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Mitch Harrison

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What should I really do with my youth? I'm 18, and I want to really learn. Advice from any adults out there?

I am a senior in high school, just two weeks from graduation. If I end up going to college, I know that I definitely want to take a year or so off. I want to really learn things first hand. I want to see the world and study cultures and people. If anyone out there has been there and can reflect back, I would love to hear from you. What should I study? Where should I go? What should I really think about? I want to give the rest of my life a boost and give myself a solid foundation in my youth. Thank you in advance for your help.

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    May 22 2012: Hi Mitch,
    The first thing I suggest, is to take the words "should" and "shouldn't" out of your vocabulary. As John says...many will tell you their opinions and tell you what you "should" do. Listen to the information, sift through it, then listen to your heart. Life can be an adventurous exploration, traveling has been an incredible eye opener for me and has been one of the most educational experiences of my life. And I don't mean staying in hotels, eating in resturants. The most interesting and rewarding experiences have been while interacting with people and genuinely exploring their culture.

    I also like what John says about stopping the search once in awhile and just "BE" in the moment. I percieve life as hills and valleys...mountains and plateaus. Sometimes, I am vigerously climbing the mountain, then I stop and rest on the plateau to ponder and take in the wonder of the climb:>)

    You said you want to take a year off...you want to learn things first hand...you want to see the world and study cultures and people. In my humble perception, you already HAVE a solid foundation my friend:>)

    Where do you want to go? Sit back, relax, empty your mind of thoughts, and quietly ask yourself....where do I want to go? There is no "wrong" answer. Every journey begins with a single step. Listen to your heart and use the logical mind to figure out the details....enjoy the life journey:>)
    • May 23 2012: Thank you for this input, Colleen. I find it very useful to me right now. Happy Today to you and all you love.
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        May 23 2012: My pleasure Rhona,
        Haven't seen you for awhile...sincerely hope things are ok in your/our world...happy today to you too my friend.
        • May 23 2012: Better than ok. I'm having a whole lot of fun doing a whole lot of miscellaneous things with some miscellaneous precise peers. Glad to be here now. Glad you are here now. See ya.
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      May 27 2012: Such a great word from Lovely Colleen... Every word is perfect.. Thanks for Sharing.. God bless U mam..
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        May 27 2012: Dear Harsh,
        Thank you for your kind words. It's always a pleasure to connect with you, and I appreciate your insight and enthusiasm:>)
  • May 27 2012: Go to the world, Don't expect it to come to you. Take nothing and no one for granted. Be passionate about whatever you do. Never be afraid to ask a question. Be true to yourself. Treat everyone with dignity and respect no matter who they are. Seek knowledge but use it with wisdom and compassion. You are heading in the right direction by simply asking. All the best in life for you
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    May 25 2012: Dear Mitch,
    I don't know if i can really call myself an adult, for I'm still 22 and going to graduate at the end of this year. But the question you have asked haunted me during the later part of my teenage and it still does. (Sorry for being biographical). Luckily or not, i grew up in a foreign country (in Sri Lanka) since I was 10 or 11 years of age. Before i turned 18 I already visited India, Macau and Hong Kong. At 18 I was a first year undergraduate and that is where i faced several inner conflicts. I realized that even some of my closest friends were in a similar situation. We were reading a lot, questioning the meaning of life, the idea of being young, of growing up, politics, society, of change and so on. We watched movies, wrote poems and articles to newspapers or posted them on websites. We not only fancied some the greatest philosophers and theory makers but also seemed as if we refuted them (I used to meditate also). But there were temptations of being young and they are still: going out, finding partners, finding a reliable job, hankering for appreciation, for love and so on.

    Although i cant claim to have inner peace, i can at least say that the journey i and my friends made had convinced me that behind all our quests is the endless thirst for happiness. But, Mitch, I cant tell you to be me. You are you. But what i realized is to do well what we (love to) do and if we come to realize that what we are doing is not the right thing, then give it up. Giving up is not a problem; it's all about grasping or holding onto something. When we hold onto something - a job, wrist watch, hobby, etc - we suffer when we lose it. If we are convinced that happiness is what we want, we must also be convinced that true happiness is happiness within. For that we need mental stability and for mental stability we need understanding: understanding comes from learning from life. Learning from life is also accepting the vicissitudes of life. What is life?
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      May 27 2012: Dear Teja...
      I really appreciate your thought... Awesome explanation.... lot of greets from heart... Thank U for sharing..
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      May 27 2012: Dear Teja,
      These are very wise words whatever your age:>)

      There are challenges at any age, and I believe it is HOW we live the journey that is the important piece, as you so insightfully say in your comment:>)

      "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take; but by the moments that take our breath away".

