They say that with age, comes wisdom; therefore by that logic, having crossed the 50 year mark a few years ago I should be pretty frickin “wise”, right? Even if that’s not true, one thing is for sure: At the very least, I’m in a position to look back upon my crazy life to see both what worked, and equally important, what I’d do differently, if ever a chance to do it all over again magically appeared. This got me thinking…
Do you remember in “Back To The Future Part II” when “Old Biff” from 1985 went back to 1955 and gave “Young Biff” advice so he could change his destiny? His idea was to pass on information and experiences learned from the 30 years he’d already lived, to help his younger self take advantage of opportunities missed (in this case, gambling on sporting events) and avoid the pratfalls he’d endured by being a moronic butt-head all the time. In other words, “Older and Wiser” Biff wanted “Young” Biff to have the benefit of his life knowledge and experiences so he could in essence, live a better (and in this case, a more wealthy) life the second time around… remember? Just in case not, Here’s the scene:
Should I ever have the opportunity to meet him, there are definitely a fews things I’d like to tell my 20 year-old self ; given the chance, I’d run him over to the pub, grab a couple of beers and begin extolling said wisdom from the past 35 years. First I’d advise him not to cut the arms off that Ramones t-shirt – at least for a few years; then we’d cover family, friends, dating, marriage and of course, parenting. I’d touch on the really “important” life lessons, like defining “success”, why he needs to travel, how to earn/manage/invest money, and where to find the very best cheeseburger in the whole wide world. Most of all, I’d try and set him on a good path, and try and shield him from the crappy times I’ve gone through – especially those when my stupidity and immaturity got the best of me. Come to think of it, this may take a few beers…
I’ve broken this “pretend conversation” into two parts, so as not to miss anything. Even if you aren’t a 20 year old version of me, why not grab a pint and pull up a chair anyway; and let me share with you the some epic “Advice I’d Give My 20 Year Old Self”!
“Hi David, I’m David; in fact, I’m not just any “David”, but you from the future, whose come back to pass on a few lessons I’ve learned along the way. By the way, how’s that Pale Ale taste? I know, weird, eh? It’s from what we call a “micro-brewery”, something you don’t have them yet. The good news is there are a lot of great brews out there now, but the bad news is beer is no longer 20 cents a glass. And while I could sit here all day and discuss this with you, I’ve got more pressing topics to cover.”
In our life (“Us” being 53 yr. old me & you) there are two family dynamics: The family we were born into, of which you are fully aware of; and then the family my adult self has created, but being 20 years old you know nothing about. I’ll discuss these with you separately, then include some thoughts on “Dating”, “Relationships” and “Friendships. So, are you ready, 20 year old David? Got your pint? Good – let’s get started.”
Mom & Dad: I remember at times Mom and Dad weren’t the easiest to deal with; as the runt of the litter plus the last one to leave, it sure felt like I – we – always got the worst of it. Dad was too strict, and Mom didn’t seem to “get” a lot of the stuff I was into, calling much of it (like C.B. Radios, “Hang Ten” skateboard, etc.) a waste of time of time and money. If I wanted these things, mom just would roll her eyes and dad would flat out refuse to help pay for them, telling me to find ways to earn money and save up until I could afford to buy them myself . This was not the way it worked with any of my friends; their -parents foot the bill for anything and everything they wanted. I know this seemed unfair; however, now I’m older I have a different view of not just this, but Mom and Dad’s overall parenting style in general.
First off, little did I realize that those lean years would teach me how to successfully handle and manage money; in fact, as adults those frugal lessons learned by emulating M&D have helped me achieve great things! I’ve travelled the world, bought and paid off a home in 7 years, and I’ve been able to quit my job and retire early at 53. We are debt free and far less stressed than those folks who worry about bloated mortgages, credit card balances and student loans. So get this: What appeared to be “unfair” in those days were actually valuable life lessons, the ones that helped me be fiscally successful as an adult. Mom and Dad may appear cheap to you now, but as you can see, there’s a method to their madness, one that we are lucky to be a part of.
As far as them being strict, or not understanding us, you need to cut them some slack. The truth is that half the time they often don’t understand the things we’re talking about because they grew up in a different era; and much of the goofy stuff we love seems frivolous and “new-fangled” to them and their outdated ideas. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that – looking back now – I see that they did the best they could. Besides, in the end us kids all turned out pretty okay.
As far as Mom and Dad go, from now on your job is simple: Be the best son you can be. Allow them the opportunity to be proud of you, because whether or not they show it, or you believe it they are proud of you. Be as kind, loving and understanding to them as possible, even those times when you don’t agree with them, and vice versa. Support them, and make sure you tell them that you love them often; because the truth is they are getting older, and you won’t have forever to do so. Oh, and don’t worry about them too much – they both mellow with age, and are pretty easy – even fun – to be around at times.
