When you’re 18, you have it all figured out. You’re about to graduate from high school (if you still had the blessing of 9 years of secondary school education in Germany), or have already graduated. You’re in the middle of a new life, and everyone around you has it figured out too. Except for the fact that, well, no one does.
I’m turning 25 soon. And when you’re 25, you have it all figured out. Except for the fact that, well, you probably haven’t. I just wouldn’t know because I’m not 25 yet. Nevertheless, I seized the opportunity to take on the holier-than-thou attitude that adults sometimes have, and think about the advice that I would now give my 18 year old self.
Man, high school was a blast. Life was easy — and hard at the same time. The worries were just different. I was doing pretty decently in school, had just picked up playing Lacrosse — something I was (and still am) very proud of doing — and spent my days and nights partying, hitting the gym and playing League of Legends.
However, I probably would have spent them a little bit differently (and maybe even sometimes with a female specimen — I wasn’t very good with the girls) had somebody told me the following things. Here’s the advice I’d give to myself in 2011.
Read non-fiction books.
In 2014, I read „The 4-Hour-Workweek“ by Tim Ferriss, and from that point on, I was hooked on non-fiction literature. Reading is one of the most powerful things you can do, and until then, I just read a lot of fantasy novels.
Reading allows you to peek into someone’s mind who has mastered a certain discipline. It allows you to download 10,000 hours of experience into your brain — in 10 hours. That’s an incredible leverage and should be used as much as possible. It took me a while to figure out what I really wanted, and books helped me with that quite a bit.
I’d even like to say that books turned me into the person that I am today (although I do have to give significant credit to my family and my environment growing up for that as well). Had I started earlier, God knows what would’ve happened — but it most certainly would have accelerated anything that I was trying to achieve. In school and university I studied because I had to — now, I’m reading that stuff for fun. It makes a difference.
Don’t surround yourself with people who drag you down.
„You become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.“ If the majority of those people are people who are constantly making fun of you (even though they intend that not to make you feel bad), chances are your confidence isn’t going to be very high.
The hardest — and most effective — way to do that is to simply not surround yourself with those kind of people anymore. Sometimes, that can even be old friends, people that treat you like the person that you’ve always been. Maybe it’s not so bad to move to a new city or to get a new social circle, because that will allow you to be who you really are at the moment, and not who you were back in the day.
Friends, like anything in life, change over time. And if you were really good friends, after some time apart you can still reconnect — and then everybody gets to be who he or she is.
In order to love someone, you first need to love yourself.
Ask yourself: Do you really love the person that you are? If not, what would you change? I’ve always suggested to myself that I’m pretty happy with myself, but in the end, I was just lying to myself. No, I wasn’t always happy with where I was. I was doubting myself. And if you even doubt yourself, what reason does anyone else have to not doubt you? Only someone who’s self-loving can let the guards down and take the dive into loving someone else. When you love yourself, you can feel love for someone else, and you’re ready for the pain that comes in case it does not work out — because you’re self-image is not dependent on another person anymore.
I know this advice isn’t really actionable, so let’s start this way: Are you 100% happy with who you are? If not, what’s one aspect that you’d like to change? What would be the first step to changing that aspect? That’s the point when you make the first step.
Take care of your body.
When you’re still young (and hey, I still am), your body can handle a lot of shit. Except for mine — I’ve always been very injury-prone. Yet, I never even considered that this fact could be changed. I took it as a given. Which is not entirely true — there is quite a lot you can do, and I’ve only recently discovered that. Start picking up Yoga. Do stretching. Go lift, but with an instructor, and lift for form, not for weight. Yes, this shit isn’t cool. Yes, you will get mocked. For a while — and eventually the others around you realize that taking care of your body might not be the worst idea.
Now, when I tell people that I’ve started doing Yoga in the morning, the response isn’t anymore „hahaha that’s some shit for gays and girls“, but more like „that’s awesome, I should do that too!“. Times change, but you’re stuck with your body until you die.
Quick nerd aside here: the turnover of your cells in your body is actually pretty high, which means that the vast majority of your cells replace themselves within a span of 2 years, which means that technically you never have the same body. But that’s beside the point.
Develop strong habits that are good for you.
Taking care of your body, reading, and a lot of other good things can be encompassed in a habit. If you do something every day for a short amount of time, it will start to compound, just like interest compounds over the years. The earlier you get started, the better. So if you’ve identified one thing that you’d like to be able to do (or get better at), just go out and do it for one minute every day. If you do that for one year straight, you’ll have 6 hours of it under your belt. And that’s quite a lot.
My friend Max had something to add which I think is very valuable — and after further reflection certainly wouldn’t have hurt me, either:
Spend a year in the real world before going to university.
Being in school and university kind of means living in a bubble. In most cases, you don’t have to take care of your own finances, you might still be living at home (at least I hope so very much while you’re still in school), and life’s good. Instead, go abroad. Work on a social project. Get your hands dirty, and know what it’s really like out there. It’ll make you appreciate a lot more the stuff that you learn in university.
Did I mention I’ve got it all figured out? Because I don’t. And that’s totally fine, because I’m generally very happy with where I am right now. Given the choice to do anything differently, I’d do it the exact same way again, except for the five things listed above.
And to get there, maybe I did do a few things right back in the day already. But that’s a story for another day. On which I, maybe, will have it figured all out.
Note: This post was written about 6 weeks before publication. In the meantime, I’ve turned 25 and am happy es ever.
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