      I know I will still be exploring EVERYTHING about the life adventure with an open heart, open mind, unconditional love and the curiosity of a child, even while taking my last breath on this earth school:>)

      In my life experiences, this is how I discover the magic in our world:>)
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        May 27 2012: Dear Colleen,

        Thanks a lot for for your kind words and also for sharing your beautiful life adventure.

        Sharing our thoughts and experiences itself involves living life. For me, creativity of life is where we generate happiness not only within our selves but also within others. Hopefully, we are of some help to Mitch! :D

        Best Regards
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          May 27 2012: Thank you as well Teja,
          I believe it is in sharing the life adventure that we understand more about our interconnectedness, so I very much agree with you that "sharing our thoughts and experiences itself involves living life". For me also, it is with the creativity of life where we generate happiness within ourselves, and also with others:>)

          This is a good example...we are two people...on different sides of our world, from different generations, and I feel very connected to you simply because of our comments...I LOVE it!
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    May 22 2012: If I were you, I would consider some type of volunteer work in a different culture. Preferably some type of volunteer work that gives you college credit if that is where you want to go. It is really important to learn about other cultures, languages and economies.

    Spend some time during the experience reflecting on your reaction to it. What makes you happy. Where can you make a difference. What are you good at. Some of this will help you find a direction.

    Then just move in that direction. Explore different options. Keep your eyes and your heart open and you yourself will figure out where to go.
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    May 27 2012: Hi Mitch. I guess try to avoid anything or anyone who would try to 'standardise' you - the way you learn, when you want to learn - what you experience and when you want to experience it. You are the architect of who you are and the person you will become, based on the blueprints of personal experience. You are absolutely your own boss.

    Someone I know well had an unsatisfactory relationship with standardised education. He was not ready for it, so decided to take several years out to tour UK and Europe with his band. Academically, that was the making of him. He is now at University and enjoying every moment of it socially and academically, for the simple reason that he was then ready to be educated.

    As Colleen insightfully pointed out - eliminate the word "should". That is the voice of a standardised system - someone other than yourself - speaking to you.
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    May 24 2012: Mitch - You're already on the journey and it's clear you're making great progress. It doesn't matter so much where you go or what you do, just do it as your authentic self and ask lots of questions without necessarily needing to seek the answers. Don't look for a journey that will change you, look for one that will allow the real you to emerge. That can happen across the world or in your own back yard. Make the journey about being not going, about emerging not arriving.
  • May 23 2012: Lots of good ideas here Mitch, hopefully between all who respond we can give you some exciting new ideas you can ponder and decide if they are something to take on. I like it that you are not in a rush to start college. Until you have a good idea of what study you want to pursue academically, there is no need to rush into academia spending stressful hours studying that which you don't even know why your studying [not to mention the student loan potential].

    What would I suggest in this interim period? For domestic pursuits, I would suggest spending time with people and organizations you are unfamiliar with or just plain would never agree with. If you are not religious, spend time visiting different types of church's, speak with pastors, or leaders of other religions. If you are, then spend time with those of other beliefs to better understand their hearts motives. Take some time to visit retirement homes, prisoners, childrens organizations, facilities that serve the poor etc. Meet the people that serve and are served. At the end of the journey you are about to take on, your experiences here will transcend whatever career path you choose. I can find more purpose, more fascinating conversation, more self fullfillment in talking to a street person looking for a handout than any conversation I have with "more important" people. Do not ignore the "important people" of course, as they too can provide direction to your path.

    If you are looking for learning opportunities outside of the U.S., then a trip to any third world country would be worth the cost of travel. There are countless religious and secular organizations that would love for you to find out more about their work in the poorest of the poor regions of the world. I just heard about a young gal who decided to do as you are contemplating and she ended up foregoing college to serve the poor of Uganda. Google Katie Davis Uganda and read her story. It will inspire you perhaps.
  • May 22 2012: Plan: Make a list of 10 things important for you to accomplish in life. Do not limit yourself to simple and non-challenging goals. Actually write down 10 most important things you wish to achieve. The list could include any of the ideas you have of what to be...for example, to complete college or from ideas suggested by people in your circle of influence like the two ideas above to volunteer and travel to different cultures, etc.

    Next, figure out a practical means of actualizing your ideas. For example, the best means of combining volunteerism and experiencing other cultures is through the peace corps program. Asia and Africa presents good opportunities for this experience. A piece of warning; when you venture away from the comforts of your cultural, sociological, philosophical, ideological or geographical confines, you may feel the sensation of losing yourself. Take heart, and remain steadfast; you will end up at the very center of your enlightened consciousness. True freedom.

