18 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Was 18

Life Lessons

This morning I was reading a book at my favorite beach-side 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 in a couple of weeks 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, honest eyes, he began asking me one question after the next:

  • “What 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 him was actually quite nostalgic for me.  He reminded me of me ten years ago.  So I started thinking about his questions again, and I began imagining all of the 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 advice about life.

So after a few cups of coffee and a couple hours of deliberation, here are 18 things I wish someone told me when I was 18:

  1. Commit yourself to making lots of mistakes. – Mistakes teach you important lessons.  The biggest mistake you can make is doing nothing because you’re too scared to make a mistake.  So don’t hesitate – don’t doubt yourself.  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 always ends up just the way it should be.  Either you succeed or you learn something.  Win-Win.  Remember, if you never act, you will never know for sure, and you will be left standing in the same spot forever.
  2. Find hard work you love doing. – If I could offer my 18-year-old self some real career advice, I’d tell myself not to base my career choice 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 key point: Finding hard work you love doing.  As long as you remain true to yourself, and follow your own interests and values, you can find success through passion.  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 30 years?”  So if you catch yourself working hard and loving every minute of it, don’t stop.  You’re on to something big.  Because hard work ain’t hard when you concentrate on your passions.
  3. Invest time, energy and money in yourself every day. – 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, the more control you have over your life.
  4. 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 many small, unique experiences.  And the more unique experiences you have, the more interesting your story gets.  So seek as many new life experiences as possible and be sure to share them with the people you care about.  Not doing so is not living.
  5. 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 diverse directions.  So narrow your focus on learning fewer career related skills and master them all.
  6. People are not mind readers.  Tell them what you’re thinking. – People will never know how you feel unless you tell them.  Your boss?  Yeah, he doesn’t know you’re hoping for a promotion because you haven’t told him yet.  That cute girl you haven’t talked to because you’re too shy?  Yeah, you guessed it; she hasn’t given you the time of day simply because you haven’t given her the time of day either.   In life, you have to communicate with others.  And often, you have to open your vocal cords and speak the first words.  You have to tell people what you’re thinking.  It’s as simple as that.
  7. Make swift decisions and take immediate action. – Either you’re going to take action and seize new opportunities, or someone else will first.  You can’t change anything or make any sort of progress by sitting back and thinking about it.  Remember, there’s a huge difference between knowing how to do something and actually doing it.  Knowledge is basically useless without action.
  8. 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 be worth it.
  9. Don’t worry too much about what other people think about you. – For the most part, what other people think and say about you doesn’t matter.  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, ten 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 important.  What is important is how you feel about yourself.
  10. Always be honest with yourself and others. – Living a life of honesty creates peace of mind, and peace of mind is priceless.  Period.
  11. Talk to 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 left my first two employers by choice on good terms), but I only interviewed with the 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 for the duration of your career.
  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, you can hear your thoughts, you can reach deep within yourself, and you can focus on mapping out the next logical, productive step in your life.
  13. Ask lots of questions. – The greatest ‘adventure’ is the ability to inquire, to ask questions.  Sometimes in the process of inquiry, the search is more significant than the answers.  Answers come from other people, from the universe of knowledge and history, and from the intuition and deep wisdom inside yourself.  These answers will never surface if you never ask the right questions.  Thus, the simple act of asking the right questions is the answer.
  14. Exploit the resources you do have access to. – The average person is usually astonished when they see a physically handicap person show intense signs of emotional happiness.  How could someone in such a restricted physical state be so happy?  The answer rests in how they use the resources they do have.  Stevie Wonder 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.
  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 grandfather 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 what you do. – There’s no point in doing something if you aren’t going to do 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. – You must follow your heart, and be 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 rubbish.  And 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 it in every fiber of your being.  You better be born to do it!  Don’t waste your life fulfilling someone else’s dreams and desires.

But above all, laugh when you can, apologize when you should, and let go of what you can’t change.  Life is short, yet amazing.  Enjoy the ride.

Also, if you liked this article and you’re looking for similar advice on life, love and personal growth I highly recommend that you read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck.  It’s an easy, enjoyable read that literally changed my life.

This article was co-written by Marc and Angel and Shaun Boyd, and inspired by Shaun’s post, 10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me 10 Years Ago.

Photo by: Taylor McBride

Comments

  1. Sophia says

    I am currently 18 and I think this article is brilliant. It made me think. I’m going to transform this year into the best year of my life.

