‘Regrets’ vs. ‘Advice I Wish I Had Earlier’

Posted: August 20, 2011 in Growth, Life
Tags: , , , ,

Earlier this week a meme that I ignored for awhile was making the rounds on Facebook where a friend gives you a number and you must answer, as your status, a few basic poll questions about yourself when you were that age. For instance, my sister wrote:

My number is…17
I wanted to be: in Europe ALL summer
I was scared of: NOTHING, ‘cept maybe getting a hole in my waterbed
Favorite show(s): Fame
Favorite food(s): mom’s spaghetti, dad’s grill, Luigi’s pizza, Big John Steak n Onion
Favorite drink(s): Coke in glass bottles

Later in the day, I read a post from the blog of Michael Hyatt (former Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers) titled What Do You Wish You Knew Then That You Know Now? (which was actually a guest post from Adam Donyes.) Somehow this captured my imagination in a way that the Facebook thing did not. The connection to me was the idea of looking back at who you used to be, once upon a time.

The Hyatt post had the potential to be a dreary excavation of a person’s lifelong regrets (in his terms, folly), but it was not. Instead, it was a study of success. The author’s premise was that age brings wisdom – the kind of wisdom that makes you say things like, “I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know.” (Let’s face facts: was there ever a time in our lives like our college years, where we were sure we had all the answers and frankly, knew it all?) His train of thought logically progressed to another idea – mainly, that at this present point in his timeline there is surely a similar body of knowledge and wisdom as yet undiscovered. So:

“Rather than accept the fact that folly was inevitable, I spent the past twelve months polling fifteen respectable men I admire – men that have lived lives of integrity, men who are faithful husbands, and have been deemed successful in their chosen vocation… The question I asked these fifteen men was this, ‘What are three things you know now that you wish you knew when you were thirty?’ I was hoping that these men would share the folly they had experienced as leaders and in life, so that I might not repeat their mistakes.”

(The results are great. You should check them out.)

It got me thinking about the person I once was. My number is… 23.
I wanted to be: a wealthy college graduate
I was scared of: dying alone
Favorite show(s): Anything on Comedy Central
Favorite food(s): Danish meatballs, pizza, lasagna
Favorite drink(s): Beer. Lots of beer.

I now look upon that guy as “Least likely to live up to his potential.”

And, a la Adam Donyes (with a little Marty McFly mixed in), what would I tell that 23-year old guy were I to meet him in 1989?

  • Stay out of debt. The idea that you need to build your FICO is a trap.
  • Sell your TV. Nothing good ever came from the hours you wasted in front of it.
  • If you want good friends, be a great one. To everyone you meet.
  • The best cure for laziness is activity. Work like hell while you can (i.e., when you’re young), and start investing the extra – even if it’s only $50 a month.
  • The trick to quitting the smokes is that only the first three days are intolerable. After that it gets easier. (And you know it would have been better not to start.)
  • What steps did you take this week to be that “wealthy college graduate”? Do something next week to make sure your answer isn’t “nothing” again next week.
  • Call your grandma.
  • Yes, there really is a God. He loves you, and cares what happens to you. He’s also a lot smarter than you are, so you should probably let him decide what path you should take. Ironically, there’s a lot of freedom in that.
  • God has someone special in mind for you. But not until you both grow up. A lot.
  • Atlanta Braves tickets are likely pretty cheap right about now. 1991 is going to be an excellent year to grab a suite for the season.

Granted, that last pearl of wisdom is probably of no use to the youth of today, but the others are golden. Or pearly. Whatever. The point is that if I had spent more time pondering, “What is the wise thing to do?” and less time searching for “What is the fun thing to do?”, I might have saved myself a ton of trouble and a decade or two of wasted effort.

The takeaway? These are still excellent pieces of advice that I can use, even today. If I continue to adhere to these principles for the next 25 years perhaps I’ll have, instead of advice, a list of things I’m glad I did right. One can hope.

Did you ever look to someone older and wiser for clues to a better life? Ever engage in the whimsical fantasy of traveling through time to speak to your younger or older self? Tell me your story in the comments section.

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Comments
  1. RedBing says:

    Just stumbled onto this quote, which would have been a great inclusion to this post:

    “The only things worth learning are the things you learn after you know it all.” (Harry S. Truman)

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