This week I turned 23. Not exactly a landmark birthday, but one that caught me very much by surprise. 23? Impossible. Why, I can remember those final days at school like they were only yesterday. However, it is also incredible to think how much I have experienced, been a part of, and developed in the 5 years since then. It’s safe to say that I am unrecognisable from that spotty, socially-awkward introvert; woefully unprepared for what the outside world had in store. This reflection led me to ponder what I have since learnt that would have been of much benefit back then; the things I wish I knew when I was younger. If I could transport back in time, here are the 18 pieces of advice and wisdom I would share with my eighteen year old self:
1. Laugh Every Day
Life is far too important to be taken seriously. Listen to things that make you chuckle, watch things you find funny, constantly be cracking jokes with friends, and regularly make fun of yourself. There will be plenty of times where you’re somewhere you don’t want to be, or doing tasks you don’t want to do. Finding humour in these situations makes everything that little more bearable, increases your overall enjoyment, and draws others towards you.
Read at the bus stop. Read on the train. Read in the doctor’s surgery. Read in line at the bank. It’s a sin to our ancestors that we now live in a semi-illiterate, headline rolling, culture; 140 characters arbitrarily decided as our digestible word limit. People have sat down and taken the time to compile the pearls of wisdom from their deep research into a subject or mastery of a chosen craft; all so that, for less than £10, you are able to learn in a week the lion’s share of what it has taken them years of erudition and hardship. Books are a mental stimulant, books are stress reducers, books enhance your cognition, and books expand your knowledge. Just read!
3. Make lots of mistakes (but make each mistake only once)
Sir Ken Robinson’s ‘How Schools Kill Creativity’ speech is the most watched TED talk of all time. In it he says: “If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. By the time most children become adults, they have lost that capacity, they have become frightened of being wrong. We run our companies this way, we stigmatize mistakes, and we are now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. The result is we are educating people out of their creative capacities.”If you are not making mistakes then you are not pushing yourself hard enough. I want you to make mistakes. I encourage you to make mistakes. But, most importantly, once you have made a mistake, learn from it and don’t ever make it again.
4. Stop trying to ‘fit in’
Don’t do things for external validation or because you think it will make others like you. Trying to be someone else’s definition of ‘cool’ will not make you ‘cool’; it will make you a sheep. And if you try to please everybody, then you’ll end up pleasing nobody; not even yourself. Instead, be the wolf. Do your own thing and people will be drawn to your passion and congruity.
5. Clean up your diet
Watching Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me was what you could call a ‘light bulb’ moment. I realised that the food I was consuming was killing me from the inside out. I now follow a strict, clean, diet and as a result wake up rejuvenated each morning with a seemingly bottomless well of energy. My skin has cleared up, my mind is sharper, and I rarely ever get sick. Next time you crave some junk food, remember this: It takes the equivalent of 140 ‘burpees’ to burn off a can of coke, 349 to burn off a large portion of fries, and a whopping 698 to burn off a slice of cheesecake. Suddenly the cravings start to magically vanish.
6. Learn to cook
Going to restaurants or ordering takeaways every night makes a massive dent in the wallet. Not only will learning to cook help save vast amounts of money, it is also the best way in which to gain a nutritional understanding of different ingredients and cuisines. Harmonizing flavours will stop your need to continuously drown dishes in harmful condiments and will broaden your culinary world-view… It’s also a great way to impress the ladies!
As the old saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” Shifting your awareness to the present moment will keep you grounded, focussed, and will alleviate stress. Meditation is also medically proven to reduce blood pressure and scientifically proven to increase happiness and social skills.
8. Hack your sleep
Get your eight hours a night in a pitch black room. When under-slept you will most likely be under-productive and cranky. Little things will start to irritate you and people will start to be irritated by you. Sleep is not for the weak; sleep is for the week ahead. People who live by the ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ philosophy are short-sighted and unorganised. Coffee-fuelled all-nighters may sometimes be required if you want to get ahead in life, but they should be a rarity. Don’t use this as an excuse to laze about vegetating in the mornings either. Set an alarm, remove the snooze function, and face each day refreshed and recharged.