  2. Mike says

    Great post. There is one i would add to this list — keep a journal. As a kid, i was inspired by the old series ‘The Waltons’ and began keeping a personal daily journal – similar to what ‘John Boy’ did – summarizing my day just before calling it a night. On many an occasion, it’s served as a catharsis – a great way to safely empty out whatever was boiling up in me at the time. Over the years, I’ve been amazed at the many twists and turns that life has taken – the ups, the downs and the in-betweens, and were it not for that journal, i would have forgotten many of the lessons that life had a way of subtly teaching me when I never saw it coming.

  3. Suky says

    Brilliant post – thank you. Great advice that I wish someone had given to me when I was 18! I also love The Road Less Traveled. It was one of the first ones I read that put me on the right path. Love Suky

  4. L Swan says

    Great read! Also, in my opinion number 9 should be number 1 and the words “too much” should be removed. From a 48-year old.

  5. Vivek says

    Great read! I am 18 now and I am sure that after 10 years I won’t have to say “I Wish Someone Told Me When I Was 18.” Thanks. This article helped me.

  6. says

    I concur! If I may be bold enough to add one: Always take your dreams for the future seriously.

    And, by the way, I love your posts. Just discovered this site today. Very valuable to all those who want to achieve more in life. Thank you.

    Ken West,
    author of Get What You Want

  7. Dave B says

    I just read this article… I too wish someone told me these things nearly 30 years ago! I did go directly to my favorite audio book site and purchase ‘The Road Less Traveled” before I posted this comment, thank you!

  8. says

    After the years which i have lived and after my experiences , i think i still need to re-read these words from time to time.

    Thank you for this advice and this wonderful article.

  9. says

    I myself am (around 18 and) at that awkward stage where I’m trying to work out what I want to do with my life having not quite decided on unis or anything so far. The more I think (idly, yes) about everything the more scatter-brained I become; my focus is all over the place. I was just looking around for something inspiring and motivating and this was just the pick-me-up I needed- super sound advice right there, thank you for this! I’m actually going to come back ever so often when I need to sort myself out again :)

  10. says

    Some smart thinking here, kids. Chipping in with my own two penneth: Advice I wish someone had sat me down and slapped into me as a teenager: If you think you’ve fallen in love with someone but are terrified of telling them because it’ll “ruin the friendship,”…tell them anyway. What you have isn’t friendship if you’re busting to grab them and kiss them 24hrs a day. It’s something else. And something worth going for at any cost.
    That’s it. Rx

  11. Justin Samuel says

    This is awesome stuff! I could relate to most of the points mentioned here. I’m now 30. But as the saying goes “Better late than never” :)
    Again great article! Expecting more beautiful ones like this one!
    Cheers, Justin Samuel.

  12. Daisy says

    I would add #19 Find an older mentor in the career field that you plan to study. Often times what you “envision” a job to be is quite different than reality. Mentors can be friends of your parents; neighbors; people you attend church with; or someone that is already in the career field that you want to be in.

    Most older people will feel flattered when asked if you can shadow them on their job or schedule a coffee date (please pick up the tab, since you are the one benefiting) to get a true perspective on what their career entails. Who knows, they may become a life-long mentor. Good luck!

  13. Sahil Shaikh says

    I am so thankful I read this list today, while I am still 18. Will definitely put all of this to good use. JazakAllah (thank you) for all the awesome stuff you post!

  14. Michael C says

    Excellent Blog and a definite good read. Everyone should have a list like that. Find your own voice to tell your 18 year old self. Reading the comments here, there is alot of 18 year old that are very greatful for your post but they are forgetting one thing… Don’t listen to what other say you should do… Don’t take his list here and make it your life mission… read it, digest it and move on guys… Life is waiting for you to experience it!

  15. jase says

    Thank you Marc for this wonderful post. I would like to use these tips in my life ahead, they very authentic and useful.
    :-)

  16. rockthrush says

    This helps motivate as I change jobs and find my way. Though I’m not 18 years old anymore. LOL.

    Nice article.

  17. Grace says

    I am eighteen and completing my final exams before I go to university. This has made me realise that I’m not living my life how I want to be. I’ve applied for the wrong degree and I need to fix that so that the rest of my life is easier to enjoy. Thank you.

  18. says

    I think number 1 is so important. It is only by making mistakes that you can learn. Not being afraid to make mistakes is so important. We all make mistakes, learn, move on, make more mistakes.

    Eventually you will be successful.

