Bo Guthrie has plenty of good advice for his 20-year-old self.
If I could hop in a time machine and travel back in time to talk to myself right before I turned twenty, there is a lot I would say. Firstly, I would compliment younger me on how good he looks before other people start to use time machines too and that becomes a cliche.
Secondly, I would tell younger me how to live life better. But younger me is lazy. So current me would write a list because lists are easy to read and that’s something a lazy ass like younger me could handle.
Here is that list:
1. People Love Lists.
They just do and there’s no getting around it. Look at any web page, look at the New York Times bestsellers list, look at the mounds of lists I have spilling out of my desk drawer. Lists are everywhere and people can’t get enough of them. So my advice is: work on yours.
One day, the world is going to ask what you have to offer. If you want a place at the table, the world will say, you better bring something to it. Make sure you have a list of things to offer.
Just so we’re completely clear here, list is a metaphor for a resume. Moving on…
2. Start Things
Younger me, I know how you like to sit around and think that you could do anything. You think that you could totally become a computer programmer, or an author, or a race car driver if you really wanted to. But do you really know that? Do you have any idea what it takes to do any of those things?
It’s easy to fantasize about the possibility of doing something, but until you actually take that first step, you have no idea what it takes. So start doing things.
Have an interest in programming? Do some tutorials! Wanna try out yoga? Take a class! Wanna be a hitman? Kill a few folks! By doing things, you’ll get a pretty good idea of your strengths as well as the kinds of things you might want to do in life.
3. Finish Things
I know I just told you to start things, younger me. But that’s the easy part. Tell me what looks better to you: A guy who’s working on a novel or a guy who’s published one? A guy who’s planning on building a motorcycle or a guy who’s already cruising around the neighborhood on his shitty bike?
It’s easy to start doing something. Seeing it through to its end takes work and that’s when you learn the most. Let me put it this way, finishing is where the value of doing something lies.
I can’t say this enough. Start things, but, more importantly, finish them.
4. You’re going to fail. A lot.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you realize that you’ll never be able to sing like Christina Aguileraerera or play tennis like Roger Federererer. That’s life, though. You’re going to fall short.
Most people greet failure with denial and excuses. I think that you should embrace it.
Failure can be a great teacher because it helps you narrow down the things you’re actually good at. Having that knowledge is hugely valuable.
Just because you fail doesn’t mean you need to quit, however. Sometimes perseverance through failure is precisely what leads to you succeeding.
Think about Thomas Edison. He went through, like, a billion different iterations of the light bulb before he nailed it. J.K. Rowling wrote herself into poverty, losing her marriage in the process, before she finally got it right. Marc Maron toiled away in relative obscurity until he was in his forties before his podcast took off.
The point is that the road to success is riddled with failure. I don’t know if someone has said that before, but they should have.
5. Decide Early
Since I’m from the future, younger me, I have the benefit of knowing that you are going to become an adult during the worst economic climate since the Great Depression.
But, recession or no, if you know what it is you want to do and have already taken steps towards that goal, you stand a way better chance of getting a job you like.
This is a hard to say, younger me, because it puts the pressure on you. But you are best served by finding out what the hell it is you want to do right now. No one’s saying you can’t change later, but it’s a much larger pain in the ass to do so.
6. Results Take Years
When you’ve been plugging away at something for weeks on end and it feels like you’ve gotten nowhere, it’s easy to think about giving up. The fact is that it takes years to see the fruits of your labor.
You think you’re going to get super muscular after a month in the gym? You think you’re going to be the CEO of your own company right out of college? (The answer to both of those questions is no, by the way).
Accomplishment takes commitment and it usually takes years. Not days. Not months. Years. So keep your head up and keep moving. You’ll get there.
7. You Don’t Know Everything
More accurately, you know almost nothing. The scope of your knowledge and experience compared to almost everyone else in the world is severely limited.
See that dude in middle management? That balding guy with a gut whose favorite music is probably by Phil Collins? That guy has about ten years of experience doing his job. He has encountered hundreds of unique situations in which he’s had to adapt and problem solve and succeed or risk being out of work. He is really really good at what he does and he worked hard to get where he is.
Appreciate that fact and understand that most people aren’t stupid, most people work very hard, and most people know a lot more than you do.
I feel like it’s necessary for me to add a caveat to the statement that most people aren’t stupid. That’s true. But they’re not smart, either. Moving on…
8. Be Present
There’s a saying: the decisions are made by those who show up. Younger me, showing up sucks. It’s boring. It’s way more fun to say “screw it” and stay home and eat peanut butter-stuffed Oreos.
But every time you wait with your girlfriend in the dentist’s office before her checkup, or sit through a boring lecture in a class you know you could pass anyway, or simply hang around with your friends after you could have left, you’re doing something called being present.
One day you’re going to want to be involved. You’re going to want your opinion to matter and you’re going to want to be valued. Being present gets you most of the way there.
As boring as it is, being present means you’re there to make the decisions, it strengthens your ties to those around you, and it means you get to experience the little things in life you might have missed out on if you had been sitting at home on your couch eating delicious peanut butter stuffed Oreos.
9. Have a lot of sex
You’re young, supple, and one day you won’t be able to have a bunch of sex with a ton of different people without seeming creepy. Be safe and enjoy your suppleness.
10. Be the cake
A wise man once told me that all relationships are like icing on a cake. A relationship should enhance who you are. It should make you feel better, do better, and be a better you. Most importantly, a relationship needs to be accommodating enough to have all of you in it. No missing ingredients.
That’s it, younger me. Now go forth and live better.