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Hi, kids! I'm John. I used to be a massive screw-up who drank away over 20 years of his life while sleeping on other people's couches and eating their food, while they worked to pay the bills and make sure I didn't die of starvation, alcohol poisoning, or an overdose of ... well, name a drug. Today, I'm clean, successful, and I help run a section of Cracked that's responsible for about a fourth of what you read here. Life has been good, but it didn't get that way until I learned some pretty important lessons that I should have learned when I was still in high school.

Fortunately, you don't have to waste a couple of decades to figure this stuff out for yourself. You don't have to worry about fixing a credit rating that's written in tears in your 40s or learning how to climb a corporate ladder when your kids are closing in on their own graduations. Knowing how to do that stuff starts right now. You just have to realize a few important things as you wrap up your final years of high school. For instance ...

Know Your Limitations

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One of the most common messages adults love to give kids is, "You can be anything you want to be. You just have to want it badly enough." For the most part, that's true. If you genuinely have a passion for something, go after it. Practice your youthful, energetic face clean off until you master your craft, and you'll eventually find an awesome job doing that thing. As long as that job doesn't require a face, because yours is now gone.

That passion is key, though. Passion is the motivator that makes you do something over and over, even when it gets boring. When I was in high school, I had a passion for art. I loved drawing with charcoal, and I spent pretty much all of my spare time drawing pictures of human faces. Here's one I did of Michael Stipe of REM back when he had hair:

Back when he was both shiny and happy.

Eventually, I got good enough with charcoal to get much more precise than the above picture. I figured out ways to remove pencil marks. I learned techniques to make the facial features exact. When I finally gave up drawing, my portraits were near photographic. So if I had a passion for art, and I became that skilled with it, why didn't I become a successful artist? I didn't know my limitations.

At the time, I didn't realize that people aren't going to buy a picture of Michael Stipe. People wanted portraits of their family, their dog, their house -- they wanted personalized art. And that meant working directly with the customer to produce something they'd pay for. In order to sell the type of work I enjoyed, I had to do it by their specifications. On top of that, I had to barter with them on the price. I had to create a business, because people weren't going to find me unless I took out an ad in the paper, rented out buildings to show my work, invested money into equipment, and did drawings I'd never sell just so I could hang them on a wall as an example. I hated all of that. I wasn't a salesman, and I didn't want to be.

Had I recognized those limitations early enough, I could have taken some business classes or spoken to other successful artists to learn how they pulled it off. I could have looked those limitations right in their cold, dead eyes and given them the finger. Instead, I let those limitations destroy my passion, and after 20 years of nonstop work, I gave it all up and flushed that skill down the toilet. I haven't picked up a charcoal pencil in over 15 years.

Know your own limitations. Do you want to become a famous UFC fighter, but you're afraid of getting punched in the face? You'd probably better practice your dodging ... or let someone punch you in the face until you get used to it. Want to be the world's best mechanic, but your arms are too weak to turn a wrench? Start lifting weights or get one of those arm-wrestling ropes that Sylvester Stallone uses in Over The Top.

I'm not telling you to give up on your dreams if you have shortcomings. I'm telling you to punch those shortcomings in the crotch. Because if you recognize those limitations and don't do anything about them, you might as well just give up and move on to something else. Every person who ends up on an audition episode of one of those reality talent shows has passion for what they're doing. But because they don't recognize and do something about their limitations, many of them take on the role of, "Look at these stupid assholes who think they're awesome. Hahaha! Losers!" We're not shooting for five minutes of fame. We're shooting for a lifetime of happiness.

Figure Out What You Want To Do With Your Life (In General)

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I still think, after all these years, that when someone asks you what you want to do with your life, you should respond the way Twisted Sister did in the video "I Wanna Rock":

But chances are, you're not going to have a backup band ready to go at the time, and the person asking you isn't going to be a cheesy over-actor. Still, you need to have at least a general idea of what area you want to anchor your career. I'm not talking about nailing down an exact job title. Dee Snider didn't say he wanted to be a sound engineer at a major studio or that he wanted to be the frontman of a world-famous rock band. He simply wanted to rock. And then he did.