9. What you think is a big deal usually turns out to be trivial at best
The average teenager seems to have more ‘my life is ruined’ moments each day than they do pieces of fruit, especially when alcohol is involved. Accompanying the hangover is usually an emotion which we like to label ‘the fear’; a hazed recollection of the stupid and embarrassing things you have said and done the night before. When you do something undesirable, your brain starts to invent all manners of far-fetched outcomes, inflating things out of proportion into an enormous balloon of anxiety. In reality however, nothing ever comes of these concerns. The truth is most people are too self-absorbed to even register these events, never mind having any interest in them. Best put by Mark Twain: “I’ve had lots of worries in my life, most of which have never happened.” How should you cure this problem: Stop caring what others think of you!
10. The things you put off the most are the things you should be doing the most.
Don’t let the devils of ‘Procrastination’ and ‘Resistance’ enter your life. Think about the one or two major decisions you keep putting off and the chances are that these will also be the decisions that could have the greatest beneficial impact on your life. But you’re simply waiting until the time is right? Let me tell you something – the time will never be right! Your brain will come up with a million excuses as to why you should not do what your heart suggests. Block out these thoughts and do it anyway.
Travel rips you out of your comfort zone and breaks you from your shell like nothing else. The world is not the scary and dangerous place the media makes out. It is full of wonder, love and excitement; new friends to be met, and experiences to be had, in all corners of the globe. Book a flight, pack light, and prepare yourself for the most amazing and eye-opening adventures.
12. Cut all negative people from your life
It is said that ‘you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ If you are spending time with people who are leeches, sucking value but giving nothing in return, then how do you expect to develop into a better human being? But cutting out people is easier said than done. We may be talking about friends you’ve known for a long time and care about, but deep down know they are holding you back. Start surrounding yourself with people that are motivated and people that are driven; people that discuss ideas rather than gossip. You will soon find that these negative influencers quickly slip by the wayside.
13. Take social initiative
Don’t sit at home waiting for people to call or text you. They will soon get frustrated with your lack of effort and stop inviting you places. Actively create hangout opportunities, suggest different places to visit, or make plans to try something new. Don’t feel that you have to keep your different circles of friends segregated either. Invite people that have never met and encourage them to bring friends along that you have never met. The more the merrier.
14. The older you get, the more conservative you’ll become
Grab every new opportunity by the balls and squeeze it hard. If a door opens, take a peek inside. It could be nothing, but venturing down the rabbit hole could also lead you to Wonderland. Become a ‘Yes Man’ – always willing to venture into the unknown. Whatever you decide to do, ensure that you avoid falling into the comforts and monotony of everyday routines; happy with the security of the familiar and tranquillity of repetition. With that, your dreams will be lost.
15. Find ‘mentors’
Learning from someone who has ‘been there and done that’ is the most effective and efficient way to develop your skills and knowledge. It costs nothing to drop someone an e-mail asking for advice, and if they respond then who knows what sort of connections and opportunities could blossom. You’ll be surprised at how willing people are to lending a helping hand.
16. Make time for your family
Watching those close to you grow old is a very scary process. Make an effort to visit your grandparents on a weekly basis and offer to help with chores around the house. They have sacrificed more than you can ever imagine during your childhood and it’s time to start repaying them for this service, little by little. Spend quality time with your parents, away from the technological distractions of the modern age. Sit round the dinner table and discuss life, what your plans are for the future and what you are passionate about doing – Grow together.
17. Be genuinely interested in others.
The next time you are out in public and there are strangers talking, shamelessly eavesdrop into their conversation. You will notice that, more often than not, the listener is only passively paying attention to what the speaker is actually saying. This is because they will be (a) preoccupied thinking about how the topic of conversation affects themselves, and (b) busy thinking about what they are going to say when its their turn to contribute. Focus on giving your full undivided attention to others. Ask insightful questions about their passions and immerse yourself in their response. People will subconsciously recognise and respect this, whilst you will pick up interesting things that you otherwise might have missed.
18. Create something
Paint, draw, write, compose, build, design – leave your own personal mark on the earth.