What I wish I’d known when I was 18
I wrote this post last autumn when I was in a contemplative mood.
There is an old saying that “youth is wasted on the young” and I wondered if I could magically travel back in time to give some advice to my 18 year old self what would it be?
Here are my thoughts in no particular order:
Money and your career are important but not that important
When I was younger I was (like many kids) convinced that having lots of money would bring happiness.
Having the latest Nike Air Jordans, most fashionable clothes, gadgets and the like was a matter of not only pride but vane necessity.
It was only later that I started to realise that whilst money is a necessity for paying bills and the like it is only a tool.
Above a certain level of comfort having more money doesn’t really equate to being happier. It just equates to being able to have more “things” .
Depending on how you get the money it can also lead to a poverty of the more valuable commodity- time.
Similarly whilst your career should be important it should not be the most important thing in your life.
No matter what you do you aren’t going to be able to buy yourself more time so don’t waste it needlessly going after more money or a better position at work.
It is a Faustian pact where you get the worse end of the deal.
Time is the truly important commodity and sharing it with others is one of the most valuable uses of it.
Following the herd (or shoal) doesn’t doesn’t pay off
We are all programmed by society and culture to follow what is “normal” and ordinary.
This is especially true during those early teen years.
Even though we pretend to rebel by picking subcultures like goth, emo, metalhead etc this is just a thinly veiled surface level of individuality.
At it’s base it is as conformist as anything else and is merely designed to massage our egos whilst still allowing us to be cocooned within the comfort of our own selected “tribe”.
Truly great people, the kind that change the world don’t follow herds or tribes or anything else. They set their own destiny and forge their own path. They make the world follow them.
I know what kind of person I would rather be and it isn’t one of the sheep.
Follow your own dreams, not those of others
We often have dreams and expectations placed upon us by our family, friends and teachers.
I remember once telling one of my teachers that I wanted to be an artist or a film director and being told:
“You are too clever to waste your life on something like that. You should be a doctor or a lawyer.”
It may seem like a compliment but these kind of sentiments can be just as damaging as more obviously disparaging ones because they psychologically close down certain options in our lives.
One can be made to feel that doing what we want would be letting our family, friends and educators down — so we push those things aside and just do what is expected of us.
This ultimately leads to dissatisfaction and frustration. It is also much harder to change this in your thirties (or later) versus when you are a teenager.
The paradox is that it seems harder in your teens to say no to the psychological pressure:
Self confidence in your own ability to know what you truly want early on pays off in the long term.
Don’t live your life for other people.
People who agree with you all the time aren’t helping you
We naturally like to associate with people who have similar views to us and seem agreeable to us.
This is part of human nature.
Unfortunately what many of us don’t realise when we are younger is that a good friend needs to be honest with us.
Someone who is always a “Yes-man” can actually encourage us to stagnate and reinforce our negative behaviours.
It is simply not healthy and it is dishonest.
Your “true” best friends are those who tell you the truth and call you out on your bullshit, not those who always agree with you.
Similarly in your work and academic life it is important to listen to conflicting opinions. Just reading material that agrees with what you already think prevents you from evolving (both from a personal and an intellectual standpoint).
We can see this in modern internet culture where people focus purely on material that agrees with their political or societal opinions.
Ultimately it leads to greater division, polarisation and entrenchment of attitudes.
There is no shame in changing your opinion
To some degree people who have very strong opinions may be respected.
It is seen as a sign of confidence.
It could also be a sign of inflexibility and inability to change.
I believe that life is all about change and evolution.
If you stop moving you get left behind.
When I was younger I would stubbornly hold on to opinions and beliefs as a matter of pride. There was a certain amount of machismo behind sticking to your opinions and not conceding to those of others. To change them would be seen as some sort of humiliation.
This is a complete fallacy of course.
To stick to an opinion merely for the sake of not changing is not only foolish it is positively pathological.