    Finally, as you journey along, do not lose your capacity to dream - of great and innovative ideas. Your presence here at TED and your quest for advise and direction is already proof that you are special, and on your way to becoming the unique individual you were expected to be. And if you do not achieve most of the ideas on your list, do not despair. Most people I understand never get to achieve a single most important thing that mattered to them. Imagine if you could achieve just 3 or 4 things on your list!

    So begin with that list, and enjoy the ride. It is a truly beautiful world.

    I wish you well.
  • May 26 2012: Amazing question! You could start a website asking this!

    I can't answer it, but instead share my latest life-time-lesson-eureka-moment:

    "Give others just a moment of your full attention, disregarding your own agenda and beliefs for just a second, and you will be rewarded with much insight and knowledge." I think this is my own quote ;)

    You could start experimenting with this e.g by asking a stranger, whether they had a good day. Of course you have to wait for the opportune moment and it may not be appropriate all the time. So be alert to your surroundings and instead of listening to an mp3 player or playing a game on the mobile, look at others, smile and choose to engage. Boy, people are happy to talk and tell you a lot of things you never knew.

    My personal example: I played backgammon on my phone on the subway. The guy next to me looked at my screen and said: "I forgot all about this game." Obviously I hesitated engaging, I had my game to win and he seemed slightly intoxicated, unshaven and smelling of booze. But the guy continued asking where I was going to and why. No chance to not engage and I put away the phone entirely. Something funny then unfolded.

    Paul was from Paris and had trained in secrecy for month to partake in a bike race in Berlin, as to not face any laughter if he failed. Only one of his friends knew, because this friend was suppose to take care of his dog at home. Meanwhile that friend decided to invite 15 more peeps to join the hike to Berlin and surprise Paul as his 'fan-club', cheering and supporting him from the side of the route.

    Five days before the race Paul hurt his ankle running a marathon, it dawned on me that I had a wrong preconception about this dude. It turned out that I was surrounded by all 17 of them, now having a party in Berlin, celebrating Paul's non-partaking instead!

    Later I researched about racing bikes. I got inspired by all their passion for it and am now into this. Maybe getting one soon, too.

    Best wishes
  • May 25 2012: If I could speak to myself at the age of 18 and give an advise: Dont be afraid to make mistakes, express yourself and give some of your crazy thoughts a try.

    The part with "express yourself / be yourself" is usually the hardest one. Group norms and group conformity are a harsh master, short: Discover yourself, discover what you like and know your limits. Experiment with lifestyles, travel a lot and if you love Rythmic Gymnastic Dance - just do it, even if you are working in a lumberjack camp with too much testosterone around.

    I would really recommend to learn foreign languages by the way.
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    May 25 2012: Hi Mitch,
    I would suggest you go explore the world. When I was 17, straight out of High School, I went over to Europe (I live in New Zealand), and I spent a year working in a hotel, saving tips and having a blast, and those tips paid for me to backpack around Europe for 2 months. I lived in Holland for a year, I explored the world, I learnt 6 languages, I worked various jobs in my quest to explore not only the world and it's various cultures, but to explore myself. You see I am an intelligent person, who had many areas of interest and could not at that age decide what I wanted to do with my life, and before I committed to a course of action, I wanted to know for sure 'Who' I was and what was important to me. There is too much emphasis in my mind for students to go straight from school to University, especially in this day and age, where degrees are no guarantee of work. I had 4 years off between high School and Uni, and those four years had the biggest impact on my life. By the time I KNEW what I wanted to do, and went to University, I had got a lot of things out of my system. Other students were failing because they were skipping from one major to another, still not knowing what they wanted for a career, while I was happily studying my passion and doing great. I went on to get a Bachelors and Masters degree in Pshychology with honors and have had an amazing career since then. Travel is still a passion for me, and my work allows me to afford to travel somewhere different every year. So far, I have been to 27 countries and counting. For me, having the time off between school where I was too immature to know what I wanted, and University where I knew what I wanted as a result of giving myself the chance to explore, was the best thing I ever did. Everyone is different, and I am not saying that my way would suit you, but I have no regrets. My suggestion would be get out of the US!! You will learn so much about yourself when you are away from home.
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    May 24 2012: Mitch, There is some excellent advice and some not so good here. Read each and take them with a grain of salt. I will not tell you what to do, that is not my place. Here is what has worked for some others. Go to college for two years and you will be about twenty or twenty one. Then take your break for a year or two. The age between your teen years and your young adulthood is very large. I suggest this for two reasons: 1) Continuing on to college lets you stay current with math and science you will need for your basic credits. (Dont use it - lose it); 2) the time off in the middle allows you to discover your passions and make a more mature and informed decision.

