Advice for my teenage self

I ran into the Youth Minister for my high school youth group at a friend’s wedding a few weeks back, and he graciously offered me the opportunity to write a letter to be read aloud at an upcoming retreat to the high school attendees. I was more than happy to oblige. Below is an excerpt of that letter that I thought would apply to anyone in high school or college, just getting your feet under you, just as life prepares to pull out the rug. If you’re in that target audience, I truly hope you find something worthwhile here. If, like me, this special time has come and gone for you, what would you tell your past self? I’d love to hear what it is in the comments.


I’d like to pass on a bit of advice. Not the fluffy “sieze the future” nonsense you‘ll get at your graduation, but real practical advice that you can use today, right now in fact. I asked myself, “If I could go back in time to when I was 15, 16, 17 years old, and give myself that sage knowledge that only shows up in hindsight, what would I say?” This is what I came up with… * First things first: the winning Powerball numbers on November 18, 1998 will be 21 – 25 – 33 – 39 – 46, Powerball 18 * Frank, at 17, you’re still just a kid. Heck, at 21 you’ll still be just a kid. That’s okay. There’s plenty of time to be an adult. And no, going to school, doing homework, and taking tests does not count as responsibility. It’s nothing compared to the stress you’ll feel when you’ve got bills to pay and a family to care for. Enjoy the complete lack of responsibility while it lasts, just remember that you have just enough knowledge to be dangerous. * Here’s the biggest secret of high school: all the other kids are all worrying about what everyone else thinks of them too! Everyone is ridiculously self-conscious, and these feelings affect everyone differently. It’s the reason why you see others become divas, bullies, introverts, goths, emo’s, anti-trenders, etc. Be confident in yourself, because how you feel is exactly how everyone around you feels. That’s the key to genuine popularity in high school, and we all figure it out after the fact. Fortunately, being mindful that we’re all in the same boat is also the key to building long-lasting relationships throughout your life, so the lesson doesn’t go to waste. Still, I always wanted to be popular in high school. For a great example of this mindset in action, go re-watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. * You end up meeting your wife early senior year of college, right after you take a personal pledge to finally give up worrying about relationships. So quit worrying! Dating is fun and exciting, but dwelling on that relationship can swallow you up, and there’s so much more to do, learn, see, and enjoy right now. Of all the people you’ll meet throughout your life, so far you have only met two couples who knew each other in high school. * I know it’s really hard to believe right now, but your parents aren’t as dumb as they seem. They actually get a whole lot of what you’re going through, but talking about it in a candid manner with you right now kinda mucks up the parent-child relationship, since it requires them to bring up their own past mistakes. When you have that conversation with Mom on your first college break about drinking and partying, you’ll understand. For now, trust that they always have your best interests at heart, and never hesitate to ask them questions. As much as I hate telling myself this, the only dumb one in that relationship right now is you. * Late senior year, an Adult Leader named Arnold told you and bunch of your friends that, quote, “By the time you graduate, who you are — your personality — is essentially who you will be for the rest of your life.” It’s some of the best insight you’ll ever get when it comes to dealing with people, including yourself. So if there’s something you’re not happy with — your tendency to be critical of others comes to mind — get working on it right now. You know those jerks in your life, the bullies who you wish would just grow up? Most of them never will, and you’ll meet all new idiots in college and out in the workplace, and they’ll all look the same. These people are a reality, so just start ignoring them right now. On a positive note, the laid back attitude that you’ve fostered will help you through many a tough spot, including an agonizing all-nighter at your first big job when the servers crashed. * One of the big reasons Arnold’s advice is so good, is the corollary to it that you discover in college: your decisions matter. All of them. Profoundly. Sex, drugs, drinking, drunk driving, skipping classes, anything illegal…these actions can never truly be undone, and you will carry them with you for the rest of your life. Choose carefully. So far you’ve done okay, but you’ll meet plenty of people who were less fortunate. No, let’s be honest here, “less fortunate” isn’t the right term. “Stupid” is more apt. Don’t be stupid. * Don’t fear failure. Be more afraid of missing opportunities due to fear of failure. You’ll see lots of examples where the big difference between wild success and mediocrity is simply showing up. On a related note, you do finally start your own business, just like you’ve always told yourself you would. You’ve been working out of your basement for about a year now, and the business itself isn’t profitable yet, but you’re getting there. The experience is every bit as awesome as you expected. * Don’t blink. It’s really easy to keep looking forward to the next milestone. Finishing a school year, getting your driver’s license, being able to vote…life keeps going at the same pace, and later on you only wish it would slow down. Senior years of both high school and college go particularly fast for you. Enjoy every day, even the lousy ones. Like I said, you really don’t have any responsibility right now. * One last thing, when you go to return your graduation tuxedo, drive really carefully. This old man abruptly hits the brakes on you and you rear-end him.

That’s what I’d want to tell myself anyway, but hopefully you’ll find something useful in there too.