Ultimately it means that you do not progress as a person. I now realise there is no shame in changing your position and admitting that you were wrong.
In many ways it is a lot braver because you are sure to get flack from others who are unable to do the same.
Cherish your friends and family because you don’t know how long you have with them
I found this out the hard way in my early twenties.
A friend of mine (let’s call him John) who I had been with throughout Junior school went to a different college from me.
This was in a different area of the country.
Though we often made plans to get together they would often fall through for logistical reasons.
Over time our conversations and meetings became less and less frequent as “life” started to get in the way.
A few years later when I was home from University I bumped into a mutual friend.
Nothing in my life had prepared me for what I heard next.
A year earlier John had been involved in a minor road accident whilst riding his motorbike. He had fallen off as a result and had received what seemed at like a minor knock to his head.
Feeling fine he had decided that he didn’t need to go to hospital.
Unfortunately for him, that minor knock on his head caused an intracranial bleed, resulting in a slow but progressive increase in intracranial pressure.
A few hours later he literally dropped dead. He was only 21.
I felt so much guilt. This friend had been so close, like a brother to me. He had died so suddenly and I hadn’t even known.
I had so many regrets — maybe if we had gotten together before his death it could somehow have changed things just enough to prevent this from happening?
I kept having such thoughts and I still have them from time to time.
You assume that the people you care about and love will always be there just because you can’t imagine life without them.
The fact is life is fragile. Nobody knows how long they have to live.
Life and death happen all around us all the time.
Appreciate and spend time with loved ones whilst you can because you never know when that time will be up, either for you or for them.
Your parents and grandparents were young too
One of my teachers at school used to say that -
“When you are young you know everything except your own ignorance.”
This is so true. Once we become teenagers we tend to assume we know better than everyone else.
When our parents and grandparents give us valuable advice we tend to ignore it because — what do they know?
We tend to forget that they were once young and had the same kind of hopes and dreams we do. By being further on in their lives and having more experience they can give us a perspective that we lack.
They are a resource that we ignore at our peril.
Never give up on your hobbies
We all know the saying that “variety is the spice of life”. We are all pushed for time as we get older and develop more responsibilities.
It is very easy to give up on those simple hobbies that gave us so much pleasure when we were younger.
Whether it was engaging in a particular sport, listening to music, enjoying nature or just travelling, — we tend to give less importance and priority to these activities.
These kind of activities are very important for recharging our mental energy and helping us to get away from the worries and concerns of life.
One could consider them to be a form of activity-based meditation.
I gave up on my art work for many years due to the sheer workload I had during University.
This was a mistake and it was only through being forced to re-engage with it through ill health that I realised what an important and fulfilling part of my life it is.
Don’t make the same mistake.
Life is short so make sure you actually experience it
As you get older you start to realise how quickly time passes by.
We have a tendency to live in either the past or the future, rarely experiencing the present.
Not only does this make time appear to pass more quickly but it also leaves us unable to appreciate what we have at the time only realising it later through the lens of hindsight.
One of the principles of mindfulness is the idea of recapturing and experiencing the moment.
I think we would all do well to follow this idea:
By reconnecting with our momentary existence we can become more aware of our own thoughts, feelings and what we ultimately want.
It can also allow us to readjust our focus on what is important and start to concentrate on it more whilst we still have time.
You don’t want to be the person who comes to this realisation at the end of your life when it is too late for you to do anything about it.
A great example of this is if you go to a musical event or concert. Take a look around, how many people there are actually experiencing the music? How many people are instead filming it and watching it through their mobile phones?
In my opinion those who are using their mobile phones are confusing recording an experience with actually experiencing it.
You don’t want to look back on your life and realise that you weren’t really “there” to experience it.
Thanks very much for reading.
Do you have any similar things that you wished you had known when you were younger? Please share in the comments below.
All uncredited images are taken from my personal Thinkstock and IStock Photography accounts. More information can be provided on request.