    What ever your decision let the TED community know how your doing. Your family and we are interested. All the best. Bob.
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    May 22 2012: Awesome question! ;)
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    May 22 2012: Many will tell you their opinions, but don't listen too closely to those who are telling you what you "should" do. You will hear many "voices" - those of your peers, culture, family, "role models", employers, school counselors, romantic interests, ... or people like me who post on TED.

    Be wise and listen to the good stuff from those who know you and care about you. Be brave and ignore the sounds of "should", "don't", "can't", and "later" that echo in your head. Be inspired and listen to how YOU answer questions like "What if ______?" and "How can I _______?

    And don't forget to stop searching once in awhile, and just BE, and DO, and ENJOY.
  • May 31 2012: Make the most of life by doing the things you love. Be thankful for what you have.
    Gather great friends around you and share common experiences. Record your memories.
    Be open to new experiences and embraces the challenges you face, for you will be faced with them.
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    May 30 2012: Don't be afraid to admit that you can make a mistake.
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    May 29 2012: That's quite refreshing to have a 18yrs old, who do want to learn and become better already at this great age. You will go far in life, that's for sure and my wishing for you.

    I really believe that you are on the right path already, keep asking yourself questions, keep learning about whom you are and whom you want to become. Always, look inside and listen to whats your heart desire, specially if someone else want you to do something else, if you really believe that you should do something that's going to help you and others in the same time, you got a winner...don't listen to the "no sayer", and most of all, believe in yourself.

    If you believe in GOD and none of your friends does, that's your business. Always do what you want to do, even if you have to loose friends over it...because at the end, you'll be glad you did because you want to do it, and not because someone was trying to stop you, and you listen to them instead of yourself.

    Walk tall, keep your head high up and have no fear...it's only 4 letter words!

    If you feel in your belly that a situation or someone is going to manipulaite or intimidate you...walk away from them.

    Be generous, kind, smart, alert, beautiful, respectful and respected....don't ever ignore a homeless person, always say hello, even if you don't have money to give them...acknowledgement at times, worth more then a dollor!!

    Peace and keep it up...don't do drugs, it's not worth it!!
    • May 30 2012: . Always do what you want to do, even if you have to loose friends over it.//But I will feel lonely.How can I do with lonely.
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        May 30 2012: Better be alone, then being with bad company!!....Get some new friends, that will accept whom you are and want to help you become whom you want to be.

        We are never alone, really!!
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        May 30 2012: Glad to meet you to dear Flexman!!
  • May 27 2012: I would say, at age 20 I have learnt that journeying through life is allowing yourself and others to "Live and let live". None of us can tell you what path to take. These are all ideas. Live your life, take a chance: seeing the world may be great but a year at university doing something interesting might be just as good. All of these things are really easy to say but extremely hard to put into action. Accept that you will make mistakes and the "not-so-right" choices but you learn from them. Be honest with yourself and others.

    School, travelling, your interactions with the people and world around you form apart of that foundation. Make it a good journey by just travelling it with your best foot forward.
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    May 27 2012: Dear Mitch....
    I think u start something new... My first suggestion is Go and See the new Country which is ur dream . Try something new, like meet new people outside ur country... Go and learn new culture that is most precious thing in this world. If you have enough money then you visit Spain , France India, China.... All this country are Rich on Culture... Visit new place write Something whatever you see, picturize everything.... I think this helps you.. Live your dream...
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    May 27 2012: http://www.globalteer.org/ just an idea
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    May 26 2012: Just stop worrying and take on the most interesting challenging thing you can find. The more complex the better so it will last a lifetime- this is the advice I would give my 18 year old self. Eveything I ever worried about was bogus. It is always the unexpected that can derail you if you let it.
  • May 26 2012: Dear Mitch:
    This is a wonderful time in your life!

    Before going through any post-secondary training or education, follow the ideas you have already expressed! Take this time to explore this country, as well as other countries’, cultures and mindsets. The world is now small, and we all have to learn to be global in our orientations. NOW... is when you want to start to learn who you are as a human being. What do you value...grow your curiosity! I highly recommend that you purchased a book entitled: The Global Achievement Gap, by Tony Wagner. It will offer you a lot to think about. Go to college or seek other paths to your future when you have an answer to the: What?... and the Why? I am the director of an organization that provides career information services. I am giving you a code that you can use to set up an account. It is a new site, and I would love to have your opinion on it. The site is: www.eurekaexpress.org. You may use this code to set up a personal account: account code: J1UZFKQ.