Siblings: Try and be the best brother you can be but also know that you are now an adult, with ideas and opinions that may not jive with your siblings, and that’s okay. Don’t worry or feel inferior because they all attended post-secondary institutions and you didn’t even graduate high school, and here’s why: Because (a) we will finish it one day, and (b) your journey lies down a far different – and more exciting – path than post-secondary education offers. Listen up! Work hard and apply yourself! Read books and attend courses and workshops by self-made people! Do this, and you can become “self-educated” as well; and from what I’ve seen, these are the people who wind up living the richest, fullest lives of all. Remember this principle, and work hard to make your life a shining example of it; even if (or when) your siblings – or anyone – challenges you on this idea. Everyone has a different way; and this way is ours.
The truth is that tee entreprenerial path we choose takes more guts, courage and moxy than most people can muster, so often people will react negatively to what appears to be our “risky” way of life; and also know that this point of view is their problem, not yours. Don’t let their negativity or insecurities sway you from chasing your dreams!! Believe in yourself and stay the course, no matter what; and if others choose not to support you, forget about them. Press on, and don’t ever forget that we determine our life path, and no-one else. Success will be your reward. Besides, being an older version of you I can tell you that not only do we succeed, but we live a pretty outstanding life; the life WE chose.
Dating & Relationships: When it comes to dating and romance, I advise you (if you can) not to get too serious, too fast; you’re only 20 and should just go out, have fun and enjoy life. If you want to play the field, that’s fine – just don’t be a jerk about it when you do. Always be respectful of other peoples feelings, but expect to be respected back as well. If you date girls who want to get serious but you don’t, end the relationships immediately. Whatever you do, don’t be a dick and mislead them, or create the illusion that the relationship has a future when it doesn’t; that’s just cruel and makes you an asshole – I know, since I’ve done this, and regretted the kind of person it made me. Being dumped hurts; which by the way, you’ll also find out the hard way. My advice is that if it’s not going anywhere, be respectful and bite the bullet, say good-bye first then go your separate ways. You’ll be glad you did.
Sex: When you find someone you really like and it gets serious enough that you both agree to go “all the way” (f.y.i. you don’t always have to, you know) always make sure (a) it’s consensual, and (b) you WITHOUT FAIL that you practice safe sex – always. Try to avoid casual sex or one-night stands; besides being a docuhey thing to do (not to mention the litany of S.T.D.’s to worry about) know this: Just one bad choice with the wrong partner can instantly ruin several lives – including that of a yet-unborn child. Fortunately, I never even had so much as a “scare” of an unwanted pregnancy, but know others who have. They usually wound up as reluctant parents to confused kids, with angry, bitter “ex-girlfriends or boyfriends” to whom they were attached to for the next 20 years. No mater what your hormones are telling you at the time, whatever you do avoid this situation like the plague! Just remember, to treat your true partner with love, respect and kindness in this – and all areas – of your relationship. (but don’t ever forget to wrap the rascal)
Love: Rarely will your “First Love” be your “Great Love”, despite what you (and your swollen heart) think at the time. However, when you do think you’ve found “the one”, don’t be in a hurry to rush things along – take your time to develop the relationship, and get to know the person properly before making any big life decisions. I was usually in too much of a rush to be part of “a couple” to do this, and hence made some poor choices, because in the long run I wasn’t compatible with the women I married. It wasn’t until I met Paula, and then spent 3 months apart from each other, corresponding by phone and (snail) mail that I understood the importance of a slow, deliberate courtship in developing strong, committed relationship. Because of this time apart, when we did marry we already had a sense of “who” the other person was, what our shared interests and goals were, each other’s habits, likes and dislikes, etc. – in other words, there were no big “WTF?!” moments after the rings went on the finger. 12 years later, it’s better than ever. So when it comes to love, I say go slowly, don’t rush, and romance her like it’s worth it; because for the right one, it totally is.
Maintaining Your Personal Interests: When entering a relationship, it’s important to respect the fact that you both have/need individual hobbies, things that make you unique from each other; in other words, you aren’t expected to enjoy all the same things, nor do you need to be joined at the hip 24/7. Remember, you were both individuals with separate interests before you met, right? Neither of you should give these up, just because you’ve met someone. Good relationships aren’t dependant, nor do they have “me or it” ultimatums attached to them; good relationships mean couples are supportive, respectful and kind towards one another. They compliment one another. Just because one person doesn’t want to participate in the other’s hobby or social activity doesn’t make a couple incompatible; what does is if one person expects everything to go their way, without any consideration of the other person’s interests or feelings. When this happens, something is seriously rotten.
If you meet someone who expects you to “give, give, give” so they can “take, take, take”, then guess what? This is a BAD relationship! And not only will it eventually fail, but chances are it will suck you dry in the process. At the first sign of this type of behaviour, (hopefully while still in the dating stage) cut your losses and run; if you don’t, over time these habits will only get worse and worse, and the demand put on the relationship will be unreasonable. When it comes to choosing a long-term partner, always ask yourself “Is this person someone who puts our relationship – or themselves – first?” The answer to this question can either make or break you, so answer it wisely!
Moving In Together: Obviously, it takes time to find someone you are compatible with; so rather than jumping in too soon and getting stuck with someone whose habits and behaviours will drive you crazy after a couple of months, take your time and date a while before making that decision. I call this act “Moving into somebody’s life”, and I’ve rarely see it end well for anyone… including me. Not moving in together also means not spending every single night together either, since you still both need time for other friends and activities.
