This June marks 10 years since I graduated High School. 10 years ago this summer I was away from home for as long as I had ever been, and 10 years ago this fall I moved in to the dorms at University of Florida, and began classes.
The memories don’t feel too long ago. I can look back and remember vivid details. A goal-line stand to win the homecoming football game, Senior prom with my future wife, carrying a Mr. T bobble-head doll up on the graduation stage, moving day at the dorm, first classes, and living independently. All of those memories and more come rushing back.
You may be finding yourself in the same position this year, and you may be excited or afraid, likely both. That’s normal. You may not be entering college at all, and that’s fine, it’s not for everyone. You may be preparing to graduate college, and are likely much more afraid to enter the “real world” than you were to enter college. That was a bit more recent for me, but still 6 years ago.
Since I graduated college, I’ve worked 2 full-time jobs, both rooted in the growth and development of other people. The first was as a high school girl’s lacrosse coach, and now as the Assistant Director of Camp Rockmont for Boys. Through the lens of that work, I’ve been able to work with young men and women’s they grow, and are faced with the biggest decisions of their young lives. Where do I go to college? Who do I marry? What should I do for a living? What excites me? What do I believe? How can I help the world? These are big questions, and some decisions are made quickly; others take time.
18 Tips for 18 Year Olds
To the excited, nervous, scared, happy, angry, high school or college graduate, you are in a wonderful stage of life where your life and all that entails becomes yours. You may even be years out of college, still trying to decide what matters to you! I hope something in here will speak to you, and offer guidance in the months and years to come.
Stop Trying to be Best Friends with Everyone
Sure, be nice, but you’ll wear yourself out with 50 best friends. Lets go with 5-10 close friends. Your future roommates and the guys in your bible study will do nicely. I know it’s exciting to feel popular, have tons of friends, and be well-liked. I promise though, in the long run, having a small group of people who know all about you (the good and the bad) will serve you well. So let’s just focus on a few, ok?
The most important person in the world is the one you’re talking to. Don’t check your phone, keep thinking of a response, or look away. This will do wonders for you. Just chill out and listen. The feeling is wonderful.
You’re Pretty Great Yourself (but not really)
You’ll read this, hear it, and forget it hundreds of times. But you are fine just as you are. I know we get all worked up about being liked and thought highly of, but you don’t have to manufacture it. And yes, people think you’re funny, good-looking, and talented. So let’s move past the vain self-love and not get a big head. So yes, be confident, you have a lot going for you. At the same time, don’t let it go to your head.
It’s Not About You
A relationship is not about money, cars, trips, study aids, sports, or anything that benefits you. Instead, focus on how you can be a blessing to others, and do so whether they are your best friends or not. One of the most important things you can do in life is to cultivate a heart for others!
You Can’t Please Everyone
Ah I have struggled with this! It’s nice you’re friendly and social, and people invite you to do things. But you end up getting stretched really thin, sacrificing those who matter most to you, including valuable time to yourself.
Wherever people are, look for ways you can serve. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest, says “Without service outside of self, an ego maintains itself through comparison and competition. Which creates an unhealthy state of only being good because others are not as good”. This is no way to live your life! Serving a cause outside of yourself strips that self0defeating thinking away.
When you walk in a room, ask to help. If you pass a homeless person on the street, give them some change, or better yet, bring them some food. Sacrifice your time and money to go to another country and help, while also learning so much. I’m 28 and just went on my first foreign mission trip, and was blown away. The trip was a total game-changer for me.
Never Say Never
I used to talk about things I’d never enjoy, like running, vegetables, or yoga. Now I run marathons, am a (mostly) vegetarian, and just finished up a 30 day hot yoga challenge. Crazy! You never know where life will take you and shake you up for a while. Just be open to the process, and what life has to offer. Your time on earth is too short to go around dismissing things and people.