  19. Joo says

    I am also 19 years old and just finished a rocky first year of college! Thank you so much for your advice, I can really relate to them and I believe that this coming year I will work to enjoy and work harder for my life and happiness. These days I feel like I am constantly worried about tomorrow and never appreciating today. Worried about everything so much that I am afraid go live my life to the fullest. This year has definitely been scary but now I am confidence to live my life with more hope and joy :) Now I do want to talk to more new people, stop judging myself to be a failure and try to experience new adventures. Life is surely a roller coaster but I think sometimes I forget to enjoy the ride. Thank you again!

  20. Justalostteen says

    Thank you, I feel as if this was a wake up call. I needed to hear something like this from an experienced adult. I turned 18 about 43 minutes ago and I googled, ” I turned 18 and I don’t know what to do with my life.” I honestly didn’t know what was going to pop up in the search field, but i’m glad to of come across this. Recently, I’ve been realizing that this upcoming fall means new beginnings/experiences and transitioning to the “adult” world. All this makes me extremely overwhelmed. It’s reached the point to where I didn’t feel like taking initiative with my life for fear of not liking what’s to come. I’ve spent my summer slacking and sleeping, even missing important deadlines for school because I wasn’t excited about this brand new start. I should’ve looked forward to it all this time. I never step out of the box, but your right in order to get places and learn from your mistakes you must. No one will hold your hand and help you out, as good as that sounds at times. You need to steer your life in the direction you want to go because time passes extremely fast. Everyone will leave you behind because they’re doing what’s best for themselves. Much Respect.

  21. Joey says

    Reading this puts a burning in my stomach as I turned 40 this summer. I look back with a lot of bitterness about my youth, but that’s not propelling me forward in the least bit. I feel in a way I’ve missed out on so much that it’s too late for so many things. Then I feel guilty for not being thankful for all of the great things that I’ve some how seemed to accumulate in my life thus far. I agree Marc, these are definitely things I wish someone would’ve told me when I was 18yrs old.

  22. says

    I love point 12. Sitting in silence and reflecting is a great way of remembering your day. In the evening I like to look back through my day in my mind. Focusing on the good stuff and thinking how I would do the bad stuff differently.

  23. Sabrina says

    This is fabulous. I am forwarding this to my two sons. Shay (who will be 16 on Jan 4th) and Sam (who will be 14 on Feb 14th). As a single mom, and with an absent father this blog would be priceless and will add (and summarize) to the things I wanted I want them to so badly remember. I also hope that these two impressionable young ambitious teenagers will read your other amazing blogs.

    Marc and Angel you are simply the best… you change million of lives with your blog posts and book.

  24. Dragonslayer says

    Wow! I’d say pick two that really jump out at you and of those two, take one and work on it really strongly for the next year! Then next year, do the other one!

  25. says

    This is the perfect post to come upon right now in my life. My daughter well one of 5, turns 18 on the 16th of July. I tagged her in a post on fb, because I want her to read it. I wish I had when I turned 18. But I do believe, ALWAYS do what you LOVE and you’ll never work a day in your life. I don’t. I love being a massage therapist.

  26. says

    Wow, thank you ! I have had some really bad days lately, thinking about my future and my past… now, after reading this post I feel a little bit better. You know… I have always known that I should be who i want to be and try new things, be a better person, don’t care about others opinion too much, but yet it is good when someone older than me reminds me of these things. Hope to see more “what would I say to my 18 years old self” posts. Thank you very much and have a good day. :)

  27. Kim says

    Today is my sons 18th birthday, I sent him the link to your article. It’s perfect advice and puts all the important things into perspective. Thanks so much!

  28. Jen B says

    All really good points. However crucially important to accomplishing any dreams, goals, or quality relationships is to take care of your health: body, mind and spiritual soul.

    Around 16-18 and into your 20’s our culture markets the insidious use of booze , drugs, and other mind altering avenues to have fun.

    right when our brains are at the peak of development and the potential to do pathological damage. use stunts true emotional maturity, skills in expressing our authentic self, and learning to cope with life’s challenges with positive emotional growth, integrity and honesty. If I could change one thing about my 18-29 year old self…it would be to steer clear of the crowd who thinks every occasion, weekend or relationship should involve alcohol, or pot consuming times for fun. what a waste…of valuable time, brain cells , and loss of authentic relationships.

  29. says

    Great advice for any age, from my own experience the two most important things is to be healthy and happy. There are many things which lead to these things, you must be constant with your efforts to achieve both not only in yourself but those around you.

    If those around you are also healthy and happy then this will pass back to you, ‘you are the average of the five people you are with’ being healthy and happy is a great average.

    Take Care

    Glen

  30. zeeshan raza says

    I am going to be 18 next month. I just accidentally found your blog. This article will surely change my life. Thanks for the golden piece.

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