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10 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me When I Was 18

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ~Maya Angelou

Can you remember what it was like?

Becoming an adult. Having to take responsibility for your life. Having the world opening up to you. Having to suddenly start making decisions and setting a clear direction for your life.

Exciting, yet terrifying and confusing all at the same time.

Looking back, there are things you wish you’d known, right? Here are some things I’ve learned that I wish someone would have told me when I was eighteen.

1. You don’t find meaning; you create meaning.

For a long time, I was constantly looking for what I was “meant to do” in life. Doing so can feel overwhelming, confusing, and shame-indulging. But here’s what I discovered: Finding is passive; it means that something or someone has to show up in order to get what we want. It’s outside our control.

So, instead of finding meaning, it’s better to create meaning. To indulge ourselves in projects and activities that feel meaningful to us. When we do this, we go from passive to active. From lacking control to gaining control.

2. You’re not fixed; you’re always growing.

I used to think that I was given a set of talents, skills, and behaviors. That was until I realized that I wasn’t wired fixed, but changeable.

If I want to be happier, I just have to shift my focus. Maybe that means writing a gratitude journal, expressing my appreciation toward others, and practicing seeing things from a positive perspective.

Since you’re always in growth, you don’t need to be scared of failing, as everything is a stepping stone to a new talent, skill, or behavior.

The same applies for what we’re good at. If you want to be a writer, then start writing. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, then start reading, acting, and thinking like one. That’s the beauty of it all—you’re the creator of you.

3. Carefully choose who you take advice from.

People love giving advice. But here’s the thing: People don’t give advice based on who you are, but on who they are. If someone had a great experience starting a business, they’re likely to encourage you to do the same. However, if someone had a horrible experience with the same thing, they’re likely to, perhaps not discourage you, but at least point out things that can go wrong.

Here’s what I’ve found to be useful: Take advice only from those who have made the same journey (or a similar one) that you want to undertake.

4. You don’t need to know your passion.

“Follow your passion.” How many times have you heard this message and thought to yourself, “Argh, but I don’t know what my passion is!” Or, “I have too many passions and I don’t know which one to choose.” In general, I think this is rather crappy advice. For me, it caused more harm than good, because frankly, it stressed me out.

If you know your passion, that’s great. If not, don’t worry. Instead of focusing your attention on finding your passion, start following your curiosity. Just like a scavenger hunt, what pokes your curiosity is the next clue. And like Elizabeth Gilbert perfectly laid it out: “If you can let go of ‘passion’ and follow your curiosity, your curiosity just might lead you to your passion.”

5. Buy experiences, not things.

I used to spend a lot of time thinking about what type of designer bag I’d purchase. Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful things and have no problem buying them. But I’ve learned not to put my happiness in them.

When I think back on my life, what I remember are the beach parties in the Dominican Republic, the soirées I spent with friends in Paris, and the walks with my sister in Central Park.

Experiences are what change us. They help us open up doors to new people, cultures, perspectives, and potentially a whole new world. So, invest your money well.

6. Life is always now, not tomorrow or next week.

Oh gosh, if I had a nickel for every minute I’ve spent either worrying about the future or contemplating my past. It would probably make up more time than what I’ve spent in the present. Pretty bizarre, no? And I know I’m not alone when I say that.

Our mind, which I sometimes like to call our monkey mind, loves pulling our attention from the present moment. But this is where life is taking place.

We can’t have a full experience when our body is in one place and our mind is somewhere else (like sitting in a meeting thinking about what to eat for dinner). And that’s why we’re here, right? To experience life fully. So be present, allow those thoughts about the past and future pass by, just like clouds in the sky.

7. Don’t confuse means goals with end goals.

Vishen Lakhiani did an amazing video where he explained what I didn’t get for so long: end goals and means goals.

End goals define an outcome that describes exactly what you want. This can be seeing your children grow up, being truly happy, and traveling around the world. Means goals can be about getting into a specific university or company or making a certain amount of money. They are there simply to support your end goals.

When I became uncomfortable in my “dream job” in Paris I couldn’t understand why. It included everything I’d ever dreamed of: a good paycheck, travel, and fun colleagues. But I had confused a means goal with an end goal. What I truly wanted was to start a business where I could create, contribute, and connect with other people.

8. Connections, not grades, are the key to success.

Growing up, I was really focused on getting good grades. I thought that good grades would be the key to a successful life. They’ve helped me to open up doors, but the game-changer hasn’t been my grades, it’s been my connections.