The next several years of your life will be modeled after this decision, so you're going to have to give it some serious thought. Do you want to do something with math? You don't want to sink the first three semesters of college into an English-centered degree and then have to back up and switch gears once you figure that out. Doing that can effectively extend your college graduation by a year or two. Don't be that weirdo who ends up attending the same school for 10 years. That's just sad.

michaeljung via iStock
Finally, I can land a job teaching dodgeball.

Getting that general idea nailed down will save you tons of headaches in your first year or two at college. Once you have some experience under your belt (ew, that sounds gross), you can then fine-tune your program and figure out a more specific career goal. Very few of the successful people I know ended up getting a job in the exact area they studied in college, but all of them are using the generalized skills in their careers.

Our editor-in-chief, who runs all of Cracked, studied philosophy. He's not a professional philosopher, but those general philosophy skills directly translate to making our articles specific to our site's voice. David Wong studied broadcast journalism, which taught him how to convey points quickly and efficiently. That freak is now a New York Times best-selling author, and he runs the entire feature section for us. I studied to be a math teacher, and now I ... um ... can write article points in groups of five.

You get the idea. Just take my word for it and figure out your niche now. It'll save you from having to break out the shovel to dig yourself out of a mountain of horseshit later down the line.

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This Is The Best Job Training You'll Ever Have ... Embrace It

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What a lot of high-schoolers don't realize (and how could they; there's no point of comparison yet) is that everything you're doing right now is the rock bottom basics of how a job physically functions. You're waking up at a stupid hour of the morning, operating on someone else's schedule, doing monotonous tasks for eight hours a day until the weekend. This is one of the big reasons it's hard to get a good job without a diploma.

It has very little to do with implied intelligence and everything to do with figuring out if you can hack it in an adult world. A high school diploma is basically your "This person isn't a lazy sack of shit" certificate.

That diploma tells a potential employer that you have the basic ability to show up, stay until it's time to clock out, and do good enough work to pass an authority figure's scrutiny. It tells them that you have the stamina to put up with other people's idiotic mood swings without nunchucking them in the butthole, as well as controlling your own without getting kicked out of school. Because understand this right now: Real people being in crappy moods will take up a staggering amount of your life after graduation. In some industries, like customer support, it will be the sole function of your job. Dealing with other people's bullshit is a skill everyone needs but few people master. Having that skill makes you valuable.

I told you to stop making paper levitate in the office!

That diploma shows a potential boss that you were able to bite your lip and take it, even when the teacher was wrong, right up through graduation. It means you know how to function in a social environment ... which is really important, because most jobs are exactly that. Not just because customers are involved but co-workers as well. Being able to address incompetency or another worker's bad day without flipping out and spin-kicking them in the teeth is a basic skill all people need, but sometimes a miracle to pull off.

My senior year, I almost quit school. I made it as far as the front office, with all my books in hand. My locker was totally cleaned out, and I was done. I only had a few months to go before graduation, but I just couldn't take the stress anymore. Lucky for me, the people in that office actually gave a crap about me, and they gave me a few days off to calm down and think about it. I finished the year and graduated, and I still shudder to think of the bullshit jobs I would have had to take if they had let me go. Watching factory workers make bottle caps on How It's Made is fascinating to me, but not if I was the one doing it.

What I'm saying is: Stick it out. You're going to get stressed, and you're legally allowed to give it all up. Don't. I'd really rather see you driving a Jaguar F-Type ... not washing someone else's. This last year or two of high school is excellent job training. Use it to your advantage.

Know The Difference Between Memorizing And Learning -- Your Career Depends On It

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Aside from learning the physical grind of a job, you're also learning how to position yourself within one. It may not seem like it, but you are, and there's one extremely important thing you can do right now that will give you an edge over pretty much every other person competing for your spot in a job or college: learning.

No, it's not what you're thinking. It's not about memorizing facts or passing tests. That is important, but it's only a floor-level rung that gets you to a higher skill set that companies pay out the ass for. I'm talking about learning something so intimately that you can teach it to other people. Having that ability is the difference between a fry cook struggling to make rent and a restaurant manager owning her own house.