Prioritize What Is Most Important
Oh man this is tough. As you grow older, the world is going to speed up, and there will be more distractions than ever. Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of social media are simply tools, but can be an enormous time drain! They’re not bad things, but they’re not the most important things. You need to decide what is most important to you, and make it a priority. For me, my short list of priorities is:
- Health (eating right, exercise)
- Men’s Work
Everything else is a threat, and should be considered very carefully. People may get upset, but eventually the ones who care about you will understand and respect your choices. Leo Babuata of Zen Habits is a master at helping people develop good habits.
Commit to Less
This goes along with your priorities, because you do not need to feel like everything relies on you. The party you’re invited to? It will still go on. The committee you were asked to serve on? The work will be completed. You can certainly do those things, but if they do not align with your top priorities, proceed with caution! As you grow older, your free time will become less and less, and that time is best spent doing the things you really care about.
This may be the scariest item on the list. Risking big starts with risking small in hundreds of different ways throughout your life. Taking those risks doesn’t always mean you’re going to jump out of a plane, change jobs, or move to a new city. It can mean introducing yourself to a person, trying new foods, or learning to dance.
Each opportunity to put yourself in a situation where you are not fully in control, and are vulnerable, is a risk! The cool part is some of our most fulfilling and rewarding experiences arise from taking a risk, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. Plus, you’ll see many of these tips have an element of risk to them. Don’t be afraid of taking one.
Whatever faith you have, hang on to it! Now, you may have been hurt by religion or faith groups in the past, and for that I am sorry on their behalf. Allow me to point out though, that groups of any religious affiliation are made of people. Obvious, right? Well, as you know, people are broken, fallen, and can twist things to match their own desires. But, I believe if you look close enough, you’ll see a central message is one of love, unity, and hope.
For me, that belief lies with the message and life of Jesus. My faith gives me a reason and a hope outside of myself, a belief in something larger than my own existence. What you will eventually learn, is life is not about you! The world does not revolve around you, but in that revolving mess of life is a significance which brings meaning.
Reduce Your Possessions
I really wish I had started doing this when I was 18. Many of the things you have now you won’t have in 10 years. I’m not saying that simply in terms of clothing either, but including the toys, gear, and other miscellaneous things you buy. I encourage you to help bring a stop to the endless cycle of purchasing, and also the almost desperate need we feel sometimes to purchase something!
The fewer possessions you have, the freer you will be. Plus, you will save a lot of money! The money can then be used for a trip or experience that will mean so much more to you than a 3rd pair of jeans. You can even give some of your extra money away, after realizing you have all you need. The danger is coming to believe (on an unconscious level) that your possessions define you, i.e. I need these shoes to be in style. In the style of Fight Club, say with me, “You are not the car you drive, you are not the contents of your wallet, you are not your khakis“. When you are tempted to lay down your money for a product, consider these 3 questions:
- Do I already have something like this?
- How often will I use this?
- Does this bring value to my life?
So often (and I am guilty of this as well) we make impulse purchases, and listen the false self whispering in our ear, saying, “Hurry and buy this! It will make you so much cooler, and more attractive! What if they run out? People will laugh at you if you don’t have it! What do you mean you want to own less? Wear the same shirt twice in the same month? What, are you crazy?” And the voice goes on and on and on. Slowly, painfully, put down the product and walk away. The things you own do not own you.
For me, this has taken a while to come around to. Most of us enjoy being able to eat whatever we want, and there is a certain freedom to that ability. But it is not sustainable! Even if you are naturally thin, have a high metabolism, or exercise frequently, life will eventually hand you a set of circumstances which conflict with this current reality. Reality might be a job, injury, relationship, or lack of motivation.
My reality was writing. I realized I had a limited amount of time to exercise and write each day. I could continue to exercise at my current pace, but I wouldn’t write near as much, and vice versa. Since no one was paying me to run an hour a day, I realized I could change my eating habits in order to stay healthy while increasing my writing load. Balancing those 2 passions was the primary motivation in changing my diet, but not the only one.
Eating mostly vegetables, fruit, lean meats, and whole grains is simply better for your body. Eating simply based on what your body looks on the outside can be dangerous, especially for people who are naturally thin! Certainly people react differently to foods, my advice is to really pay attention to how food makes you feel. I love BBQ, but I feel tired and lethargic after eating it. Eating lots of veggies makes me feel energized and lean. What foods make you feel good?
