This morning I was reading a book outside my favorite beachside coffee shop when an 18-year-old kid sat down next to me and said, “That’s a great read, ain’t it?” So we started chatting.
He told me he was getting ready to graduate from high school next week and then immediately starting his college career in the fall. “But I have no clue what I want to do with my life,” he said. “Right now I’m just going with the flow.”
And then, with eager eyes, he began asking me one question after the next:
- “What exactly do you do for a living?”
- “When and how did you decide what you wanted to do?”
- “Why did you do this? Why didn’t you do that?”
- “Is there anything you wish you had done differently?”
- etc, etc, etc…
I answered his questions as best as I could, and tried to give decent advice with the time I had. And after a half-hour conversation, he thanked me and we parted ways.
But on the walk home I realized the conversation I had with that 18-year-old was actually quite nostalgic. He reminded me of me when I was his age, more than twenty years ago. I had so many questions back then. So, I started thinking about his questions again, and I began imagining all of the little things I wish someone had told me when I was 18. Then I took it a step further and thought about all the things I would love to tell myself if I could travel back in time to give my 18-year-old self some quick advice about life…
After a few more cups of coffee, a couple hours of deliberation, and some quick back-and-forth text discussions with people I respect, here are 18 things I wish someone told me when I was 18:
1. Commit yourself to making lots of little mistakes when you’re young.
Mistakes teach you important lessons. The biggest mistake you can make is doing absolutely nothing because you’re too scared to make a mistake. So don’t hesitate for too long — don’t doubt yourself. Remember, if you never act you will never know for sure, and you will be left standing in the same spot forever.
In life, it’s rarely about getting a chance; it’s about taking a chance. You’ll never be 100% sure it will work, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work. Most of the time you just have to go for it! And no matter how it turns out, it almost always ends up just the way it needs to be. Either you succeed or you learn something. Win-Win.
2. Don’t worry too much about what other people think of you.
For the most part, what other people think and say about you doesn’t matter that much. When I was 18, I let the opinions of my high school and early college peers influence my decisions. And at times they steered me away from ideas and goals I strongly believed in. I realize now, over twenty years later, that this was a foolish way to live, especially when I consider that nearly all of these people whose opinions I cared so much about are no longer a part of my life.
Unless you’re trying to make a great first impression (job interview, first date, etc.), don’t let the opinions of others stand in your way. What they think and say about you isn’t that important. What is important is how you feel about yourself.
3. Find work you appreciate doing.
If I could offer my 18-year-old self some real career advice, I’d tell myself not to base my career choice solely on other people’s ideas, goals, and recommendations. I’d tell myself not to pick a major because it’s popular, or statistically creates graduates who make the most money. I’d tell myself that the right career choice is based on one core point: Finding work you appreciate doing. As long as you remain true to yourself, and follow your own interests and values, you can find success in your own way. Perhaps more importantly, you won’t wake up several years later working in a career field you despise, wondering “How the heck am I going to do this for the next 40 years?” So if you catch yourself working long hours and appreciating every minute of it (or at least seeing the value in your efforts), don’t stop. You’re on to something!
4. Talk with lots of people in college and early on in your career.
Bosses. Colleagues. Professors. Classmates. Social club members. Other students outside of your major or social circle. Teaching assistants. Career advisors. College deans. Friends of friends. Everyone! Why? Professional networking. I have worked for three employers since I graduated from college (I eventually left all three employers by choice on good terms, and started my own business), but I only interviewed with the very first employer. The other two employers offered me a job before I even had a formal interview, based strictly on the recommendation of a hiring manager (someone I had networked with over the years).
When employers look to fill a position, the first thing they do is ask the people they know and trust if they know someone who would do well in the position. If you start building your professional network early, you’ll be set. Over time, you’ll continue talking to new people you meet through your current network and your network’s reach and the associated opportunities will continue to snowball.
5. Invest a little time, energy, and money in yourself every day, even after college.
When you invest in yourself, you can never lose, and over time you will change the trajectory of your life. You are simply the product of what you know. The more time, energy and money you spend acquiring pertinent knowledge and experience, the more control you have over your life.
6. Explore new ideas and opportunities often.
Your natural human fears of failure and embarrassment will sometimes stop you from trying new things. But you must rise above these fears, for your life’s story is simply the culmination of many small, unique, and sometimes confusing experiences. The more experiences you have, the more new chapters get written, and the more interesting your story gets. So seek as many new life experiences as possible when you’re young, and be sure to share them with the people you care about. Not doing so is missing out.
7. When sharpening your career skills, focus more on less.
Think in terms of Karate: A black belt seems far more impressive than a brown belt. But does a brown belt really seem any more impressive than a red belt? Probably not to most people. Remember that society elevates experts high onto a pedestal. Hard work matters, but not if it’s scattered in a hundred difference directions. So narrow your focus on learning the intricacies of a specific career/business niche, and then truly master it.
8. People are not mind readers; you have to tell them what you’re thinking.
People will never know how you feel unless you tell them. Your boss? Yeah, she doesn’t know you’re hoping for a promotion because you haven’t told her yet. That cute guy (or girl) you haven’t talked to yet because you’re too shy? Yeah, you guessed it — he hasn’t given you the time of day simply because you haven’t given him the time of day either. In real life you have to communicate with others. And oftentimes you have to open your vocal cords and speak the first words. You have to tell people what you’re thinking if you’re looking for a response.
