A Letter To My 18 Year-Old Self

I’m 36. Half my life ago, society deemed me an adult. That was probably far too premature. I’ve learned a lot in those successive 18 years, enough to let him know a few things he should keep in mind. Enjoy.

Dear 18-year-old Bassam,

This is you, in another 18 years.

Good news! We’re still alive. Barely. “Barely” because you will do unthinkably inane things in the name of bonding and fun. Men seem to bond the closer they are to stupidity or death. Know that your friends will love you because of who you are, not because of the dumb things you do, although it’s hard to know the difference in your late teens and early 20’s.

One thing is for sure, you are not impressing girls with acts of bravado, only your guy friends.

Try not to lose a limb, please.

Anyhow, look at you! All graduated from high school and everything. Society thinks you’re an adult now, even though you still have braces on your bottom teeth and you masturbate like it’s going out of style.

You have some fun summer trips coming up before your freshman year. I’m not going to tell you to not do anything in particular but on that last night in Cancun, leave when Jared leaves to avoid being thrown in jail, beat up by the cops and fleeced for a couple hundred bucks.

College will be one of your fondest memories. Right now you are sore that Northwestern is the only school that rejected you, but don’t worry you’ll get over it. Actually, wait. I’m lying. Screw Northwestern. You’ll feel just as strongly about this 18 years later. This is the only grudge I will condone you carry.

You have some great friends in your life right now, friends you can’t imagine ever parting or losing touch with. But you will only stay in touch with three or four of them. You still haven’t met the people and friends who will change your life the most.

You don’t know what debt means but you are about to start accruing it, a lot of it. School, life, failed business ventures, and a misunderstanding of how finances actually work. 10 years from now it will be ~$60,000. Right before you turn 36, you will finally pay it all off, every penny of it. And thanks to an accountability lesson your father taught you, you’ll feel proud that you did.

Interest makes the world go round. Understand that as soon as you can.

You might not realize this quite fully just yet but you are the luckiest guy alive. Your parents could not have given you a better childhood.

You are very close with your brother and sister today but that bond will somehow only strengthen year after year. Cherish that.

Don’t feel embarrassed for thinking of past sporting glories from high school. You’ll still think of them fondly 18 years from now when the competitive fields of play are long behind you. In fact, the thing that will bring you to tears faster than anything are a sporting vignette/highlight put to music. There is something about teams and competition that you hold dear.

You will do Semester at Sea. It will be the greatest trip you ever do. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean on Sept 10, 2001, eleven days after starting your voyage in Vancouver, you will be talking to people about New York. You will tell them about the Twin Towers and how big they are and how you can put your face in the vertical grooves and stare all the way up into infinity. You will say, “It’s amazing how massive and immovable those buildings are.”

The next day you will learn how horribly wrong you were. And you will learn that while there are calamities in the world, the uber majority of people are decent and kind. You will only start to forget those facts when don’t travel or when you forget to immerse yourself. You will travel a lot. Connecting with the world is the thing that smooths out the defenses of judgment.

Your curiosity will be the thing that makes you relatable, the thing that binds to someone else’s story and experiences. Problems in life come when you stop communicating with people, not the other way around.

You won’t love engineering but you will love the exactitude of numbers and logic. You will bust your ass to graduate with honors from the oldest degree granting university in the country, but you won’t be an engineer for very long. What you will take with you is the ability to define and solve problems. This will be your greatest asset in the professional world. You will become a fixer. You will realize that every job on earth is simply solving a problem and you will realize that it is human beings who solve those problems. Humans who have moods, desires, petty differences, egos, etc.

Know what motivates someone know how to help them get it, and you will always have a job.

Well almost always.

People and companies will let you down.

You will unknowingly let some down too.

None of it will be personal.

You will constantly make sand castles in low tide. Don’t be dejected when life smooths them out. It’s the propensity to keep building that is important, not how beautiful one of your sand castles was.

So keep building sand castles (just try to move them up the shoreline if possible).