This step may take a while, and being in a relationship which requires your full self. Usually when we are dating, a person will go to great lengths to only let the best side of themselves show. Long-term relationships, and especially marriage, brings out the whole person, both their positive self and darkness. It’s not a critique, no one is perfect, and naturally move towards their darkness.
What I’m talking about is fully loving the person you are with (romantically or not), taking in to account their wonderful parts, and the parts you’d rather do without. Loving fully also goes back to being fully present, when you are with them is to give this person your full attention, not to unconsciously be somewhere else.
Be On Your Own
Go away. Seriously. When you head to college, move out and get an apartment, have some roommates, and pay your bills. Buy your groceries, fill up your car with gas, and manage what little money you have. If you choose to work immediately after high school, same rules apply. You’re 18! There is a healthy part of you which screams out to be free!
The problem we’ve encountered is we want our parents and elders to finance our freedom. We want cars, cell phones, and memory foam beds, but no curfew. There is a simple way to have this freedom, and it’s simply to walk out the door and take it. Your parents love you and want the best for you, and whether they know it or not, taking leave from them is the way to learn what’s best. Ask your parents when they learned the most in life, and usually they will say it’s during the hard times.
People don’t naturally grow in times of ease and prosperity. This circles back to taking a big risk, and to live on your own is a HUGE risk. But I believe what you’ll find is you have the power inside you to survive, and eventually to thrive. Trust me, the belief in yourself to live independently is one of the most powerful feelings you’ll experience.
Let’s make a list…
- What do you enjoy doing? – Exercising, playing guitar, writing, being with friends, reading, traveling, kayaking, cooking.
- What do you have a talent for? – Writing, motivating people, making people laugh, learn things quickly, seeing the possibilities.
- What will people pay you for? – Writing, teaching, coaching, creating.
This is a simple visual I use to help people figure out the convergence between their passions, talents, and potential pay. I share Chris Guillebeau’s belief that simply asking people to do what they love is misguided, they must work towards a convergence. I love playing guitar, but my talent is so-so, and so no one is going to pay me to chop away at chords for an hour. I could eventually work my way up to above average, and will keep playing, but my convergence lies elsewhere.
Right now, I believe it lies in writing, teaching, and coaching people. Here’s some good news… people have multiple points of convergence. I also work as a summer camp director, where I was able to use my passion and talent to teach, mentor, write, motivate, and inspire. Write down as many things as possible in those 3 lists, and work towards convergence.
Life is Not About You
The world does not revolve around you, and all of the inhabitants are not placed here to make sure you have an easy ride. We get caught up when life is not fair, we don’t get the job, the relationship, or things just don’t work out. This is life, and it does not revolve around our happiness. This is why we must seek our fulfillment from the inside (through faith) and then turn the energy outside of us, cultivating a life for others. The good news is you are about life! The relationships, sunrises, laughter, adventures; you can give yourself fully to them because you have been filled from the inside.
You Are Enough
This is perhaps the hardest lesson I have learned, and I hope you can realize the truth long before I have. Sadly, many people go through their entire lives without realizing it! The simple truth is “You are enough!” People try to fill their lives with possessions, titles, money, status symbols, other people, and more. You think that without a new car, people will look down on you. A voice of doubt says “If you don’t have a prolific job, something is wrong”. We can even use other people in this way! How often have you thought, “I’m nothing without this person, they are everything to me.” Before you love others, you need to be able to love yourself. If you believe you’re nothing before she comes along, you’ll never be enough with her.
You need to be able to stand before the world, simply as yourself, and say with conviction, “I Am Enough!”
I hope a part of this essay helped you in some way, even if you aren’t 18! Many of these lessons I need to remind myself of every day. I would really enjoy hearing your thoughts on this topic, please share additional lessons you’ve learned in the years since 18, and help add to the story we’re all telling of our lives. I would love to hear them.
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