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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World by Marshall Brain, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9. For more information on the book please click here.

Preface for the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World

I have to start by confessing to you that I was a pretty miserable teenager. I can remember thinking, "What the heck is going on here?" quite a bit. I can remember feeling like an idiot a great deal of the time. I can painfully remember "not fitting in" and how bad that felt. I can remember being totally petrified by girls and dating and everything about it. I can remember knowing that I was doing the "right" thing, while most other people at school were doing the "wrong" thing. Yet they were having a lot more fun, and I was sitting home alone. I can remember feeling like most people hated me. I simply could not understand how the world works.

Let me give you some examples:

  • I can remember falling madly in love with a girl in the ninth grade. This was from a distance, of course. There was no way I would ever have the nerve to actually go talk with her, much less tell her how I felt. I was petrified around girls. So when Valentineís Day came around I had an idea. I bought her a nice card, signed it and put it in her locker late one afternoon when the halls were deserted. God, I loved this girl! If only she knew, and if only she felt the same way. The next day between classes I opened my locker and out fell a sheet of paper that said in large emphatic letters, "DO NOT EVER COME NEAR ME OR MY LOCKER AGAIN!!!!" I was devastated.
  • I can remember applying for jobs and being rejected. I can remember working in a bike shop for free one summer because I really wanted to have a job and I liked working on my bicycle. And I can remember wondering why the owner was always so uptight. Why was he so worried about money all the time? I just didnít get it. I was working for free and I was doing fine. Why should money be so important to him?
  • I can remember thinking that my mother was an absolute idiot. About nearly everything. I simply could not understand why she would not listen to me. I can remember asking her for things and her saying, "No," and finding that incomprehensible. She would not give me money. She would not let me ride my bicycle at night. She would not let me take trips with my friends on weekends. And yet, I can remember asking a girl out, actually going out with her, having it go so badly that all I could do when I got home was curl up in bed in a fetal position while waves of embarrassment and agony washed over me and my mother came and rubbed my back. She didnít say a word. She was just there, and she made me feel like a person again.
  • I can remember seeing cliques of people in high school and not understanding what was happening or what they were all about. Why couldnít everyone just like everyone else? Why were some people cool, even though they were doing the worst in school? Why did the football players get all the girls? Why would the pretty girls not talk to me, and why were the nice girls so different when they were in a group?
  • I can remember a friend of mine trying to commit suicide. I can remember another friend of mine dying helplessly of leukemia. And I can remember wondering how one could want to die so badly and one could want to live so badly, yet neither of them got what they wanted.
  • I can remember being rejected by the college I wanted to go to and how bad that made me feel.
  • I can remember that when anyoneóespecially an adultócomplimented me on anything, my response was, "Not really," or, "No, Iím not." For example, if a teacher said, "That was a great report you handed in. You are a good writer," my response would be, "Not really," or, "No, Iím not." It was not until I had published four books that I could first accept that I might be a good writer.
  • I can remember how absolutely geeky I felt whenever I had to wear a suit.
  • I can remember going to things like weddings, church meetings, adult parties, etc. and listening to the adults talking about things like money, the stock market, taxes, bosses, politics, the news, and so on and thinking, "My God, these people are boring. All they care about is money and gossip. I hope I am never an adult."
  • I can remember getting pulled over for wearing Walkman headphones in Maryland. I can remember getting pulled over in a small town in Vermont for going three miles over the speed limit. And I can remember asking, "Why are the police bugging me while hundreds of people are robbed and murdered every day?"
  • I can remember taking classes like economics, psychology, accounting and history and thinking, "When will I ever use this stuff?" I can remember writing papers and doing math problems that I was sure were useless. Over and over and over again for no apparent reason.
  • I can remember hating PE, hating my body, hating sports, hating locker rooms.
Perhaps you have felt some of these things yourself.

And yet I was a pretty OK guy. Although I felt like an idiot all during my teen years, I look back now and wonder why I felt that way. As an adult I have been successful. My sister and I, who were sworn enemies as teenagers, have a great relationship now. I am married to a kind and beautiful woman who would have melted me on the spot if I had seen her in high school. I have a loving mother who I now consider one of my best friends. It turns out that nearly everything I felt as a teenager was wrong.

Maybe you feel like I felt as a teenager. You donít fit in, people seem to hate you, no one understands you and you feel unhappy and alone much of the time. Yet when you look around everyone else seems happy, they have jobs and they are successful and you are thinking, "They are so happy and I am so miserableóthere must be something wrong with me." Let me fill you in on one of the facts of life: The vast majority of people feel like that when they are teenagers. The handsome star quarterback who makes straight As and has all the girls hanging all over himóhe might be happy. Most everyone else is confused much of the time. Ask almost any adult and they will tell you stories of mistakes and mortification as teens. Then you get older, things actually get better and you become an adult.

If someone had said to me at 16, "You feel horrible now, but in 20 years you will be a happy, normal, successful, married adult," I would have laughed in his face. There was just no way. The reason I would have laughed is because I could see no path from where I stood at 16 to any happy place. The world and everyone in it made no sense most of the time.

I really wish someone had taken the time to sit down with me when I was 16 and tell me how the world works and why all these crazy and incomprehensible things happened to me. Not in the way most adults did, with phrases like, "One day you will understand," "It will get better," or "You are a good person, really!" I needed someone to explain it to me in detail. For example, why do girls hate me? Why do people wear suits? Why are football players popular? Why do I feel so incompetent all the time? Why does the world seem so unfair? What are the rules to the game of life? That last one is a question I thought about a lot as a teenager, although it never would have occurred to me to put it into words. It really would have saved me a lot of time and trouble if there had been something I could have read that had all the rules. Why wasnít there a book that told me all of this stuff so that I could understand?

The book you are now holding is an answer to that question. I have written it to help teenagers in general, but really I am writing it to myself. This is the book that I wish someone had handed me when I was 16 so that I could understand what was going on around me. Think of it as the "Secret Handbook" that all successful adults carry with them. It explains the game of life. It shows you why adults do the things they do. It explains how the world works and how you will become an adult yourself.

The question I have now, and will always have, is this: Would I have listened to this book when I was 16? Could I have understood what it is saying? Would I have started to read Chapter 1, gotten to about the bottom of the second page, and said, "The author of this book is a Total Idiot!" and thrown the book away? I cannot answer that question. But Iíd say there is about a 50% chance that might have happened.

I am going to ask you to be smarter than that. Even if you donít like it at first, or if it initially seems to be way off base, read this book from cover to cover. Circle the things that you think are unfair or ridiculous and go ask your parents or an adult friend for another point of view. Talk to your teachers. Talk to your friends. Show people the book and say, "Can you explain this to me?" Try out some of the suggestions. See what happens. After you have read this book once, put it down and return to it again a few months later and see if your opinions change. You might be surprised.

My goal in writing this book is to help you to see how the world works so that you donít feel so mystified, so that you can see that you are OK, so that you can understand what is going on around you, so that you can find your place in the world more quickly, and so that you can be more successful. If I can help you to do that, then I am glad. Drop me a note; I would love to hear from you.

Marshall Brain
c/o BYG Publishing, Inc.
P.O. Box 40492
Raleigh, NC 27629

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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9, published by BYG Publishing, Inc. For more information on ordering a copy of the book, click here.

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Keywords: teenagers, teenager, teen age, teenage, teens, teen, adolescents, adolescent, parents, parent