Knowing the right people and connecting on a deeper lever is much more powerful than anything written on a piece of paper. Mind you, this, of course, depends on what kind of opportunity you’re after. But, for me, looking back, what served me during my years at university wasn’t the grades I got; it was the connections I made.

That’s how I’ve landed jobs, speaking opportunities, and have been featured on podcasts–things I otherwise never would have heard of or been considered for.

9. Everyone is doing the best they can.

I truly believe this. Everyone, no matter how annoying, self-destructive, or provoking they might seem, is always doing the best they can based on their mood, experience, and level of consciousness. I used to get angry or upset if someone was rude, pessimistic, or didn’t deliver projects on time.

Today, I know that I’m not in the position to judge. I don’t know what they battle. I don’t know what’s really going on in their life. All I can trust is that if I was in their shoes, I might do the same thing. This perspective has saved me a lot of energy, that I previously used to waste.

10. Know your “why.”

Often, we place a lot of focus on what we do or how we do it. Seldom we ask why we do it. If I would have dug deeper in my “why’s” when I was eighteen, I would have connected more to my desires. Like this:

Question: Why do I want to get this education?
Reply: Because I want to get a good job.

Question: Why do I want to get a good job?
Reply: So that I can earn good money, work on something I enjoy, and get a nice title.

Question: Why do I want that?
Reply: Because I want to feel secure and free, to explore the world, to create things, to feel respected, and to connect with myself and others.”

When I got clear about my “why” it became obvious to me that I wanted to work with people, have my own business, and to be able to work from anywhere in the world.

Digging into the “why” really narrows down what’s important. Not having a clear “why” proves that what we’re aiming at isn’t worth pursuing.

Eventually, Everything Will Make Sense

Sometimes we stumble and fall. Sometimes the road is rocky. Sometimes we question if everything will make sense in the end.

Looking back at your eighteen-year-old self, what would you have told him or her?

To be easier on yourself?

To stop worrying and have more fun?

To trust that everything happens for a reason and that things will work out?

From this perspective, what do you think an older version of yourself would have told you today?

To be easier on yourself?

To stop worrying and have more fun?

To trust that everything happens for a reason and that things will work out?

You get the point.

As Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

About Maria Stenvinkel

Maria Stenvinkel is on a mission to help people get a career they truly love. Download her free worksheet Get a Clue to Your Calling With These 10 Powerful Questions.

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  • katie weinberg

    I love this.

  • ShaunTheCHB

    “Life’s only going to get harder as you get older” is what someone told me when I was 18. They were spot on, I wish I had paid more attention to that warning.

    What would I tell my 18 year old self?…….. “The worst is still to come for you, so harden up kid, you have a tough battle to win, now get to it!. People are not going to help you, you have no allies and life is not your friend, Be hard, be strong and cut them down”.
    If I had to, I’d grab my younger self and knock some sense into him. I’d be harder on myself, I feel that’s what was needed for me at that time. I had no one to give me that hard lesson in life, to not depend on others.

  • Diafano

    You are never too old to find what you want. One day you could be saying that you wish that you had told your 32 year old self to look deeply at what is bothering you now. We are all connected and need to depend on each other sometimes but we also need to be able to stand alone, without being an island. Don’t give up.Don’t be so hard on yourself. You deserve to be happy at any age.

  • Melayahm

    I wish I had known not to be so lazy. I coasted at school until it was too late. I fell into a job, which was fairly easy, with no possibility of moving up unless I had a degree (see previous statement) I fell into next job too, where I discovered I’m not management material. I flitted from hobby to hobby without ever focussing enough to make one a living. Don’t be lazy

  • Pam Lame

    I think I would tell my 18 year old self to take the time to learn your worth. Don’t take all the baggage from your youth along with you, deal with it now and become the real person you can be without all the hangups and fears to hold you back. Learn to love yourself first, and be at peace in your heart. And you don’t have to go find yourself, it’s all right there inside waiting to be let out. Then go do what your heart says to do and trust your gut instincts, your gut is rarely wrong if you really listen. And live each day with the thought of doing the very best you can in whatever you do, it makes it so much easier to sleep at night knowing you did that.

