Recently, the Bloggess tweeted what she would tell her 18 year old self. This got me to thinking about what I would tell 18 year old me. Unfortunately, I had so much to say that I couldn’t fit it in 140 characters. So I’m putting it into a blog post which will be sent into the past for 18 year old me to read. Here’s hoping that I don’t cause any time paradoxes! (As you read, you can tweet your favorite sections by clicking on the Twitter icons next to the section headings.)
NOTE: The envelope image above is "Envelope 2" by kuba. This image is available via OpenClipArt.org. I’ve modified it by adding "Dear 18 Year Old Me" text and "writing lines."
Dear 18 Year Old Me,
Hi. This is you from the future. Specifically, from the year 2015. You might remember that Back To The Future 2 depicted the year 2015. Well, it got it completely right. We have hover cars, 3D billboards, and clothes that dry themselves.
I’m kidding. We don’t have any of that stuff. Well, except the clothes that dry themselves, but that’s just boring old evaporation.
What we do have, or what I have specifically, is perspective. You’re young and still trying to figure things out. I’m older and have many of those perplexing puzzles solved. Some things I’m still trying to find the answer to. I’ll let you know if our 70 year old self sends me any information on those.
On to my advice:
Since you’re 18, you’ve just graduated from high school and are headed into your first year of college. You’ve just escaped the horror that was high school bullying. I wanted to tell you that it gets better. People in college are, on average, much better than high schoolers were. People in the adult world/workforce are better still. College will begin an era of your life where you can begin to repair the psychological damage that the years of high school bullying caused. In the end, those jerks who made your life a living hell in college will fade into bad memories and nothing more. They can’t hurt you anymore.
For years, you’ve felt like you’re different. You’d often fantasize that you were Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation examining those weird human interactions that seem so foreign to you. It’s very isolating when everyone else seems to "get" socialization but you don’t. You have blamed this on your high school bullying (see the last point) and will continue to do so for years. However, eventually you’ll figure out that the reason everyone else seems to have an automatic knowledge of social protocol and you don’t is because you have autism. Your brain operates slightly differently than other people’s brains. This is a good thing when it comes to working with computers (see: The Internet Is Cool later on), but not so good when it comes to reading facial expressions, inferring tone, or knowing just what actions are socially allowed/expected. Don’t worry, though, you’ll learn how to operate in the neurotypical ("non-autistic") world just fine. Yes, you’ll have times when you just want to melt down and/or shut yourself off from the world, but you’ll be able to deal with these situations, postponing your melt downs/shut downs until later.
At 18, your relationship with the opposite sex is a rocky one. Right now, you tend to get a crush on someone and get feelings that are so strong towards that person that you don’t know what to do. You doubt your every move. Eventually, the object of your affection starts dating someone and you back off dejected. Seeing all the couples paired off together is physically and emotionally painful for you. First off, I want to tell you not to overthink yourself. You try to think up every possible outcome to the point of paralysis. You feel like you can’t act until your plan is complete but your plans can never be totally complete. You can never plan for every eventuality. Secondly, you also pause taking action for fear of your heart being broken. However, your heart is getting broken by doing nothing. Better that you try, fail, and learn from the experience, then hang around the starting gate, never moving an inch, and not knowing how to navigate the path ahead.
Eventually, though, you will meet someone. This person will not be like the others. Every action that, for other women, filled you with doubt will feel completely natural. This person will become your best friend, the love of your life, and the mother of your children. So when you’re feeling left out of love, please know that you will find love and won’t be alone forever.
At 18, you know just what is right and wrong with the world. You know that good is good and evil is evil. People on the opposite end of the political spectrum baffle you because there’s no way someone could possibly believe those views, right? Compromising in the face of opposition is wrong, you believe, because your views are right and there’s no other way.
In short, you are idealistic. Now, there’s no problem with idealism. You should always hold fast to your ideals. However, in the real world, one needs to remember that not everyone holds the same ideals. Since we can’t splinter the country (or the world) into a million different factions, we need to compromise. To function in the real world, you need to see your opponents’ reasoning and find some common ground. The real world isn’t a place of absolutes – it’s a realm of grey areas where you sometimes need to work with people with views diametrically opposed to yours to find a consensus.
