You ever want to go back in time? I do, and if I could, I’d tell myself 18 things that would have helped me live a more peaceful and happier life.
The discomforting issue is I’m certain the people around me, definitely my parents, already told my teenager self most of these lessons. But I didn’t listen.
I guess it’s true that some things you just need to learn for yourself.
Anyway, now I’m 24 years old and 6 years removed from my cocky, anti-establishment attitude that got me in a world of trouble, such as: getting detentions every other day in high school, getting suspended twice from the varsity basketball team, and getting two misdemeanors for disrupting the peace.
I’m wiser from these mistakes and on a mission to save a kid like myself from the hard-hitting consequences of being young and reckless.
Please be aware I don’t claim to know it at all, hardly the opposite. Though I’ve learned some valuable lessons and if it helps 18 year olds or anyone of any age out there live better, I did my job.
These are the 18 things I wish I would have known as a young guy who thought he know it all but didn’t know anything.
1. Make mistakes, not permanent damage to your future.
Like Frankie Ballard’s country song goes, “How am I ever gonna get to be old and wise. If I ain’t ever young and crazy?”
You can be crazy as long as you’re not idiotic and ruin your future with a bad decision you can’t ever get back. Got it?
There’s a big difference between a mistake and irreconcilable damage. One brings positive fruits like experience, wisdom, and knowledge, the other toils bad fruits like stress, loss of future opportunities, and a ruined reputation.
Getting in a minor car accident, breaking team rules, and missing your shift of work are all mistakes.
Drinking and driving, cyberbullying, and sexual assault, are all risks of permanent damage to your future.
Have fun. But be smart in the process.
2. Not every authority figure is right but not all are wrong, listen to the wise.
I got the first half of this part right, but I applied it across the board to every authority figure. If you were my teacher, principal, coach, friend’s parent, it was basically game over for me listening to you.
My mentality was whoever tries to put limits on me is only getting in the way of my fun. There’s no way I’m listening to those old farts.
Little did I know at the time that wisdom does come with age and not every authority figure should be ignored.
Looking back, my mom spoke the truth in so many areas when it came to spiritual, relationship, and family topics. I just didn’t internalize it until I had to learn the hard way for myself.
If you’re already an angel at 18 ignore this one. But if you’re a bad kid like me then the truth is not everyone is out to get you. Listen to the good ones.
3. You’re not your stuff, find meaning in who you are.
The media and big corporations will do everything they can to convince you confidence comes from the things you own, not who you are.
That’s a lie. Please resist the urge to put your value in your things.
For one, there’s always going to be someone who has more than you and it’s a tireless game where you end up short in the long run any way you play.
Two, you’re an amazing, unique individual that has incredible talents to offer the world. Though you only get in your own way if you put the focus on your stuff and not your innate gifts.
Love yourself. Learn about what makes you special. And most importantly, put meaning in who you are now and the person you want to grow into as you mature in age.
Putting your identity in material items leads to emptiness, where finding the best version of you leads to fulfillment.
4. Relax, hard things always pass over time.
As a youngster it’s easy to get carried away by an unfortunate circumstance. The dramatic part of your brain will think this negative situation is permanent, impossible to solve.
Truth disagrees. It’ll tell you that time is always moving forward. So your worst days are only 24 hours. Your worst weeks are only 7 days. And your worst years are only 365 days. Then you get to start fresh.
If you’re having a hard time getting the attention of someone you like, feeling homesick at college, or failing to get the jobs you worked hard for, relax and remember all difficult moments will pass.
Hang in there and don’t ever give up on life. The good news is strength comes from overcoming the struggles life throws at you.
5. Your body is not invincible, so don’t act like it.
As a high schooler I’d do ridiculous things with my body that were both out of control and deserved far worse than what actually happened. Reason being is I thought I was invincible.
For example, I’d get into road rage with fellow drivers and throw water bottles back and forth at each other while going 80 MPH on the highway. I’d get into physical altercations with friends far bigger than me where I wasn’t going to win no matter what I did. And I’d go days without sleeping on the weekend just for the heck of it, only to fall asleep behind the wheel in the middle of the night.
Did anything send me to emergency room or the grave? No, but I every easily could have lost a limb or my life by acting this way.
Don’t put yourself in excessive danger when it comes to your freedom or ability to live, it’s plain and simple not worth it.
6. You can really do whatever you set your mind to.
There are going to be external and internal naysayers all around telling you why you can’t do something. But they’re all wrong if you set your mind on doing it.