    And thank you for a lovely and so true article Maria, I think you covered it all very well. Especially the part of Live for today. I read a little thing the other day that made sense about that. If you are living in the past, you are probably depressed, and if you are living in the future, you probably suffer from anxiety, but if you life for right now, you are right where you need to be. I’m sure those weren’t the exact words, but the gist is there. By the Dalai Lama. 🙂 Thanks again, that was an interesting little exercise for the mind.

  • Kristine Charbonneau

    See above…don’t be so hard on yourself. Re-read the end of the article. I would add to live with no regrets. Don’t beat yourself up over your past. Move forward. Live in the present moment. You’re only depriving yourself of your happiness. Nobody controls that but you.

  • Russ

    Very good article.

  • Russ

    You will meet people that truly care for you and your hpappiness and success. Allow them into your life.

  • Jadice-Teal N Momz

    Loving this one. A-ha! moment.

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Yeah, I’ll probably have to re read it about 30 something times to truly believe it. It is a terrific article. I do hear what you are saying Kristine, you are right, but it’s not easy to put into practice. I’m my own biggest enemy and critic.

  • Well said! 🙂

  • Life is about learning and the way to a fulfilling and happy life isn’t to beat yourself up – it’s to practice acceptance and understanding. Really, DON’T be hard on yourself. You’re constantly learning and life includes ups and downs, stumble and falls. Take all of that powerful energy and instead of using it for self loathing (we don’t need more of that in this world) – use it to propel you forward.

    What small steps can you take today to move in the direction you want? You have a second chance RIGHT NOW to shift your life.

    Start today. Take a small step forward – maybe it’s about writing 3 things in a gratitude journal, maybe it’s about making a phone call or signing up to a course – then once you’ve done that send me an email: hello@fabulousmondays.com 🙂 Every big change start with one tiny step.

    You’re here to create – not destroy.

  • Good point Kristine! 🙂

  • Thank you Katie! xoxo

  • Well said Pam! Great input. Like you say, it’s all there inside waiting to be let out. Love that saying by the Dalai Lama! Have a beautiful day! Maria

  • Thanks a lot! 🙂

  • Awwww, this sentence just got to me. So true – they come when we allow them to come! 🙂

  • Ohh cool!! 🙂 Thanks Jadice-Teal!

  • I’m always striving, not to push myself into action, but to be PULLED into action. That happens when we have one or several powerful “why’s”. It’s never too late. Can you take some tiny steps today to start walking in the direction you want? Just one small action, maybe there’s a book you can buy or a YouTube video you can watch? And don’t EVER fall into the trap of listening to someone who tells you things like “you’re not management material”. I was told I’m not good at writing – if I’d listened to them I’d never had posted this article. YOU and only you decide what you can and cannot be.

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Hi Maria,
    I understand where you are coming from, I just can’t help but feel that it’s too late, which is why I have this bitterness towards my “younger self”. I am actually currently studying at a university to be a historian, yet I still feel like “I should have done this years ago, why did it take so long?”. That sort of thing. I have this feeling that no matter what I do, it does not really matter anymore because so much time passed me by and it frustrates me and upsets me. The world keeps reminding me of people who are successful at ages much younger than me and here I am, only getting started on something, at an age where I should have it all figured out.

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Funny that you say “You are never too old to find what you want”, when the whole world at large seems bent on saying the opposite to us. I’m not saying you are wrong, not at all. I think what you are saying is great.
    The thing is, all I hear day after day is: “Bit too old to be doing that now aren’t you?” “Shouldn’t you know all that stuff already?” “Most people your age are married, have a good job, why don’t you?”, “Where did you go wrong?” Hearing that all the time only adds to my frustrations and heartbreak. That’s why I feel like “I should have sorted this out when I was young”. So I curse myself for failing.

  • It’s never too late. There are so many people starting successful businesses in their 40s and 50s (even later!). I don’t know if you’ve heard of Sister Buder? But she ran her first race when she was 48. Today she’s 82 and she’s completed over 340 triathlons (!)

    Basically, you can either keep focusing on what you haven’t done – OR trust that you’ve done everything right until now and shift your focus to what you want to accomplish during the coming years and decades. From what I’ve read you’re 32. That means you got 30-40 (or more) years ahead of you to accomplish great things.

    Imagine being 90 years old and at your death bed. What would you have told your 32-year old self? What advice would you give?

  • ShaunTheCHB

    I have not heard of Sister Buder. That is impressive, very much so.

