Don’t Screw Up Your Life, Part 1

By Cliff Springs

I read a very interesting statistic a few weeks ago.  In Bernard Goldberg’s book “Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right”, he quotes a pretty startling statistic:  if you 1) graduate high school, 2) don’t have kids until you’re married, and 3) don’t get married until you’re 20 then you have only an 8% chance of living in poverty.

Before I go any farther,  I must first declare that I am extremely hesitant to believe statistics that aren’t easily verifiable, and I will readily acknowledge that I haven’t made any real effort to validate that statistic.  But because it ties so perfectly into a belief system that has served me well for most of my life (and has thus been verified to me), I’m going to use it as a launching point for this article.

Take a look at those three requirements again.  Graduate.  Don’t get pregnant until you’re married.  Don’t get married before you’re 20.  They’re pretty basic.  They require neither superhuman effort nor uncommon luck. 

So what does that tell us?  I would boil the message down to this:  don’t screw up your life before you have a chance to get it started. 

Point #1:  Graduating high school is free and is an almost universal prerequisite to nearly every decent-paying job that is out there.  I, like many teenagers, was not thoroughly interested in school.  I knew it was important and I did what was required (too often minimally), but there were many other things in life I enjoyed more than homework.  But graduation and college were never in doubt for me.  I understood the bigger picture even though I now wish I had gone through school with my current appetite for knowledge. 

I bring myself into this equation here for one simple reason:  I have spent the better part of my life attempting to not CREATE problems for myself.  I’m not afraid of risk-taking and I tend to dream big.  But making stupid mistakes is not one of my favorite pastimes.  From the time I was a teenager, I became an observer of my peers.  I witnessed the many dodge-able land mines that my friends and classmates seemed to step right onto.  In the Bible, Proverbs tells us that it is wise to learn by watching and listening.  I have made and still make plenty of mistakes, but most of them have not fallen into the category of life-altering.  I’ll cover this more in Don’t Screw Up Your Life Part II very soon.

Back to the points:  graduating high school should not be an insurmountable challenge for most people.  We’re not talking about earning all As nor taking honors classes.  Just graduate.

Point #2:  Don’t have children/get pregnant until you’re married.  This one has all sorts of ramifications—even tying back to Point #1.  If you’re female, getting pregnant may force you to drop out of high school.  If you’re male, you may drop out to get a job to support the mother and child (although this seems to be less and less common these days). 

But let’s step past high school for the moment.  What happens when you have children before marriage?  Maybe you decide to give it a try and get married.  The old “shotgun” marriage doesn’t exactly get to start out on the right foot.  Marriage has enough adjustment and stress of its own without children being piled on top right off the bat.  More than 50% of these marriages end in divorce—for any variety of reasons.  Divorce means child support for one partner and something close to solo parenting for the other.  Neither of these situations lend themselves to prosperity.

Maybe you decide NOT to get married.  Again, solo parenting and child support (to say nothing of the instability and insecurity you pass on to your child).  If you’re female, you may have to quit work to raise your child, depending on child support (if you can collect it) or family to support you—I’ll reiterate:  not the path to prosperity.  And if you’re family is already struggling financially, adding a child to this burden makes it more difficult for everyone.

Point #3:  Wait until you’re 20 to get married.  Why?  I think this is simply a matter of age and maturity.  You’re just getting started in life.  You likely haven’t had time to work your way up any kind of ladder of job responsibility, so your income is limited.  For most people, you’ve only really had the opportunity to be “on your own” for little more than a year—assuming you’ve actually been on your own at all. 

When I graduated college, I declared that I would never again date anyone between the ages of 18 and 22.  There’s too much change, too much flux during that time.  The explanation I used to give is that I might start out dating one person and end up with someone completely different (the same person) because of the transformation people undergo in that age range.  Many people are really just getting a sense of who they are and the types of decisions they make when faced with the “freedom” of adulthood.  I believe people would be better off waiting even later than age 20, but these are really just minimum standards here.  By waiting until age 20, there’s at least been an opportunity to be an adult for a couple of years before tying the knot.

This isn’t rocket science, but unfortunately, it’s also not common knowledge.  It’s imperative that youth be taught that their “youthful indiscretions” can actually have a lifelong impact. 

It’s also a message of hope.

It tells me that escaping poverty is more within someone’s grasp than many people and organizations with an agenda would have us believe.  Of course, the case can be made that escaping these cycles of behavior is very much part of the culture of the impoverished.  Perhaps.  But cultural tendencies and societal oppression are two very different things. 

These are three very basic decisions that are fully within the grasp of most everyone in this country.  Graduate.  No kids before marriage.  No marriage until 20.  If we took a step back from guilt-ridden social agendas and concentrated on preaching this gospel of personal responsibility, imagine the impact this message could have.  Taking responsibility for charting the course of your life is one of the things that makes America great.  Regardless of your lot in life or your socioeconomic beginnings, the ability to rise above poverty is almost certainly within your hands.



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