    I wish you a protected and learning filled journey towards what may become your life's mission!
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      May 27 2012: Sumyyah,

      Thank you for the website recommendation! I made an account using your code.

      Best wishes to you as well.
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    May 26 2012: It's really difficult to advice but I remember that in Israel the young people spend 3 years in the army. When they finish this they usually travel around the world for 6 months or one year, then they go to college and start to work... Since you don't need to go the army (fortunately) you could go straight travelling. What about going to China, Thailand, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, etc.? This is just an idea… but I still think you should just take a short vacation, and then go to college just like anybody else… good luck!!!
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    May 25 2012: I like Linda's advice and volunteering, whether in a vastly different culture or even your own is not only rewarding and valuable in terms of life experience, it will broaden your horizons, help you to see life from different perspectives, and help you to develop skills and lessons that you will be able to use for the rest of your life.
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    May 24 2012: If you have a passion..get informed and study about the subject, watch documentary films about it get inspired and visualice your self in 5 years time -10 years time and dream about how your life should be when you get to see your grandkids grow up.
    Right now enjoy what you already and have try to stay out of truble be inteligent, learn to do right from wrong, be tolerant but set your limites.
    Honor your life with your day by day actions.
    work and exercise nothing feels better for the body (apart from sex ) than a good day at work or a great work out, learn to give - give everything you can feel generous, You have 60 years to go, trust me whats goes around comes around, when you reach 60 all drugs will be legal so dont rush right now!!
    Salud from Spain
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    May 24 2012: First, explore. You can explore the whole world, all of history, every skill that might interest you and all fields of knowledge. But understand, to begin, it doesn't have to be in-depth and it doesn't have to be first hand. Your first exploration of a subject should be a cursory one to simply get an overview, then you can go over it again in more depth with whatever materials you have available to you if it catches your interest.

    Several people here have said that first hand experience is the best way to learn. Frankly, I strongly disagree. The best way to BEGIN learning is first from others who have had experiences and have reflections on those experiences to share with others. You can do this by simply picking up a book. I can't claim to be a big reader myself, but I have yet to find a better way to acquire a large amount of knowledge. Of course, learning something first hand will give you new insights and an important perspective of its own, but reading about something from others with experience is like standing on a mountain that gives you a perspective that you wouldn't have in the midst of an experience. So I say, if you really want to learn: read, read, read - history, math, science, philosophy, etc...at least as a start.

    Don't try to do everything at once. You can make a schedule and read part of the day, work on acquiring or practicing some skill or talent for another part (reserve some space for physical training as well), and go out engaging in the world for the rest of the day. And little by little, your experiences, your knowledge and your perspective will grow. The great thing about reading as a method of learning is that if you're near a public library, then you can begin exploring the whole of human knowledge and it won't cost you a dime. Once you feel you've reached the limit of what books can teach you, then you know it will be time to go out and see the world for yourself. One book I always suggest everyone read is Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.
  • May 23 2012: Have as much fun as you possibly can together with peers, while you elevate the joy level of as many people as possible. You could be a member of a religion wherein the only high holy day they celebrate is called "today." That means that everyday that is called today, you have the opportunity to express your true spiritual values through any means that is appropriate on that day, at that time of day, e.g., feasting, gifting, accepting gifts. Happy Today.
  • May 22 2012: If you want to live your life learning, I'd suggest first learning how you learn. Yeah, that sentence sounds kind of overly sensei, but in all honesty, I found that the psychology of learning class I took at CC inspired me greatly, and made me feel passionate about all sorts of things. When you learn how your brain categorizes and sifts through information, you can learn to turn off some blinders you may never of known you had and see a fuller picture in all things. But certainly explore and learn from traveling, nothing beats first hand experience, although theories and models help clarify I find.
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    May 22 2012: Well Mitch,
    The best advice I can give you is to start going through the best selling self help books and self help blogs (stumbleupon.com). At 18 , its common not to have a purpose and goal in life , which can eventually lead to disappointment and frustration if continued the same way. Most importantly , enjoy the journey towards achieving your goal rather than treating it as a sacrifice ..

  • May 31 2012: Well, I was young and hungry and about to leave that place
    When just as I was leavin', well she looked me in the face
    I said "You must know the answer."
    "She said, "No but I'll give it a try."
    And to this very day we've been livin' our way
    And here is the reason why

    We blew up our T.V. threw away our paper
    Went to the country, built us a home
    Had a lot of children, fed 'em on peaches
    They all found Jesus on their own -John Prine