    I don’t know if I’d say I’ve done everything right…….more like what’s done is done maybe? You are saying to focus on the present right?

    I’d probably give the exact same advice I’d give my 18 year old self, that’s the only advice I really know, I don’t know any other advice I could give. I honestly don’t think I’ll last till 90, maybe 70 if I am lucky. “shrugs” I can’t tell the future. I wish I could, it might put my mind at ease, lol.

  • Nina

    Love this post! Number 6 was such an eye opener for me, when I first started doing yoga a few years ago! Be in the moment 🙂

    I wish I had known earlier that men communicate differently than women 😀 And that there’s only one person that I will spend the rest of my life with for sure – with myself. I first needed to work on the relationship with myself before I could think of starting one with somebody else. But I didn’t know that, which is why I had some toxic, unhealthy relationships… Only when you truly love yourself and are in peace with yourself, then you’ll attract another balanced human being to have a healthy relationship with. As Oscar Wilde said: “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” <3

  • Kristine Charbonneau

    Life isn’t about “doing everything right.” Ho hum…boring. No learning going on there. I’ve grown the most in my times of defeat. You attract into your live what you put out there. If you’re surrounding yourself with negative thoughts and opinions, guess what you’ll get more of ten-fold? You’ll attract those thought patterns, people who are like-minded and situations that will feed off of all that negativity. Tell you what, that sort of energy you project…it repels positive people. You need to look at who and what you surround yourself with…I mean really think about it. I know if I talked to you for 2 minutes and heard some of this stuff coming from you, I’d be excusing myself out of the conversation. Just being real here. I wouldn’t want that negative energy to seep into me. You’re the one in control of your thoughts and emotions. Consider that long and hard. Nobody else can make you feel the way you do but YOU. Time to take ownership of it and get real. Otherwise, the days are going to continue as such, the regrets will continue to mount and yes, you won’t live to 90. I know I’m doing everything in my own power to live past 90! It’s time to remove the word “but” from your vocabulary and take back control of your life. Giving you some tough love here. There is no sugar-coating.

  • Kristine Charbonneau

    Time to look at who you surround yourself with…as they are a major reflection on who you are. You’re letting them put thoughts into your head. No more. Minimize time with these folks and move in a different direction. I’ve had to do it with my family. Life is so much better now. I’m the creator of my own destiny. 43. Single (never even engaged). No kids. I make all my decisions about life. Gotta pull on the big boy pants and start living this life of yours!

  • ShaunTheCHB

    That’s fair enough. I understand. Let me address one thing though. If you were to have a conversation with me for two minuets…..you would be the one doing all the talking. There is a saying that goes “if you have nothing happy to say to anybody, say nothing at all”, so that’s what I do. I say nothing to people. I have typed on here, but that’s as far as I will get. I’m no woe is me person, I am well aware that I’m not the only one who has problems and the like. I would never be ignorant enough to suggest that I was the only one with issues. There are people who have faced things that I could not imagine in my worst nightmares, yet they carry on. I admire their bravery.

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Well, the main negative people that surround me are my colleges. I would have to quit my university and my job in order to remove them from my presence……I don’t think I can do that. It took me quite a bit of work to get in to do my history course, also have to pay my bills and all that. I do know what you are saying though. In my case, I would have to find another way.

  • We’re all writing to help and support you. Please know that it’s coming from a place of love – we feel your pain because in one way or another we’ve been there too. And what makes the whole difference isn’t the situation – it’s your thoughts about the situation. How about starting really really small? Can you think of 3 things you appreciate right now in your life? It can be things such as the wind touching your skin, coffee – or something else we often take for granted. Your current thoughts have momentum (just like a car has when it’s in motion) and so it’s about steering it slowly in a different direction 🙂 I know you can do that.

  • Ohhh, love what you wrote Nina. And yeah, I agree on realizing that men communicate different than women. Could have saved a lot of energy haha 🙂

    “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” Amen to that!

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Ok. Let’s see…..three things……I like the sound of rain when it comes, I find it calming. Not thunder, just the rain. I like ASMR, it’s helps me sleep and to tune out the negative thoughts. One more……… I like hot chocolate on a cold day and it is very cold where I am right now. Three things. That was kind of difficult. Why is thinking of these things that are appreciated so tough to do?

  • Awesome!! It takes practice. Just as it takes practice thinking negatively (it does), it takes practice thinking positively. Try for the coming week – just 7 days – to write down three things you’re grateful for each day. You can send them to me if you’d like to get some support: hello@fabulousmondays.com.

