A Letter to My 18 Year Old Self

By Keith Sones

Dear Keith,

Ordinarily when writing a letter like this, I’d start out by saying something like ‘I hope this finds you healthy and happy’ or ‘It’s been a while since we’ve chatted and I hope life is treating you well’.  But as I’m writing to my 18 year old self with an eye on offering you some sage advice, I know precisely how you are doing. So in an effort to save time and not offer you some meaningless platitudes, I’ll dispense with those niceties and get straight to the point.

It’s been more than 40 years since I was…umm, hang on for a second. Should I call you ‘you’ or perhaps ‘me’? ‘Us’? Man, that’s weird. I’ve never written to myself before, so it feels a bit strange. I think I’ll go with ‘you’ if that’s OK.

Right, back to the issue at hand. As you finish high school, I know you’re very confused about what to do next. Everyone is telling you to head off to university and you don’t feel like it’s quite right. That’s OK. You’ll run into those situations many times over the years. Go ahead and go to college. Why not? You have plenty of time to change your mind if you want to. And that brings me to why I’m writing to you. There were so many things I wished I’d have known at your age and simply didn’t. How could I? I was so young. So, in the spirit of providing a few guideposts for you to look out for as you travel through life, I thought it might be useful to share a few thoughts, things that might help you out. I definitely don’t want to tell you how to live your life because I know many people, like parents and teachers and friends, do that to you all the time.  No spoiler alerts here, just some insights that I picked up along the way. Use them as you see fit, or not at all. Your call.

OK, let’s get started. A million things have happened, so I’ll leave out the boring stuff and try to hit the highlights. Here goes.

  1. You’re young. Go enjoy yourself. It’s the height of insanity to expect a kid (sorry, young man) just out of school and still living with his parents to know what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Spend the next few years exploring the possibilities. If you end up at a prestigious university or college take the courses seriously but not yourself. Meet new people. Try new things. Suffer a few hangovers. And assume that the path you’ve chosen might change. Keep your options open.
  2. When someone says you can’t do something, don’t believe them. What they really mean is that THEY couldn’t do it. Mainly because they were scared. Sure, you’ll fail at a number of things, or at least that’s what it will feel like. You might not win the scholarship or get the top student award or get the job you applied for or even the girl you really like. But that’s OK. Every time you feel like you’ve fallen down a bunch of new opportunities will show up on your doorstep. I know it’s hard to believe right now but they will. Dream big and chase hard. If you’re going to take a risk why not take a run at something you love to do?
  3. Change is awesome. I mean it can be terrifying, but don’t shy away. There are some nasty forces in your head that will fight against you and say that you need to keep doing whatever you’re doing at the time, no matter what. You might lose a job, and even though you probably don’t even like it you’ll be tempted to fight to keep it. You may have to move to an unfamiliar place, and you’ll dig your heels in and say ‘no, I like where I am’. You might be with someone that’s totally wrong for you and you’ll say ‘I’m staying’. Don’t fight it. You’re scared of the unknown, but that’s where all the good stuff is. Go for it.
  4. You’re going to be bombarded by people telling you how terrible the world is. Politicians, the evening news people on TV, your neighbours and friends at work will constantly be talking about war, famine, crime, economic ruin, weird diseases, and all sorts of other things that will make you feel like you want to crawl into a hole and hide. Don’t. Politicians can’t get elected unless they make the world a scary place and promise to fix it. The evening news always seems bad because they report on the exceptions, when the rule is that things are pretty good. Who ever heard of a report saying that 15,000 planes landed safely today (answer: no one)? But people will be frightened because many can’t believe these powerful men and women would ever tell them anything that isn’t the gospel truth. Of course, there will be problems that need to be fixed but the world is getting better, not worse.  Rise above the chatter and see things for what they are.
  5. Technology is going to blow your mind. It really will. Stuff that you only see in movies about the future will be child’s play. Embrace it, or you might get left behind.
  6. Your family is the most important thing. Not just the one that came prepackaged for you like mom and dad and your sister and aunts and uncles, but the one you choose to make along the way, whatever that looks like. Fall in love. Your partner and kids will always have your back when everyone else walks away or kicks you to the curb. Buddies and workmates and bosses and neighbours will come and go. Don’t get me wrong; a few of these folks may end up being lifelong friends, but no one will love and support you like your family.
  7. Say yes. So much cool stuff awaits you by accepting the offering of someone who asks you to do something. I mean not every time. You can get taken advantage of pretty easily by people that are selfish or lazy, so watch out for that. But the best experiences that life offers up always come from agreeing to do something, even when it’s a bit scary or foreign or you have no idea how to do it. You’ll learn SO much by doing this simple little thing. Be flexible and change plans if you must. Years later you’ll find that a lot of people have spent a big part of their life sitting on the couch and watching TV while you were out climbing Everest or going ten rounds with Muhammed Ali (I didn’t do either of those things but you get the point).  When opportunity knocks, answer the door!
  8. Money is important but don’t let it be everything. I know that right now you want a car and to travel and to buy a nice stereo, and you should. But it’s way too easy to do nothing other than chase money at the expense of enjoying life. I know a number of wealthy people and some are nice and well rounded but many are unhappy, even angry, because they can never get enough.
  9. Move and travel. The longer you stay in one place the harder it will be to pick up and head off to some other place. Maybe you’ll do it for a better job or a cheaper house or because you just want to spend a few days on a beach. Or a few years. Whatever the reason, do it if you can. If you only stay in one place that’s all you’ll ever know, and even though the world is big and wonderful and exciting you’ll feel scared of people and places you don’t know. That’s boring. Don’t be boring.
  10. Find your voice and help others find theirs. We all have opinions and should be able to speak about them, but it can be intimidating to open your mouth in front of other people, especially when you don’t know them. Do it anyway. Encourage debate and the exchange of ideas and even good old-fashioned arguments. Learn to listen to others. You might not change your mind. On the other hand, perhaps you will. No shame in that, as long as your views are based on fact and logic and making this complex world better. You’ll probably get told you’re loud or argumentative, and that’s OK because it means someone is listening and you might be making an impact. Be respectful but don’t be timid. Be bold. You don’t want to wish you took a stand when it’s too late.
  11. Try to stay healthy. Right now you can eat nothing but pizza and chocolate and drink beer and you’ll bounce through each day with no problem. But eventually that stuff catches up with you. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete (but hey, if you can then that would be really cool too!) so do the things that are fun for you. You’ve always loved sports so keep it up. Walk, bike, hike, swim, run or do whatever you like. But do something. You won’t be invincible forever.
  12. You’re going to go through some hard times. People die. Cars get stolen and wrecked. You might lose money. A friend may betray you. Your pet dog who loves you and dedicates his life to you won’t be on this earth as long as you will. I won’t (and can’t) promise that you can dodge all that stuff, even if I told you everything that’s going to happen. You’re going to feel pain. But it’s ALWAYS temporary. You’ll get through it. Keep your eyes on the horizon and go forward.

Well, that’s about it. I could go on and on and tell you a bunch of things that you can just as easily find on the inside of a greeting card, but I won’t. It’s going to be a wild ride, so have fun. It’s better than the alternative.

Just a couple of quick hits before I go. First, it’s absolutely in your best interest to be at the Lakeview Motel in Kelowna BC Canada on February 4th 1985. It really is. Just be there. Trust me.

And there’s a little computer company called Apple that will start up. I know, weird name. As soon as you can buy some stock, even if you have to borrow the cash to do it.

OK, I’ve probably said too much already. Enjoy your life.

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