9. Build your confidence through your actions.
When we’re young we tend to waste our time waiting for the ideal path to appear. But it never does of course, because paths are made by walking, not waiting. Now is always the time! And no, you shouldn’t feel more confident before you take the next step. Taking the next step is what builds your confidence.
Remember that you can’t change anything or make any sort of progress in life by sitting back and thinking about it. There’s a huge difference between knowing how to do something and actually doing it. Knowledge is basically useless without daily action.
10. Accept and embrace change.
However good or bad a situation is now, it will change. That’s the one thing you can count on. So embrace change, and realize that change happens for a reason. It won’t always be easy or obvious at first, but in the end it will likely be worth it in some way. And realize too that the most powerful and practical changes happen when you decide to take control of what you do have power over, instead of constantly craving control over what you don’t.
11. Always be sincere.
How do you build credibility at a young age? It’s not rocket science. Be honest. Follow through. Honor your word. Say sorry. Listen. Be kind and present. Living a daily life of sincerity creates long-term peace of mind, and peace of mind is priceless later in life. Period.
12. Sit alone in silence for at least ten minutes every day.
Use this time to think, plan, reflect, and dream. Creative and productive thinking flourish in solitude and silence. With quiet space, you can hear your thoughts, you can reach deep within yourself, and you can focus on mapping out what’s worth your time and energy, and what isn’t.
Truth be told, most of your stress on an average day comes from the way you rush to respond, not the way life actually is. Adjust your inner response and all that extra stress is gone. Inner calmness among chaos is a superpower that frees you to focus more effectively on the few things that actually matter. But this takes practice to get there. So create some quiet space for yourself every day, and practice.
13. Ask lots of questions.
The greatest ‘adventure’ is the ability to inquire, to ask questions, and to navigate the data that surfaces. And oftentimes in the process of inquiry, the search is more significant than the answers themselves. Because many of life’s answers change and evolve in time. Answers come from other people, from the universe of knowledge and history, and from the intuition and wisdom inside yourself. These answers — and perhaps more importantly, the data you gather alongside them — will never surface if you never ask the right questions. Thus, the simple act of asking the right questions on a daily basis is the answer.
14. Exploit the resources you DO have access to.
The average person is usually astonished when they see a person with a significant physical handicap show intense signs of emotional happiness. How could someone in such a limited physical state be so happy? The answer rests in how they use the resources they do have. Stevie Wonder, for example, couldn’t see, so he exploited his sense of hearing into a passion for music, and he now has 25 Grammy Awards to prove it. Think about how this relates to your life and limitations, and how you can exploit the resources you DO have access to, so you can overcome your limitations.
15. Live below your means.
Live a comfortable life, not a wasteful one. Do not spend to impress others. Do not live life trying to fool yourself into thinking wealth is measured in material objects. Manage your money wisely so your money does not manage you. Always live well below your means.
16. Be respectful of others and make them feel good.
In life and business, it’s not so much what you say that counts, it’ how you make people feel. So respect your elders, minors, and everyone in between. There are no boundaries or classes that define a group of people that deserve to be respected. Treat everyone with the same level of respect you would give to your grandmother and the same level of patience you would have with your baby brother. Supporting, guiding, and making contributions to other people is one of life’s greatest rewards. In order to get, you have to give.
17. Excel at doing hard things.
It’s always easier said than done. Yet, you need to do the hard things to be happy. The things others can’t do for you. The things that frighten you. The things that make the difference between a life filled with empty promises and one filled with gratitude for how far you have come. So remind yourself that there’s no point in doing something if you aren’t going to work hard on doing it right. Excel at your work and excel at your hobbies. Develop a reputation for yourself, a reputation for consistent excellence.
18. Be who you were born to be.
Follow your intuition on the road of life… and gradually become who you were born to be. Some of us were born to be musicians — to communicate intricate thoughts and rousing feelings with the strings of a guitar. Some of us were born to be poets — to touch people’s hearts with exquisite prose. Some of us were born to be entrepreneurs — to create growth and opportunity where others saw a void. Still, some of us were born to be or do whatever it is, specifically, that moves you. Regardless of what you decide to do in your lifetime, you better feel like you were born to do it on some level — you better be able to identify with it and grow to love it. And whatever you do, don’t waste your whole life fulfilling someone else’s dreams or needs at the expense of your own.
Regardless of your age, I hope you found some value in the reminders above. If you are 18 right now, just do your best with each point, one at a time — not all at once. And above all, laugh when you can, apologize when you should, and let go of what you can’t change as everything evolves. Life is short, yet amazing. Enjoy the ride!
Finally, if you liked this essay and you’re looking for more, I highly recommend you check out “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently” and our newest publication via Penguin Random House, “The Good Morning Journal: Powerful Prompts & Reflections to Start Every Day”, which is a great tool for keeping the right thoughts top of mind on a daily basis.
And before you go, PLEASE leave Angel and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Which one of the points above resonated the most today?
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Photo by: Taylor McBride