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Thank you Maria.

  • Stephen Spodek

    Thanks Maria. Great Post and so meaningful for those of us who have experienced these same conundrums. I’m currently connecting the dots and I have learned so much about “why” I ended up where I am now, and how I got here, and next stop is hopefully my new life!

  • Oh, love that! Yeah, nothing is a coincidence. I’d just remove “hopefully” out of that last sentence 😉

  • Stephen Spodek

    You’re so right! Thank you for pointing that out. It’s amazing how negative thoughts and beliefs and these notions get so ingrained over the years! Thank you again. 🙂

  • Erin

    Thanks for this! Some things I’d tell my 18-year-old self are:
    • you deserve to spend time with people who aren’t going to make you feel like you have to change yourself in order to be acceptable. Even if they’re your mum and their intentions are good (they want you to be happy and successful all the time), you sometimes have to put yourself first and spend less time with them.
    • be present and mindful and get curious about your feelings and trust yourself more. Be gentle to yourself, because this will be difficult for you after 18 years of suppressing and avoiding realities you don’t like – it’s ok to see a therapist if it gets too tough. In fact, if you see a therapist you will experience a whole other way (nonjudgmental) to care about yourself and your fellow humans.
    • You won’t always feel happy all the time. But spring seems to come every year and you have a 100% success rate at getting through the winter.

  • Haha yes 🙂 We got to help each other to raise our thoughts and beliefs to the level we desire.

  • Awww!! Well said Erin <3

  • Did you write down 3 things you’re grateful for today? 🙂

  • ShaunTheCHB

    I put one thing down this morning when I got up. Sleep is something I’m grateful for, especially when I have a nice dream. I have had trouble thinking of two other things.

  • Awesome! Sleep is something to be super grateful for 🙂 Let me know when you’ve thought of two more 🙂

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Ok Maria, I’ll try…. Any advice for what to do if I just can’t think of anything?

  • Start where you are. You might be grateful for me (some random stranger, lol) wanting to help you with this. For being able to write on a computer that someone else put time and energy into creating. For (hopefully) being in a safe environment and not at war etc. Just try to look around you where you are right now 🙂

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Ok, I might have to have a look around tomorrow, it’s about half past eleven at night where I am. I’m about to head off to sleep. My time zone is different to where you are. 🙂

  • ShaunTheCHB

    One more thing, I appreciate you staying in touch with me. Your post caught me a bit off guard. I did not expect you to send another message to me. I figured it was one and done, so to speak. I guess I was wrong about people being only for themselves. I guess there are good people still out there….Thank you Maria 🙂

  • There are plenty 🙂

  • Thanks, Maria!

    If could magically talk to my 18-year-old-self, I’d explain that things take time, so start NOW. Don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing, because it’s irrelevant. Keep working, keep learning, keep progressing, but remember to be patient with the process and with yourself!

    Bonus advice: Be kind to yourself and celebrate your progress. It helps you realize just how far you’ve come.

  • Hey, Maria!
    The way you concluded this post was wonderful! We have to trust in the process. I get so impatient with wanting to become successful and compare myself to other people who had it at an early age.
    But everyone’s different, and I’ve realized that I’m exactly who I need to be and where I need to be right now.
    My “Why” has helped me to keep going especially during the times I want to give up and quit.
    Everything will fall into place.

  • Yes it will! Awesome Nicah (cool name, btw), I love your perspective. Without your previous experience you’d never have reached your current insights and thus not be where you are. Best of luck to you and ENJOY the journey!

  • Oh yes yes yes! Agree on everything Kevin – especially about celebrating your progress! 🙂

  • Akanksha Verma

    Such an amazing piece of writing. So organized. Recently i have been in a whirlpool of thoughts about where my life is headed and what i am doing with it. It was a blurred vision before i read this article. I would like to thank you on behalf of every 20 something year old who is struggling to find the way to go about this life.

  • Ohh thank you so much! 🙂 You can go check out my blog at fabulousmondays.com where I focus on helping people to find and walk their own path in life. I wish you all the best! Maria

  • Sinauer

    Oh, why did I read this? I already hold grudge to my parents for leaving me so ill-equipped for life. I may have half of my life still ahead, but nothing seems meaningful to pursue at this age anymore. No more dreams. Only bleak existence.