Ben Stein's Diary

Back to School Night

Good advice for Bonner Ferry High School's senior class.

By 9.4.13

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Tuesday
Sandpoint. It is the day after Labor Day. Like clockwork, summer has ended. The sky is slate gray. There is no one on the beach, not anyone. There is almost no one on the streets. The only place where there is any traffic is at the post office. It’s jammed. It takes a letter seven days to get from here to L.A.

I said, “good bye,” to the postal people, “au revoir,” to the nice woman at Vanderford’s, sayonara to Ward, my ace artist and picture framer. I had a lovely long talk with a woman who used to baby sit Tommy here long ago and was beautiful then and has become even more beautiful. Seemingly, she can run all day and all night. I gave her a ride home to the middle of a dark forest.

Tim was at our home installing my new TV which I have to get ready for 2014, should I live that long. We had bought it at Walmart yesterday and it was damaged. But Walmart cheerfully took it back and gave me a new one. Critics jeer at Walmart, but they treat their customers right. I didn’t even have my receipt but they did not hesitate a second to exchange it.

Now, I am writing my list of what I wish I had known when I was a senior in high school, in order to tell it to the kind people at Bonners Ferry High School.

I know I have told you some of this before but let’s try to get it all straight:

1.) The absolutely most important decision you will ever make in your life is who you marry. If you pick a loyal, responsible, sensible, caring spouse who will stick with you, who will guide you through life and try to keep you out of trouble but will stand up for you no matter what, you are far ahead of the game. If you pick a bad spouse, almost nothing can save you from misery.

2.) It is lonely out there in life and you are far better being married than being alone, except that you are better off being alone than being with someone who is negative, sabotages you, and scrambles your brains.

3.) You must get all of the education you possibly can. There is no such thing in this life in America at present as a solid, comfortable existence without either inherited money, sports, or entertainment talent of a huge size, or, for the other 99.9 per cent of us -- a good education. No amount of muscles in your back make up for having a degree in anything useful. No smile, no matter how bright, makes up for lack of training in a useful field. If at all possible, try to get it from the government of the United States or of Idaho. Unless you can think of a compelling reason or if you have money to burn, you should go to a state school. If you are a super star in academics or sports and can go to a well known private school on scholarship, that’s a different story. Then, go to Gonzaga or Harvard or Stanford.

4.) There is no substitute at all in life for making yourself likable. If you think of the people you want to be around, to be with, to look up to, to trust with your time and money, they are likable people. There is absolutely no reason at all that you cannot be one of them.

You may say, “But I’m just naturally shy or crabby,” and if you say so, I believe you.

But you can change who you are. Your personality is not engraved in stone. You can work to make yourself more likable, more impressive, more charming. And by working at it, you can get it done.

I know a number of incredibly rich, successful men. All of them were self-made in the sense that they consciously set out to change themselves to make themselves more likable and thus to get what they wanted out of life.

You can do it, too. A good start would be to read How To Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. It is a very old book but an indispensable book. You cheat yourself if you do not read it.

5.) You must not spend more than you earn, at least not at the early stages of your work life. It is catastrophic to get into debt at an early age, except for something truly vital like a home or a modest car or truck. Getting into credit-card debt that you cannot pay off in full each month is a nightmare. Don’t let yourself do it. Do not let the banks bleed you white for their own profit. Credit cards are fine things, but pay them off as soon as you get the bill. If you cannot do that, don’t use them at all.

5.) Start saving as soon as you can. It is a fearful thing to be broke. It is a terrifying thing to lose your job and have no savings. Do not let it happen to you. In times of adversity, you must have savings. No stereo or vacation or car is as important as savings, put away in a safe place like a bank. When you have enough to put some into the stock market or real estate, we can talk about that, but to start out, you simply must have as much savings as possible.

The difference in the ability to sleep at night between those who have money saved and those who do not is breathtaking.

6.) Try to work in a craft or trade of business that pays well and also that you enjoy. You will almost always earn far more in a field that you love than in one that feels like prison every day when you walk in the door. But you should also try to work in a field where pay is good, and in an area like this, that often means government work. If it you cannot find work here that you like and that pays a decent wage, you should give thought to moving.

There is a big world out there and a big country and there is no mandatory reason at all that you have to stay in Boundary County. There are plenty of other places to live and with Skype and the Internet, you can stay in touch with your friends almost free almost all day long.

It is challenging at first to move, but to earn a decent living, it is well worth it.

7.) Be well dressed and look sharp all of the time. There’s just no excuse to look like a bum. Clean clothes are not that expensive. Shaving cream is not expensive. Neither are razor blades. Neither is shampoo. You will be amazed at how much better a reception you get in life when you look better and smell better. This sounds amazingly obvious, but for many people, it isn’t at all.

You undoubtedly prefer to be around neat, well-groomed men and women, and that’s how they feel about you, too.

Make yourself into the kind of person you want to be around. I have said it before and it’s totally, utterly true that you can do it if you put your mind to it.

8.) Stay the heck away from drugs. I know they are tempting. I indulged way too much when I was young. It was a waste and wildly self-destructive. How I wish I had never done it. Don’t even think of doing it. No dope. No cocaine. No meth. Just stay away. And while you’re at it, forget cigarettes, too. You might just as well spray yourself with roach poison as inhale tobacco. It makes you smell terrible and it kills you. Just say no. And alcohol is poison, too, except in very small quantities. Again, better to just stay away.

The benefits of alcohol as compared with its harm are very small. Experience them when you are young if you must, but after that, stay away.

9.) Get enough sleep. The way you feel when you are well rested is so much better than when you are exhausted it’s just night and day. Sleep is one of God’s main gifts. So is exercise, and vigorous exercise when you are young is glorious.

10.) Have a loving dog or cat in your home. Pets make life bearable.

11.) No matter what, no matter what the temptation, stay away from crime. Don’t drive drunk. Don’t deal or possess illegal drugs. Don’t play with guns in a way that violates the law. Just stay away from anything that could possibly land you in jail or prison. That’s a horrible way to live. No gain from crime is worth even the possibility of incarceration. Don’t ever forget that.

12.) Hard work is a pleasure, not a burden. Remember that all your life and never stop working. Work is better than drugs, better than sports, better than sex, to make you feel as if you belonged on this earth and have a place here.

13.) This one is not from the Boundary County School District: have a God in your life. Have a God of love and mercy and your life will work far better than if you didn’t. If you don’t believe in God, pretend you do, and soon you will.

14.) Do not associate with bad companions. And this one for women especially, don’t make this big mistake that a lot of women make: They marry a man with a lot of bad habits and think they can change him. They never can and better to just stay away in the first place.

15.) Have gratitude every day of your life for glorious Idaho, for your families, for your friends, for the greatest gift of all time to civilization, The United States of America, and for every healthy breath you take.

That’s it for now. I’m tired and I am going to follow my own advice and get some sleep.You can scarcely imagine how good it feels to be far from Eric Holder and his entourage of hate.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.