Right now, you enjoy writing science fiction stories. You dream of being published like your hero, Isaac Asimov. You do eventually "get published" in a way (see "The Internet is cool" below), but not from a magazine. Your one submission gets rejected and you give up. Don’t give up. You have a knack for writing so keep at it. Even more importantly, you enjoy writing so don’t give up just because a magazine rejected you. This same advice can be applied towards many other aspects of your life. Keep at what you enjoy even if other people tell you that it’s not worthwhile.
As much as it is important to be persistent (see the previous section), being persistent in the face of everyone else telling you not to do something can be needlessly stubborn. My specific example would be your beard. At some point in college, you’ll decide that Commander Riker looked good in a beard in Star Trek: The Next Generation so you should grow one too. All of your friends will tell you that your beard looks horrible. They will declare that it makes you look way too old. However, despite their protests but you’ll persist with it for quite awhile. Don’t. Shave that sucker off ASAP! The moustache too. You just don’t look good in facial hair.
The key is to know just when a person’s advice should be taken. If an acquaintance tells you that a movie is stupid and you should never watch it again – despite the fact that you enjoy it – ignore them. If a friend who shares similar interests tells you that they saw a movie that you haven’t seen yet and it was awful, you might be fine skipping it. It takes time, but you need to know what advice/opinions from what people to take to heart and what advice/opinions from what people to ignore.
This veers from the "general life advice" of all other sections, but I’m including it because soon your world will expand dramatically. I’m not talking about college itself. That will expand your horizons plenty, but I’m referring to The Internet. Of course, right now I’m sure you’re saying "The Inter-what-now?!!!" I won’t get too technical (you are a newbie right now, after all), but the Internet is a world-wide network of computers. You’ll be able to look up information and talk to people from around the world. Yes, when you’re my age, you’ll regularly chat with people from Australia, Canada, England, Florida, California, etc. as if they lived next door. (In fact, this letter is being posted on the Internet and will be read by people around the world.) The Internet is going to shrink the world. Even cooler, devices called "smartphones" will let you connect to the Internet where ever you are and will let you look up information whenever the mood strikes you.
Remember that "you’ll be published" comment from before? Well, on the Internet, everyone is a publisher as well as a reader. You’ll be able to write about whatever you want to write about and put it on the Internet for anyone to read. (For example, this letter to you, my younger self.) The downside is that the readers can be quiet so you might, at times, question whether anyone actually likes reading your stuff. Then again, you wouldn’t get much response if your articles were posted in a magazine and since you’re running your own "Internet magazine," only you can reject your articles.
Right now, you have an idealized mental picture of a relationship. You imagine that you begin dating someone, everything goes smoothly until you are married, and then everything goes smoothly for the rest of your life. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this isn’t true. Relationships take work. They can be hard. They can hit rocky patches where it looks like everything is going to shatter into a million pieces. They can cause you a ton of aggravation. Still, despite all of this, they are worth it. The highs of knowing that the person you love loves you back is worth all of the rocky times that occur.
At 18, you think that your parents are out-of-touch with reality. They can’t possibly know anything about anything and you know everything about everything. I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re wrong. Yes, your parents were wrong about a lot, but they were right about a lot as well. Except forcing you to give a half-dozen roses while in your suit and tie to the object of your first crush. That was wrong. Your father should have let you stick to your original plan of simply giving her a birthday present. Then again, even the wrong things your parents did were done out of love. In the flowers incident, your father honestly thought his actions were increasing your chances with the your first crush. So please don’t be too hard on them.
So we’ve established that your parents did some things wrong, correct? Learn from this. Make a mental note of every wrong thing that’s been done (while not holding it against those who made those mistakes) and figure out how you’ll do the right thing. If you can’t figure out the right thing, sometimes doing a "less wrong thing" is progress. This doesn’t just apply to others’ mistakes, though. This applies to your own mistakes. You’ll make a lot of mistakes. Some that you’ll regret even two decades later. All you can do is figure out where you went wrong, what you should have done, and then do that next time.
You have a bad habit of dwelling on mistakes. You’ll do the wrong thing and then get stuck on this for days at a time. Every spare moment is spent reliving this moment over and over as if this time it will turn out differently. As if, by sheer concentration, you can turn back time and fix your misdeed. You can’t. Get over it. Everyone makes mistakes. The key is to learn from them (see the previous section) and then move on. If you wronged someone, make it right as best you can, but dwelling on the past too much can keep you from enjoying your future.