I had teachers in high school say I’d never amount to more than a prison inmate, along with our negative forecasts on my life. But I used that as motivation and proved them wrong to put together one of the best college careers they’ve ever seen.
And if brilliant people can make incorrect predictions about the future like the ones in that article, so can your parents, teachers, and the doubtful part of you about your life.
Do you want to walk on a college Division 1 football team with the goal of playing? What about reaching 1 million YouTube subscribers? Or what about making a full-time living from your Instagram profile? Truly nothing is impossible, especially with the internet these days.
Follow the process, keep the faith, and trust that you can achieve what you set out to—no matter how long it takes.
7. School is a game, learn how to master it and you’ll always win.
I struggled to get by in high school but graduated summa cum laude at the top of my class in college. What was the difference?
Everything changed the moment I figured out that school is all a game to be won or lost. Once you master the game, classes don’t change for the most part so you can repeat what you learned and come out on top in every college class going forward.
The entire process of taking notes, writing papers, building relationships with teachers, and studying for tests has rules and ways to score points if you know what you’re doing. No class is scary after you see the light.
This is a shameless plug because I’m confident in the material: Order my book How To College to learn how to game the school system and come out on top.
8. Find work you’re on fire about.
The average person spends 45 hours a week at a job they honestly only show up for because they need the paycheck. That’s miserable to trade time for money every working day of your life.
Screw the idea that you should do what your parent’s think you should. Don’t listen to the people-pleaser part of you who considers choosing a career to impress other people. And forget about picking a job for the money.
It sounds weird since this word is almost always used in a negative connotation, but be selfish about the career you pick. Find work you get fired up just thinking about and are filled with passion when you do it.
When (the keyword is “when) you pull this mission off, you’ll get the ultimate reward of doing what you love every single work day. You can’t top that!
9. Friends come and go, but family is forever.
Look, you’re 18 and are convinced you’re too cool for school. I get it. I was there.
The reality is you wouldn’t be much without your parent’s, their love, and their financial support.
So when you’re off at college, give your mom and dad a call every week. Take them out to dinner when you go home for some quality time.
Also, make an intentional effort to hang out with your siblings.
These are the people who have your back through thick and thin, so don’t ignore them when life’s good. It might be weird at first, but eventually you’ll cherish the time together because when you get older life gets busy and there’s less time to go around.
10. Treat people with kindness, everyone has their own problems.
You know a perfect person out there? There’s no such thing. Everyone is battling with a big or little issue in their walk of life—especially at 18 years old.
The prettiest girl in school might be severely depressed. The best athlete in the school might get physically abused at home by his dad. Or the kid with the perfect GPA has to perform under intense pressure to get an ounce of affection from his parents.
Not to mention the pain you can’t possible imagine that causes self-harm, eating disorders, or suicidal thoughts in your peers’ private hours.
There’s not a single person without dysfunction in their life. It’s a broken world.
Please don’t add to their problems. Instead, make their life easier with a kind act or words of encouragement.
They’ll feel loved and you’ll feel better about yourself in the process.
You can’t make the entire world a better place on your own, but you can improve the lives of those around you one by one.
11. Make the most out of your money even when you don’t have much.
In high school and even college my stupid mindset was, “Why make smart money decisions now, it’s not like I have much money anyway.” My friends held the same viewpoints as I, too.
What I missed out on is getting a head start with my money.
When my summer job and graduation money went towards Lacoste button downs, Ray-Ban sunglasses, and Jordans, it could have bought stock shares of Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook.
Those growth stocks with a mix of compound interest would have made me significantly richer. At the very least I could have saved it to pay down college debt or hold onto for a more forward-thinking purchase.
The lesson here is what financially doesn’t look like much as a teenager, can become the booster shot to a future of financial freedom you can’t even dream about at your young age.
Why wait to make solid decisions, you know?
12. Growth is 100% possible and comes from where you focus your energy.
Hey kid, you can grow in any direction you choose to. As a plant can grow wide or tall, you can in any quality of your life.
Want to be funnier, better at piano, more muscular, fitter, smarter, more energetic, better dressed, or any possible quality you can think of? Focus on it and progress is guaranteed to come.
The point is you’re not limited or stagnant in the person you are right now. You can develop in any area you choose. Take courage in the fact that you’re not stagnant.
It’s truly a human miracle that we can choose to grow in an area and actually make it happen.
