I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve thought, “If only I’d known _______, I wouldn’t be in this mess!”. You too, huh? I’m pretty sure most of us at one time or another have wished that Life had a rewind button, or that we could relive a particularly trying time with some of the knowledge we’d accumulated after the fact.
Here are the top ten things I wish I’d known when I was growing up. If I had known these, it would have made my life so much easier!
1. You never feel like a “grown up”. I always expected to feel different once I became an adult, you know? I mean, there are obviously different responsibilities and privileges associated with growing up, but deep down inside, I still feel pretty much the same way I did when I was 16. I still view myself that way and I still feel like other people view me that way, too. I’m in my early 30s now, and I still have a tough time addressing people who are in their 50s by their first names, rather than Mr. or Mrs. Whoever. While this is polite, it’s a little bit odd. We’re both adults, right? Why is it so tough to break that habit?
I’m happy about this, though. I always thought adults had to sign up to be boring, you know? Give up fun stuff like video games and being silly just because they were grown ups. Thank goodness that’s not true. A bit of childishness will serve you well. Don’t get stuck in your ways or become too rigid in your thinking to assimilate new views. That youthfulness will keep you going during the tough times you’re bound to run into once you get some adult responsibilities.
Edit – Check out this comic strip that came out just a day after I posted this article. EXACTLY what I’m talking about here.
2. Get a hobby that’s useful. By useful, I mean something that keeps your mind active and that can bring enjoyment to more than just you. You may find yourself one day “stuck” in a job that isn’t really fulfilling to you. For whatever reason, it seems to be a common refrain these days. Jobs and careers that once lit a flame in us become tedious and mundane. In those times, you’ll need to be able to do something else. I’m not necessarily talking about turning your hobby into a business (although that’s not a bad idea). What I mean is, if all you do when you get home from work is watch television, you’re going to slowly rot away from the inside.
Something in your life needs to be important to you. Maybe that’s painting, or photography, or perhaps you write. You could organize get-togethers for charity, or maybe you’re involved in community service projects. Not only are all of these activities helpful to others, but they keep your mind occupied. You’re constantly learning new techniques and incorporating new experiences into your life, which helps keep you from stagnating.
3. It’s okay to be different from other people. Popularity used to be really important to me, especially in high school. I don’t think this is too much different from any other kid, really. Children can be brutal to each other, and especially to others who don’t conform to social norms and expectations. Being popular seems as though it would exempt you from these trials.
Of all the things I wish I knew, this may be the one that I’m most concerned about imparting to my own son, and the one that I think may be the hardest to get across. It’s okay, at any stage in your life, to think, act and be different. We’re supposed to be unique. Differences are what make us interesting to each other. To want to hide what we truly are is a shame. It’s something that many of us take with us, far past the times when we’re in the halls of high school. You’re not going to be happy trying to conform and be something other than what you’re meant to be. It gets even worse when things aren’t going well for you and you’re still trying to keep up pretenses. Just be yourself.
4. Girls are people, too. I was always scared of girls. They intimidated me. I didn’t understand how they thought or why they did the things they did. I never learned to talk with them as peers until much later in life. I’m sure there are a lot of guys out there who had the same problem, right? RIGHT?!
This isn’t just about girls, though. That was just one way that my immature mindset manifested itself. In truth, I was intimidated by a lot of people I came in contact with. Whether it was because I thought they were better looking than me, or more athletic, or smarter or whatever, I allowed my impressions of them (impressions based on superficial assumptions) dictate how I responded to them.
What I finally learned was that these people generally held the same types of insecurities as I did. I understood that they didn’t have it all together (external appearances to the contrary), and that they just might have been intimidated by me! No one is inherently better than another, and most folks respond positively to you when you go out of your way to interact with them.
5. Learn to talk to everyone you meet. This is a tough one for some, but not for others. But, the technique of learning to speak with other people isn’t really the focus here. It’s really more the attitude behind not wanting to talk to others.
