litter when it came to careers. He wanted me to have an education, the ability to change the world and the ability to be my own boss. Dentistry has afforded me these opportunities, and it can afford the same opportunity to teens across the country. If you have a teen or student in your life that is struggle or missing their way, invite them to coffee and listen. Don’t preach at first, just listen. You never know the opportunity you have to guide someone through these tumultuous years and the impact that you just might make on the trajectory of their life. It takes one intentional encounter to change a life.

Thanks dad. Thank for all that you did, and for what you have coached me to become.

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