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Every last one of you can suck it.

It doesn't matter what job you end up working. As a semi washer, I was a pretty solid crew member. But I never got a promotion until I was able to teach others how to do it well. As a columnist for Cracked, my job is to write articles that people want to read. As an editor, my job is to teach other writers how to do that. Every time I climb another rung on that ladder, I get a bigger salary, more input into the site, stronger responsibilities; the more I can teach other writers, the more my value goes up. Right now, I'm worth well over six dollars. In your face, Daniel.

Memorizing facts makes you smart. Learning the information well enough that you can teach it to other people? That makes you an authority. Everything you're doing right now in your final years of high school is the world's longest job-training seminar. Use it. If you take nothing else away from this article, remember this: The most successful, influential people in the world are, at their core, teachers.

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But, ironically, not actual teachers. They don't count.

The reason is because when a worker gets really good at their job, that becomes the baseline expectations for a company. They want every worker doing what their golden child can do. That golden child then teaches those skills to new workers as the company standard. The new workers then become as good as the person who taught them and, in theory, even better. They then become the new baseline, and the process repeats. That's how a company grows. If you're the one setting those new standards and teaching the new workers how to be Betty Awesomeface, you will bank mad cash. Hell, for that matter, it's just a great way to become a better human.

All of this starts in your classes right now. You're probably not going to be able to teach every single class you attend, but everyone has a strong subject. Start there. Hell, maybe that's the solution for what we talked about earlier: finding out what you want to do with your life. Personally, I wanna rock, but to each his own.

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You're Not A Child Anymore ... Know This

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The week I moved out of my mom's house, I was petrified. Up until that point, I had someone to tell me when to go to bed, when to clean my room, when to stop aggressively dancing in my neighbors' faces. If my shoes were worn out, it was her responsibility to replace them. She knew how long to cook chicken so it didn't kill me, or how much soap to use in the washer to remove urine stains. I didn't.

Until I slept in my first apartment that first night, I considered myself a kid. But the truth is, I hadn't been a kid for quite a while. I had been old enough to make my own decisions since before I was legally allowed to drive. But the simple act of living under someone else's roof, following someone else's rules, warped my perspective. I thought of myself as a kid because I felt like a kid.

That perspective is everything, and if you don't start worming your way out of it, you are going to feel some major shock when it's time to fling yourself out of the nest and realize halfway down that you never learned how to flap. Man, I just realized how stupid birds are.

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The only way to break yourself out of that frame of mind is to start making some life decisions. Don't get me wrong, I don't want you reading this article and then storming into your parents' bedroom, screaming, "Wake up, fuckos! Which one of you tubesteaks gets the honor of being my bitch?!" If you're still living in their house, you're still bound by their rules. But that doesn't mean you can't ease into your own life choices, even if mom and dad are super strict.

You have the ability to choose your own job, college, major ... and if your parents are so strict that they won't allow you to do any of that, you need to keep one thing in mind: The second you graduate, move out on your own, and start paying your own bills, they don't get to say jack shit. You may feel obligated to follow their rules so you don't make them mad, but that's just force of habit. Even the act of following those rules at that point is totally your choice. You own that. It's what makes you an adult.

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Well ... unless they're trying to prevent those sweaters. Then just listen to them.

In the meantime, find other facets of your life that you do have power over and make those decisions yourself. If you're not comfortable doing that, don't worry -- that's the whole point: Making big decisions in your life when you're not used to making them will feel weird and uncomfortable. The more you do it, the easier it'll become. Even if you're wrong in those decisions, they're yours. Get used to that, because they will define and guide the rest of your life. Good or bad, genius or stupid. Decisions are power tools. The more you master them, the more structurally sound you're going to build your life.

But, seriously, if any of you become super rich by following this advice, I would very much like to have a Jaguar F-Type. A white one with red trim. I have a midlife crisis to prepare for.

Get more life-changing advice before it's too late in 5 Ways To Avoid Your Terrible Parents' Mistakes, and learn why your worth is determined by what you give to society in 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person.

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