One morning I woke up in a hospital. I had on a yellow T-shirt that was covered in blood but I didn’t have a scratch on me. (I’ll explain later in the post)
I was 14 years old, in a room I’d never seen before, wearing pajama bottoms that weren’t mine. My tennis shoes were still on my feet.
There were a lot of mornings like this during my teens. I routinely woke up on sidewalks, in rehabs and in jails the morning after big parties. I had a severe allergy to alcohol and blacked out almost every time I drank.
This morning, I happened to be waking up from a blackout at the Youth Shelter in Ada, Oklahoma.
The Lost Youth of Ada, Oklahoma
The Youth Shelter was a place where troubled teens in my hometown of Ada, Oklahoma were sent when they were out of control.
At any given time there were 5–15 kids who had been picked up by police for being drunk, running away from home or trying to kill their parents. They lived here until the authorities and parents could come to an agreement on what to do with them.
It was an interesting crew to say the least.
There were a lot of bedrooms, a living room with a TV, a pool table and a kitchen where you could make your own food. They had a team of adults – counselors, teachers and doctors on staff who were there to help get you back on track.
On this particular trip (I was there several times) I had to stay for a week or two. It was during the school year and since I couldn’t go to school – they sent me to a little classroom inside the building. It was a basically a small office with a chalkboard and some chairs.
It was during class in this little makeshift school room that an adult, who was supposed to be helping me during a troubled time, took it upon herself to crush my dreams and break my life in half.
To this day I’m still not sure if she did it on purpose, or if she was just so stupid that she thought she was doing the right thing.
Either way, this is what happened.
What Do You Want To Do With Your Life?
After an hour or so of regular school classes like history and math we had some one-on-one personal counseling sessions. The woman teaching the class took a little time with each student to help us plan out our lives and goals.
Here’s how the conversation happened. Keep in mind, I’m 14 years old.
Teacher: “So, what do you want to do with your life?”
Malan: “I want to be a musician, a rock star”
Teacher: “Well, that’s impossible, you need to choose something else.”
Teacher: “What else do you want to be that’s more realistic?”
Malan: “I don’t want to be anything else.”
Teacher: “Ok, you’re not getting it. Um… what does your father do?”
What My Father Does
For most of my childhood my dad had been in and out of our family. When I was born he was in his early twenties and for the first 10–15 years of my life he had pursued a career as a drummer. He pursued music while also having a wife, 5 kids and a pretty horrible drinking problem.
When he was sober he was the best dad ever. A really funny guy with a loud, deep voice. He sang songs, setup a tent for us inside the house, told jokes and played the flyswatter like a banjo.
When he was drunk he was a nightmare. His deep voice slurred, tables flew across the house. Some nights mom would scream for her life.
Over the years mom and dad were married and divorced twice. Dad just couldn’t keep himself together and every year he got a little bit worse. By the time I was 14 his hands shook, his vision was failing and he was living in another small town about 30 minutes away.
My younger brother and sister went to visit him some weekends. Me and my two oldest brothers were teenagers and we’d had enough. To us he was a monster and an embarrassment. By the time I was 14 years old – I hated his guts.
His music career
He’d pursued music for a long time with some successes along the way. But he had been fired from most of the bands he was in. He was a great drummer, but his drinking issues were out of control.
My dad, playing drums in a band as a kid
So he started working different jobs. He worked in fiberglass factories, he even sold vaccum cleaners door to door for a while.
At the time of this story – at the moment this woman asked me what my father did – he was living down a dirt road in a little brown shack. There was a small oil field just down the road from the shack. That’s where he worked.
My dad, standing in front of his house in Seminole, Oklahoma
I think his job was climbing into 100+ degree oil drums and cleaning them out. It was filthy, hard work for very little pay.
He spent his time off in his little shack, drinking, smoking weed and listening to classic rock with his friends.
He Works In An Oilfield
So when this woman asked me “What does your father do?” I didn’t know what to say.
Where did I begin? How could I explain the addiction, the depression, the fights, the divorces, the ruined Christmases, the terror we felt on the really bad nights. How could I tell her all that ?
so I just said.
Malan: “He works in an oil field.”
Teacher: “Ok. Then that’s what you’ll do. You’re going to work in an oilfield.”
And that’s when it happened.
She crushed me completely
In that short conversation she managed to listen to my dreams, told me they were impossible and condemned me to become my father – a man who would ultimately commit suicide just one year later.
This adult, who was supposed to be helping me plan my future had sentenced me to a life of failure, depression, minimum wage and suicide. All in a single 5-minute conversation.
The gravity of my new future weighed down on my 14 year old shoulders like a mountain of concrete blocks.
That feeling never left.
I still feel it to this day.
I was doomed
Her condeming talk stuck with me for the rest of my life. It crippled my existence. (I guess that’s kind of obvious though, because I’m sitting here writing about it all these years later.)
It became a self fullfilling prophecy.
I ended up going down a path that almost led me directly to my dad’s fate. Just before I moved to California (6 years ago) there was a moment in time where I came to the conclusion that my life had two options.
- Fly to Cambodia. Buy a pistol and an acoustic guitar when I got there with some money I’d saved. Play on the streets for money. Whatever happened, happened.
- Drive out into the woods, drink a bottle of whiskey and take some pills, then put several trash bags over my head and blow my brains out. (the trash bags were to keep it from being too messy, I wanted it to be tidy for whoever found me)
Really, I researched this stuff for weeks. Ask anyone who knew me at the time… things were not good.
Luckily things turned around
These days I’ve gotten my life together. I’m definitely not living on a dirt road in Seminole, Oklahoma, drinking myself to death and contemplating suicide.