13. Invest time to your mind, body, and spirit—you only get one of each.
It’s easy to only think as far as the weekend when you’re young. What’s better for you to realize is that life’s long and you only get one mind, body, spirit. Treat them right.
Just cause you don’t have an assigned book to read doesn’t mean you should never pick up a book again. The benefits of reading are second to none. Not to mention the moment you stop learning is when you stop living.
Just cause you’re done playing sports doesn’t mean you’re done working out the rest of the year, in college, and going forward. You can directly help your brain chemistry feel happier thoughts by working out.
Just cause you don’t have to go to church anymore since you’re in college, doesn’t mean it’s in your best interest to be spiritually bankrupt. Think about who is your creator and why did he create you?
Plus, the single best way to combat all the crap that life throws at you is to be mentally, physically, and spiritually strong. What isn’t a weakness internally, can’t be exploited externally.
14. Go work hard, and you won’t face regrets from things you could’ve controlled.
The luxurious life of relaxation as an 18-year-old with limited responsibilities is nice, until it catches up on you in the form of bad habits.
The college freshman who comes home from class and abuses their freedom by taking a three-hour nap every day is the same one frustrated about why they’re struggling to pass their classes. They regret not putting more time into studying.
That’s not it. They build the habit of needing a nap after any mental work so they come home from their first real world job at 22 and nap, but make no progress on their fitness goals. They regret not going to the gym more often.
Regret comes from knowing you could have done more but you didn’t put in the effort for some reason. I’m telling you the way to cut down on regret is to work extremely hard in all facets of life.
It’s much easier to dismiss things out of your control. But if your laziness contributed to a bad result, all the blame is on your shoulders. Why do that to yourself?
15. Your big ideas aren’t crazy, they’re creative.
The world is full of Negative Nancy’s who try to put your ideas down by calling you crazy.
What you need to learn is that only small people, or insecure friends, who are afraid of change will knock you for being creative. Don’t let them.
When they call you crazy, internalize that as a positive sign you’re being creative and thinking big.
Go out and try to create a human-looking robot. Design a new type of shoe that no one has ever thought of before. Or craft a rare recipe that goes against conventional cooking wisdom.
The world is your oyster to experiment with, as long as you enter the lab and get creative.
16. Life is long, have patience about reaching your goals.
Many young adults want to be a doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, teacher, now! They’re like let’s go already. I certainly felt that way.
The only problem is you’re at least 4 years away from doing what you actually desire to do as those positions require a college degree at least, and many times graduate degrees.
What’s the solution? Patience. It’s not what you want to hear but it’s what you need to hear.
All good things take time to prosper. You need more knowledge, experience, and maturity to navigate successfully in your career. If you started now, you’d fail mightily and be turned off forever from it maybe.
Plus, this build up time is often a lifesaver because it gives you time to find a career more suited for your desires.
I’m the perfect example of that. First dead set on being a corporate lawyer, I jumped the ship to become an entrepreneur. You can imagine how thankful I am for the time that allowed me to make that switch before it was too late.
17. Be grateful for everything you have.
Here’s a cold, hard fact: Your life is pretty great in comparison to many parts of this world.
Your perception will change when you realize millions of people would do anything for their own bed, a warm meal to eat every meal, or the opportunity to go to school.
If you’re like my 18-year-old self, you’re more worried about your social media likes than life’s basic needs.
Please, for the sake of yourself and the people around you, heed my advice to be grateful for everything you have.
Whether it’s in the morning, during the day, or before bed, I encourage you to thank God for a few things you’re grateful for.
This activity will help you stay balanced in today’s society and hold onto a peaceful equilibrium each day.
18. You choose your own happiness.
Happiness is what it’s all about right? Young adults like yourself chase sports, education, success, family, friendships, fame, money, exercising, and all areas of life for the ultimate goal of happiness.
But you don’t need to chase all of that to find what you’re looking for. Here’s the secret: Choose to be happy.
While it’s similar to the previous lesson on gratitude, it’s different in a sense.
It’s scientifically proven that humans can change their attitude to be happy. The sole act of attempting to be happy will help you become more joyful. Isn’t that wild?
Then when you couple this attitude with healthy decisions to surround yourself with people you enjoy, allow yourself to laugh at the odd elements of life, and focus on good things in your day, your life is happy.
This may be the greatest discovery in this list: Happiness is within your grasp at any second you choose.
P.S. The subtle hint behind all of these 18 lessons is to keep your head up. You’re going to turn out just alright. Trust me!