You love science right now. That love will never dim. However, your desire to major in physics is going to backfire big time. (Spoiler alert: Quantum Mechanics is horribly difficult and will be your downfall.) As you struggle with the decision to abandon your major and switch to a new one, you’ll feel something that threatens to keep you in your old major: Guilt. You’ll feel guilty over leaving your old department. Guilty over letting down your professors. Guilty that you are leaving their small department with one less student.
There is a time to worry about others, but there is also a time to think about yourself. When it comes to your future, don’t worry about letting others down, worry about what is best for you.
Right now, you are very focused on doing well in school. That’s not a bad thing. However, remember to carve out time to have fun. Don’t work 24/7 or you’ll burn out. Having fun is very important. So put the schoolwork down, go out with friends, try something new, and have a blast. In twenty years, you won’t remember that you got an A on some random essay for some random class, but you will remember when you were at a party with an oversized foam hand, made a slightly dirty joke (referencing what hand size meant) to a female friend, and made her smile.
You tend to be a very independent person. You try to tackle any challenge that presents itself all by itself. This does mean that you learn how to conquer things yourself instead of only relying on others, but it can be a lonely path. When you are shouldering a burden by yourself, the weight can be overwhelming. It doesn’t need to be though.
You have friends. You have family. Talk to them. Let them know what you are going through. You don’t need to deal with everything by yourself.
There is a voice inside of you right now. It can be faint sometimes, but very loud other times. This is definitely not a nice voice. It will tell you that you aren’t good enough. It will whisper in your ear that nobody loves you and never will. It will tell you that you are all alone in the world.
Do not listen to the voice.
Listening to the voice can, oddly enough, feel good. There’s some level of comfort that you feel when you curl up in a dark room and let the voice tell you "the truth." This is a false comfort, though. The voice is lying. The voice thrives on you feeling isolated and alone. It WANTS it to only be you and the voice versus the world. It wants you to think that you need it. The reality, though, is that the voice needs your isolation, not the other way around. If you seek out friends and family (see: You Don’t Have To Go It Alone), you will get stronger and the voice will get weaker.
In life, there can be a strong pressure to fit in. If you stand out too much, you might feel like people are negatively judging you. People might shy away from you or your might find yourself with nothing to talk to them about because you don’t have similar interests.
Thanks to the Internet, though, (see: The Internet Is Cool) you will find your tribe. You will find that group of people who share your interests, no matter how obscure. Even without this group, though, don’t be afraid to enjoy what your enjoy. If other people don’t like those things, that’s fine. Maybe they haven’t been exposed to it yet (and would like it if they were) and maybe they just don’t like what you like. Everyone has different tastes. Don’t be afraid to enjoy what your enjoy just because others find that outside of their definition of normal. Remember that, even at 18, we had the motto "Normal is Boring."
Somewhere in your brain, you will always feel like that bullied high school kid. You will imagine that people are sitting and waiting for you to make a mistake so they can laugh at you over it. You will feel like life’s challenges are just one straw shy of breaking your back. You will question whether you can accomplish anything or whether you are doomed to fail.
Always remember that you are stronger than you give yourself credit for. You can do more than you think you can. The self doubt will threaten to cave you in (see: "Ignore The Voice"), but push that aside. You have talent and can accomplish anything you put your mind to.
In Lewis Carol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass, Alice laments "I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it." So it often goes for you. You will realize where you are going wrong, will give yourself some advice on how to improve, and then will proceed to ignore your advice and keep going down the wrong path. Many of the pieces of advice given above could just as easily apply to me today as it does to you, 18-Year-Old-Me. So, please listen to yourself and take your own good advice.
So that’s my advice to you, 18-Year-Old-Me. I’d include some stock tips as well, but I’ve been told the "Paradox Dampeners would explode causing the entire universe to cease to exist. That seems to be too big of a risk over a couple of bucks.
There are great things ahead of you. Hopefully, my advice will help you out in your journey.
Good luck in your future (my past),
– You From Twenty Two Years In The Future