And when I get focused I do pretty well with music. And it’s still a huge part of my life. I’m no rock star, but I’ve had some pretty good times…
Me, accepting a music award with my band Rewake.
Playing a sold out show with 311.
And along the way, I discovered online marketing which was a direct result of me being on a “make it in the music business” email list. (They happened to email out a link to a course on SEO marketing one day.)
I haven’t had a “job” in 6 years now – and I probably will never work a job again.
From this new perspective I’m able to look back at that situation and see it for what it was. She was just a clueless adult who had no qualifications to give life advice to kids.
And she gave me some really crappy advice.
Why I (Still) Don’t Trust Adults
I used to think of the woman from the Youth Shelter as this evil person. But as I write this, I’m probably older than she was back then. And now I can see things more clearly. It’s simple really.
Adults don’t have the answers.
They have their own, limited experience that they can draw from to give advice.
- Some adults have great experiences and tons of wisdom to share with you.
- Some adults have never done jack shit and have zero knowledge for you.
I’d say the ratio is about 95% bad, 5% good.
This woman at the Youth Shelter hadn’t done much with her life. She was just an adult (a grown up kid) who was passing down the same shitty advice adults had given her when she was a kid.
She had probably ended up as a part time teacher at a small town Youth Shelter because at some point, she had been told to “be realistic” about her life.
Maybe she wanted to be an actress, or a doctor when she was a little girl and her dad told her to “Be realistic” because acting was impossible and girls couldn’t be doctors.
And maybe her dad only gave her that bad info because it’s what his mom had told him.
And that’s where the problem lies.
Don’t Listen To Adults
If you have a question about life – never ask an adult that hasn’t done something with their life for advice.
It’s not that adults are bad it’s just that what they’re going to tell you is going to come from whatever crappy reality they’ve experienced – but they’re going to tell it like it’s the truth.
- If they couldn’t do it, it’s impossible.
- If they didn’t make it, it’s pointless for you to try.
It’s not necessarily even the adult’s fault.
The same thing probably happened to them when they were kids. When they answer your question they could be giving you bad information that has been handed down in their family for 100 years. You could be being limited by someone else’s failure from 1910.
Think about it.
If you ask the same question to an adult that wanted to be a rockstar but ended up becoming a manager at a movie theater the same question, they will say “No way, it’s impossible. Trust me… don’t waste your time.”
Like it’s a fact.
The next time you ask someone for advice, take a good look at their own life experience. Have they done what you’re trying to do? Have they done anything? If not, be very careful with their own world view they give you, disguised as advice.
How To Properly Use Adult Advice
If you really want to learn from an average adult, ask them what you should not do. Instead of asking an adult what you should do with your life, ask them what their worst mistake was, or what they’d change if given in the chance.
I once read an article where a nurse, who took care of patients who were sent home from the hospital to die documented the regrets of her near death patients. They gave answers like “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Now that’s some great advice. Imagine if every adult on earth, when asked by a child what they should do with their life they said:
“Live a life true to yourself”
“follow the rules, go to school and get a job.”
Life may be completely different.
If you want great advice from an adult. Ask them what they regret the most, or what you should not do with your life. Then you’ll get some real answers.
Or – you might want to try this.
How to get real answers
If you want real answers to what is possible for you in your life, ask a child.
Why? Because kids, up to a certain age (0-10) still have an understanding of our limitless reality that adults have either forgotten, been talked out of or just gave up on.
- They know money means nothing.
- Style doesn’t matter.
- And that hugs are important.
- They love animals.
- They give names to rocks.
- They don’t see skin color.
They haven’t been brainwashed yet.
It happens fast though, as soon as a kid enters the school system they’re at risk. By the time they hit their teens, it’s usually over. So when it comes to asking kids for advice, the younger the better.
Kids make great advice givers because:
- They know that it’s possible for anyone to do anything.
- They know that if your can think it, you can make it happen
- They have no concept of prior failures, no bad information (yet)
Children are the closet things to pure humans on earth.
It is only later, as adults get ahold of them that they “learn” how the world works.
- They “learn” that they have to be realistic
- They “learn” to fit in
- They “learn” they are rich
- They “learn” they are poor
- They “learn” to settle for less
- They “learn” to demand more
- They “learn” to hate people that aren’t like them
They “learn” to be adults.
Check your head
And you may be saying to yourself “But not everyone can be a rock star, and kids really do need to be realistic“.
Think about it… who told you that?
It definitely wasn’t someone like Mahatma Gandhi, Tony Robbins, Steve Jobs, Bjork or Michael Jackson. It was probably someone more like your Mom, Dad or “Uncle Larry”.
If you ask an enlightened adult who still has some child left in them for advice about your big dream – they’re not going to say “Be realistic, work in an oil field…” they’ll say something like: “Interesting… tell me all about it.”
When you ask an adult for advice, there is a pretty good chance you’re going to get a warped world view disguised as advice that can screw your whole life up.
So, the next time you need advice, ask a child. Children are the closest thing we have to pure humans, and they will give you the best advice there is…
that anything is possible.
P.S. Ok so if you read this all the way through I’ll tell you the quick story of how I woke up with no pants on, covered in blood with no cuts on me. The story goes like this.
- Me and a teenage friend were drinking Everclear in a kitchen, I black out.
- We walked into the backyard and started arguing.
- He punches out a few windows and cuts up his hands and arms badly.
- We hug and make up, his blood goes all over me.
- I step out of my pants and underwear to pee on the ground.
- I see a bicycle, get on it and ride into the night, naked from the waist down.
Later, police found me passed out, with a crashed bicycle, no pants on, covered in blood in someone’s front yard. They take me to the Ada Youth Shelter.
End of story.