11 Big Life Things I’m Sharing With My Son Before He Leaves For College.

Followed by a 11 things I really wish I knew my freshman year. 


By Brad Beckstrom

I came of age and entered the working world in the 80s and 90s when self-help books, CDs, and personal improvement seminars were all the rage. Classics like The 7 Habits, What Color is your Parachute? And many others from authors like Napoleon Hill, Tony Robbins that are still popular today. They were full of exercises and to do lists, charts and graphs, but what I really remember where the quotes, many of them decades or even centuries old. The ones that lasted. The knowledge these writers returned to again and again.

Self-help books are full of knowledge from a diverse group. Here  I’ve quoted Maya Angelou, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bruce Lee, Frank Zappa, Calvin Coolidge, Joe Strummer, St. Augustine, and Marcus Aurelius.

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It was the quotes, the short sentences with powerful meaning  that connect, that I would highlight or write down. When things got difficult, I could go back and look at some of these words that writers, artists or leaders I admire have said. I’ve tried to incorporate them into core principles and a life philosophy. Some of them are pieces and parts of other quotes that spoke to me, so I decided to share them with my sons. My oldest is leaving for college and the youngest is beginning high school. I believe I’ve tried to live these, but just in case. After all we live 3 miles from Washington, DC, a city full of self-serving politicians, spin doctors and general corporate obfuscation. Today, standing for basic set principles can help one rise above the fray.

11 Big Life Things

  1. On Integrity. Be honest with yourself and others, keep your word. When somebody asks you a question, tell the truth, In the long run you’ll find this makes life much simpler.
  2. On Persistence. “No skill can take its place. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Persistence and determination will take you far.” Calvin Coolidge
  3. You cannot control everything that comes your way but you are in absolute control of how you react to it. Take time to breathe and improve a little bit each day.
  4. “Your mind is like a parachute, it doesn’t work if it is not open.” Frank Zappa. Listen to other people’s opinions. If you vehemently disagree with something, take some time to go to the source and read about it. What you often find is fascinating, sometimes funny. You don’t have to welcome every new idea with open arms, just be willing to listen and grow.
  5. On Principles. “In life and work, there are millions of methods and tactics, but principles are few. The man who grasps and follows a set of core principles can successfully select his methods”. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  6. Creativity. “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.” Maya Angelou. In the future, many of the jobs today will be done by machines. Creativity is not one of them. Creativity applied to any endeavor will make your work and your efforts stand apart.
  7. Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” Saint Augustine. Believe in something you cannot see, feel something you can’t touch.
  8. Be You, “The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.” Jim Carrey
  9. On leaving the nest. “This is not your practice life.” AJ Leon. “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” Henry David Thoreau
  10. Wisdom from my mom, your mom.  If you don’t take care of yourself you can’t be of service to others. Eat right, exercise and walk every day, take some time to relax.  Remember to breathe.
  11. Have a “helping” philosophy. Get up each morning and ask yourself “What good will I do this day?” It may be just holding a door or complimenting someone, but that’s a start. Make it a habit. It feels good.

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

SC Columbia

University of South Carolina.

Okay, now that I’ve covered some ancient wisdom, how about some new ideas. College is also about having fun, meeting people, and creating foundations for lifelong friendships.

With that in mind, here are 11 things I wish I knew my freshman year in college.

  1. You can turn your degree into anything you want it to be. Just because it’s not listed as a major doesn’t mean you can’t structure your degree to reflect your vocation. If you’re a business major, pick a minor, or specialized area of study, that really reflects your interests. Art, Music, Language, Communication.  Call it a specialized degree, I did.  
  2. Nothing great happens after 2 AM. Enjoy yourself but don’t try to be the last man standing. The last man standing is rarely standing for long. Get good at Irish goodbyes, slipping away to better things (like a late breakfast with a friend) when most of the people left at the party won’t remember you were there any way.
  3. Get eight hours of sleep a night. It’s the most important thing for your body and your brain. Try to do this for at least four nights in a row and you’ll be amazed how great you feel.
  4. All things in moderation, especially alcohol. I worked for a brewery and this is one of the first things I learned. There are lots of things you can skip, like shots of grain alcohol, cheap vodka, fruit flavored crap, strong beer. By the time I got out of college I was an expert at throwing a shots over my shoulder, or making them disappear right before I did. (see #2 Irish goodbye)
  5. Take some classes that have nothing to do with your major. If you hear about a great professor, learn more about the class. A great teacher can make any topic fascinating.
  6. Learn how to get into the best classes, at the best times. Be the first in line (or online) to register when you can, that one early morning will pay off. If you can avoid early morning or evening classes, do so. This takes some time and effort but your grades will reflect it. Some people never get into the good classes and they spend their time sleeping through that crappy class at 8 AM or flunking out.
  7. Find a mentor on campus. They can be an upperclassman, a professor holding office hours, the boss who gave you your first campus job. Someone you admire.
  8. Work in college. Once you get your feet wet on campus, think about jobs that will actually pay you and also look good on a resume. Juggling a part time job and studies is the best preparation for the real world.
  9. Drink a lot of water. Stay hydrated. College students, especially in stinking hot climates, walk around dehydrated. Your brain and your body need water to function. Fill up a big water bottle every morning and carry it wherever you go.  Find that reverse osmosis water cooler in the business school and tap that thing. If you’ve had alcohol, drink three large glasses of water before you go to bed and keep some bacon in your fridge you can microwave in the morning. Eat a banana with your bacon. This works.
  10. When you add up tuition, room and board, and other expenses, your college education is costing over $800 per credit hour. Think about that when you want to skip a class, even an 8am one. Squeeze every drop out of what’s paid for.
  11. Spend a semester abroad. Many people in this country are forgetting we live in a global economy. Go forth, meet people, and learn about them.

I’ll finish with this. You’re going to a great school, but it’s not the name of the school that counts, it’s what you do there, the people you meet and admire, the stories you’ll be able to tell anyone and be proud of. If you can graduate with no college debt, some work experience, a job you like, and some money in the bank, you’ll be at the top of every graduating class in the country.




Some of my Favorite Books


1 Comment

  1. Reenie Paes

    Absolutely beautifully written message to your son.

    You and Kelly are wonderful parents.

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