Change of Plan: Questions and Advice for an 18-Year-Old You

By Stafford Wood

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

We all see this question posed in magazines and blogs as we approach the beginning of the school year, the new year, graduation season. And we ponder the usual answers that seem to come in three varieties:

1) Take more chances. Seize the day. Have no regrets. Take the job. Start the business. Go to Europe for the summer, the semester, the year, forever …

2) Learn more. Take an accounting class. Play a musical instrument. Study a language. Learn to change a tire, the oil, rebuild an engine. Study how to identify plants, birds, shells, dogs, insects, snakes and moles (skin, not Talpidae).

3) Use your vacation days. Go SCUBA diving, skydiving, bungee jumping, hang gliding. Drink more, worry less. Date more people, fall in love. Find peace. Seek joy. Drive a Jeep. Get a beach house.

All of the answers presume we know better than we did regarding what would make a great life. But, this year, I ask you a new question:

What would you ask your 18-year-old self?

Consider you with fewer responsibilities, less disappointment and higher expectations. You with all the potential in the world. You without debt. Let’s assume you don’t know better now, that you don’t have any more wisdom about how to live than you did before college, before marriage, before kids. Let’s assume that you’ve simply forgotten what was important.

I’d love to ask my 18-year-old self these:

Where do you want to go in the world?
What kind of people matter to you? How can you find them?
Do you prefer honesty or kindness? How can you be both?
Would you rather love one person well, or like everyone?
What’s your ideal day? Your best life? Your greatest ambition?
What are you willing to give up to get what you want most?

And now: Ask yourself those questions. How would the answers change the choices you make today?

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