The way I see it, there are 2 reasons why you don’t want to talk to others. First, you may be embarrassed to do so. This stems from a feeling of inferiority. Secondly, you don’t think you’ve got anything to gain by talking to someone else. This stems from feelings of superiority. Both extremes are bad. There’s absolutely no reason why speaking to someone should cause you anxiety (like what I mentioned when I spoke about talking to girls). Likewise, there isn’t a single person around that you can’t learn something from.
6. Life is about the journey, not the destination. This sounds kind of cliche, and maybe it is. All I know is that I didn’t really understand this for quite a long time. I was always looking for the thing that would make me happy. “If only I could make the baseball team” or “I wish I could drive myself places” or “If I could finally get a job that allowed me to pay off my debt”. This type of end goal thinking was with me for a long time.
Don’t get me wrong; I think goals are made to be achieved. For crying out loud, I spent a few weeks talking about designing the life you want
through goal setting and achievement on this very blog. However, I’ve come to realize that the key to personal growth isn’t in achieving, it’s in the struggle. It’s what you become in the process of working toward the goals you’ve set that allows you to achieve them. You need to become a better person before you can gain the rewards that go with being a better person.
7. Keep your options open. Remember that every choice you make in life, from what you study in college (let alone the choice as to whether you even go to college), to whether you buy or rent, to who you marry (or don’t), points you down a path. It may be a good path to be on; it may even be the best path for you. However, it is a path.
You limit yourself to options that flow from the choices you make. For example, if you buy a house, you’ve put your ability to pack up and move somewhere else at the whim of the local housing market. If the pros (pride of ownership, sense of stability, etc.) outweigh the cons (inflexible, more financial commitment, etc.), it may be a good choice for you. Just don’t expect that you can make choices haphazardly and still end up where you hope to in life. Options are a good thing.
8. Your metabolism won’t stay high forever. I used to be so skinny. Now, not so much. I struggle with my weight because I still eat the same way I used to when I was growing up. I need to spend a lot more time watching what I eat and in the gym than I do.
The thing is, I don’t really like doing either of those things. In fact, I usually actively dislike them.
This one isn’t just about diet and exercise. It’s about a mindset that we need to adopt as we get older and assume greater levels of responsibility. In life, there are things we need to do that we just don’t like to do. And, we can’t always escape them by deciding to do something else, ignoring them, or through delegating. You can’t tell someone to go to the gym for you, and you can’t remain a parent if you never discipline your child. Both of these things, while seemingly unrelated, are about doing things you don’t want to do because of a payoff down the line. And, it might not even be a positive payoff. It may just be the absence of a negative result (a heart attack, or rebellious kids who make your life miserable when they become teens). Hitch up your belt and do the things you don’t enjoy because they’re the right thing to do.
9. Intentionally get mentors from many walks of life. This one kind of flows from the previous tip about being able to learn from everyone. If you have an area in your life that you know needs improvement, I challenge you to find someone that has it together and learn from that person. You may actually know this person, or they may be someone you’re aware of as an author, or an expert in your field, or what have you.
The point is, whenever you can identify someone that does something better than you, it’s to your advantage to learn everything you can from them. Don’t just focus on getting mentors in your professional life. Mentors can be beneficial in all aspects, from your marriage to your personal finances and anywhere in between. Make it a habit to collect mentors and always be on the look out for growth opportunities.
10. Learn from other people’s mistakes. Look around you. There are tons of people you know that are in situations that you may one day face. Whenever you notice someone that’s having a difficult time in one aspect of their lives, try to understand why. What decisions did they make that got them to where they are? How could those decisions have been made differently if a different result was desired?
As I’ve found in my own life, a lot of good can come out of asking yourself questions as to why you ended up in the situations you’re in. Make sure you do this if you find yourself in a bad spot. However, you don’t need to make poor decisions on your own to learn something. Don’t be so prideful that you can’t acknowledge that there is something to be learned from everyone’s situation.
So, there it is. That’s my list of things I wish I had known earlier. I’m sure you’ve got some that I might have missed; be sure to share them in the comments.