adorable–er, I mean super handsome and very manly–nephew Jacob graduated from high school last night. It seems so crazy to me that the sweet little boy I used to babysit is now ready to head off to college.
As he begins this new phase of his life–adulthood–I couldn’t help but reflect on the time when I was that age and wish that I had only known then what I know now. Oh, if I only I could go back and tell my 18 year old self a thing or two!
Jacob, I know most of this advice will probably go in one ear and out the other, but I decided to write it down anyway.
5 things I wish I would’ve known when I was 18
1. You control your destiny
You will have a lot of people–parents, advisers, coaches, professors– giving you advice & telling you what to do. Most of the advice will probably be good; some of it may be conflicting. But here’s the thing: you’re not a kid anymore. No one can tell you exactly what to do. You have to make your own decisions and be responsible for the outcome. It is exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.
2. Don’t get a tattoo
Just trust me on this one! While I know you probably think you will love it forever, chances are you want. Wait until you are at least 30, and if you still want a tattoo, I will pay for it myself.
3. Your mistakes, weaknesses, and fears don’t define you
Everyone has faults or weak spots. Everyone makes mistakes. It is important to recognize them and work to correct them as much as possible, but not be consumed by them. Don’t assume you can’t do something just because it’s not what you’re good at. If you fail, dust yourself off and try again. Ultimately, what will define you is not your handicaps, but your willingness to continue on even through adversity. Winston Churchill once said, “Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is only the courage to continue that matters.”
Don’t ever neglect to try something new because you are afraid of the outcome. Another of my favorite quotes is by Eleanor Roosevelt–“You must do the thing you cannot do,”–and it is so true. The more you are willing to conquer your fears and try things despite being afraid of them, the more you will grow as a person.
4. Pay attention
At 18 it is hard to see anything outside of your own narrow world, but try. Pay attention to the people and world around you, and to current events and news. Learn to apply what you are learning in college not just to the next exam you have to take, but to how it relates to the bigger picture. You will not only retain information better, you will see how interconnected life is. History matters because what happened in the past affects the future. Economics matter because it affects your wallet. Read everything you can, not because you have to, because you want to be better. Education is a gift; don’t waste it.
5. Follow your passion
If you want to be successful in life, do what you love and give it everything you’ve got. If you don’t know what that is yet, keep looking. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing or saying; listen to your own gut instincts. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to work hard–you will–but if you can find something you are passionate about, follow your dreams, and give it your all, you will be ahead of the game.