An Open Letter To My Nineteen-Year-Old Self

Last month I celebrated my 38th birthday. So, I suppose from one
perspective I’ve been 19 twice. Being 19 the first time was hard
enough. That guy made some decisions he really shouldn’t have. He made
some good ones, too.

I was wondering what it would look like for my 38-year-old self to sit
down and have coffee with my 19-year-old self. Here are some thoughts I’d
want to share with him.

There is just the right amount of time.
A college student once explained to me there were three things in the
world—school work, a social life, and sleep—and as a student you had
to pick two out of those three. I call B.S. on that idea. You have the
same 24 hours a day as every other human being on the planet has had
since time began. Don’t buy into the lie that there’s not enough time.

The trick to learn is discerning what really matters. Learn to tell
the difference between the “big rocks” and everything else. Get a
daily planner and start writing everything down. Don’t compromise your
“big rocks.”  Plan ahead. Think about what kind of person you want to
be when you’re 25, when you’re 30, when you’re 50.

Read the Bible and pray every day.
Make time for this. Even when you don’t feel like it. This is a “big
rock.” These things feed your soul. And your soul lasts a lot longer
than your GPA or happy hour.

Do these things with other people as frequently as possible. It’s not
enough to pray and read the Bible by yourself. You are hard-wired for 
community. Even if you’re an introvert. Being with God is best when
it’s done with others.

Belong to people.
This is really what being part of a local church means. Don’t just go
to church. Belong to people. Belong to people who don’t look like you.
You need some older people in your life. And believe it or not, they
need you in theirs.

Break up with her/him.
The odds are stacked that your relationships with the same gender are
going to last far longer than those of the opposite. Invest your time
accordingly.

More often than not, when we say the words “I love you,” what we’re
really saying is, “I love me, and I want to use you.” I’m devastated
remembering the times I’ve said the former and really meant the
latter, as well as the times I thought I heard the former but was
really being told the latter.

Be good to your mom.
Maybe she hides it well, maybe she doesn’t, but she’s freaking out
right now. The dynamic of your relationship is evolving, and when your
mom sees you, she still sees her little 5-year-old who wants to
cuddle. So don’t be a jerk. This is 10x if you’re the oldest kid in
your family. Call her regularly. Tell her what’s going in your life.
She’s still your biggest fan.

Figure out what you’re good at and how to talk to people about it.
Get good at two different things. Combine them. You know how to code?
You know the world of social work? Now you can build websites for
non-profits. Know what you’re good at and get comfortable telling
other people how awesome you are at it. Then people will give you
money. This is called a job and a career, and this strategy is 
infinitely more effective than a degree and a resume.

Figure out how to be more curious about everything.
Never stop learning. You brain is a muscle, so exercise it. Make it a
habit to write down 10 ideas every day. They can be absurd. They can
be practical. Just exercise your “idea muscle.”

Ask questions about everything. Be curious about the world. About
other cultures. About other people. About God. About yourself. Wonder
how things work.

And then, when you’re 38, you should have a whole catalogue of good
stories to tell a 19 year old.

By Peter White. Peter is a spiritual director and blogs at The Sabbath Life. He’s an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, serving at Restore Hope Ministries. He lives in Tulsa with his wife and two toddlers.

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