But even if you’re out of the reach of high tide, you can’t predict rain storms…

In 2006–2007 you will be working right inside the biggest economic bubble the country has seen since the Great Depression. You won’t realize it even as the mortgage bank you’re working for offers NINA (No income/No asset) loans. You’ll wonder to yourself, “How can these people pay this mortgage? They can barely afford food.” You should find one of your friends who works in finance and ask them how to “short” something. Trust me.

You only have so much vulnerability to give in life. You can dole it out however you want in to the buckets of career, creative pursuits and romantic relationships. For the next half of your life, you will place most of them in the career and creative pursuits. You’ll meet lots of women in life, some of them you will fall on your face for, but you’re going to be single for a long, long time to protect your vulnerability. Don’t apologize for being single and investing in you, but get ready to be peppered with, “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone,” for the next half of your life. Just smile and think, “Who’s worried?”

During your gallivanting days and short term relationships, never make someone feel cheap.

But when someone special comes along, don’t you dare pass it up. You’ll know what special means because you’ll think about them when they’re not there and you’ll like hanging out with them more than you like hanging out with yourself. (I know! Crazy, right?)

Your hair will never be straight, no matter how many times you think it might grow back as such every time you cut it.

Speaking of hair, you’re going to get your first gray hair soon. Don’t try to pull them all out. Embrace the gray. People will think you’re older than you are and thus respect you more, and the ladies will love it.

Still speaking of hair, four years from now you’ll learn about the magic of eyebrow trimming. Save yourself some time and start trimming those caterpillars now.

It’s hot right now. And in a mere 18 other summers you’ll be 36. Time is fleeting. You will be someone who won’t wallow and let time pass him by but it will take you 9 years from now to really understand that you are accountable for your own happiness, no one else.

Your mom will make you hike a small mountain with her 5 years from now while you’re with her in Austria. You will tell her, “I don’t want to hike. What’s the point? It’s just walking.” But she’s your mother and you will eventually join her.

This hike will start a love affair with mountains that you will never relent.

Your Pentium processor with its 100 MHz speed and 3GB of storage is the cream of the crop right now. Buckle up. Technology will wow you and terrify you.

You’re about to enjoy free songs from a company called Napster, and then Limewire and then people will be angry that you are getting free music and people will snuff that ability out as best they can. But 18 years from now you can still get free music by turning youtube videos into mp3’s using things like listentoyoutube.com.

You know what the internet is but you don’t really know anything yet. You are soon to enter the world of hyper awareness where what you say you do or what it looks like you’re doing will become the thing that everyone (even those you don’t know) is impressed with or the thing they will judge you for.

Find a way to ground yourself in reality. Find a way to be yourself.

You have to market, but you don’t have to whore.

Right now you’re not really a big fan of writing or reading, hence why you chose engineering. That will change. You will fall in love with sentences. The most difficult (and enjoyable) creative projects you take on in life will have to do with the assembling of words. Get ready.

But be on the lookout!

Sadly, messages that sound the best beat messages that are actually true. Right now, Donald Trump is one election away from the presidency. (Yes, that Donald Trump.) A few days ago The United Kingdom left the EU. These things happened because of fear, hate and a repetition of simple slogans that were loud, deceptive and false.

Noise and surety will reign online. You don’t have to like the power of the simple message but understand propaganda. In the online world, it will reach mind numbing levels and you will have to work doubly hard to find the truth.

Like I said. Words will become important to you.

Keep taking care of your body. You got a sweet six pack now and I’ve done my best to keep it around, but when you feel a twinge in your back in 3 years, that’s a herniated disc. Stop thinking it’s a pulled muscle and stop trying to impress the chicks by playing basketball. Remember, they’re not impressed by shit like that.

You have no idea what you want to be when you grow up and you still won’t have an idea 18 years from now because your perspective keeps changing. Don’t worry on what it is you do, worry about who it is that you are. Focus on the living, on the stories and the people that make up those stories.

Man, you’re gonna have fun being an “adult,” more fun than being a kid…so much fun that you now have a chipped front tooth that you refuse to fix.

You’ll have to find out how that happens all by yourself.

Remember, you can be mature and never grow up all at the same time. Yes, even with a head full of gray hair, you silver fox, you!

Good luck. Stay silly.