At the beginning of any relationship, take time and enjoy getting to know each other first. Explore your common interests and goals and slowly discover if the two of you are compatible enough to make it work in the long term. If you are, and the time is right then talk about the decision to move in together. If you rush into “playing house”, and then down the road there’s a break up, it usually gets messy and fast as people argue and fight over “Who gets the C.D. collection?” or “Who paid for how much of the furniture?” etc. Besides, who needs all the hassle? Listen to what I say: Keep separate abodes for at least a year, minimum, before making any big moves.
Couples and Money: To be a successful coupling it’s critical – in fact, it’s an ABSOLUTE MUST – that you both handle money the same way… period. Unresolved money issues are the #1 cause of marital breakdown, so it’s important to know whether or not you are on the same financial page BEFORE you stroll down the aisle together. At the beginning of any relationship, ask yourself some questions: “Are they a saver, like you? Are they frugal, like you? Do they have debt, and if so, why and how much? Do they have six maxed-out credit cards? Unpaid student loans? Car debt or lines of credit? Are they a Daddy’s Girl with expectations for you to pick up the slack now you’re together? Do they have an earning potential that matches their spending ambitions?”
I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, Really?! Do I have to know all that?”: The answer is yes, but only if you want to save yourself from a whole bunch of financial troubles and fighting over money down the road. Look, I’ve watched “Financial Incompatibility” destroy the net worth of a lot of people, all because they got into committed relationships, only to discover afterwards secret (& massive) debt, out-of-control spending habits, and no sign of remorse. When these relationships do end, guess what else goes out the door? At least half of somebody’s net worth; each and every time, and without fail. This is not what you want. The lesson is clear: Before making any kind of commitment, find out how the other person handles money and credit.
On Being Married: Let’s say you’ve finally found “The One” (You know, who is both awesome AND great with money!) and decide to get married… Congratulations! As long as you are both comfortable with the long-term validity and compatibility of what you each bring to the table, have the same goals and philosophies about life AND money, and genuinely love and respect one another, then you have my blessing to proceed… remember, it’s my life too! (Chances are pretty good her name will be Paula!) As mentioned, I’ve had some prior experience in this area, and looking back I can see in the past where I (a) didn’t heed certain warning signs, (b) did stupid things myself, and (c) finally got it right. Because remember this, young Jedi; when you do find the right person – you know, the one you absolutely can’t live without – and forge a loving, strong and committed relationship with them, you will learn on of life’s great secrets. It’s that being married to to your best friend is really awesome.
Being a Family Man: As a spouse and parent, make sure you are always kind, polite and respectful towards your family; share common goals and WORK together to create and achieve those goals, and support each other in individual projects. Understand that your family relationships (including those with your children) are PARTNERSHIPS, meaning both sides contribute to the mix, and support each other through the good times and bad. And yes, there will be some bad times; or maybe just some bumpy roads that don’t seem as bad after a while. Teach your kid well, and let your life and behaviour be an example of habits for them to emulate, not a warning of habits to avoid…
I’ve learned that when true love and respect dominate your marital relationship, the bad times aren’t so bad, because you have a partner by your side, looking out for you, and watching your back. This is the sort of love that sees past the petty disagreements, yet stares straight into the hearts and souls of each other – don’t ever forget this. Because when you truly love someone, and they truly love you back, what seems “bad” in the moment rarely is; it’s usually nothing more than a misunderstanding or slip of the mind, and the love soon dominates it. Strong, lasting and committed relationships take work; but they are worth every ounce of effort put into them, so make sure that you always put in 110% effort in all you do for your wife and children… okay, spoiler alert – child.
Final Advice on How to Treat Family: Put your family – “The Home Team” – above all, as how you treat them will be your mark on the earth, and the legacy you leave behind. Love them unconditionally. Hold them. Kiss them – even the teenage boy who thinks he’s too old – he secretly loves it! Let all your family members know they are unique, wonderful and how lucky you feel to have them in your life. Spend quality time with them. Be interested in them and what they have to say. Disagree with them, and vice-versa, and let them know it’s okay and that you are happy they have their own voice. Take them out and have ice cream, “just because”. Be selfless when you need be – which is always. Oh, and make dinner often, and do the dishes together. Do these things as much as possible, and you should have a pretty wonderful family – kind of like I do. xo
Friends, and Other Assorted People: Actually, the best advice I can offer regarding friendship is a quote by Jim Rohn: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” Think about this, and make sure you always surround yourself with people you have fun with, who care about you, support you and help you grow as a person. Anything other than this will erode your character, and take you in a wrong direction. Just like finding a good partner, also choose your friends very carefully; and if you find really good ones, you’ll only need two or three at most.
Remember that “strangers” are “friends” we haven’t met yet, so Rule #1 is always be friendly towards others! Unless given a reason not to, treat everyone around you – including the counter people at Starbucks, McDonalds, gas stations, etc. – kindly, politely, and always offer a kind word with every exchange. If appropriate, offer to help people out whenever you can, especially those struggling at a task like carrying groceries or who need a door opened for them. Don’t be overly suspicious of people, or pass judgement based on those based on a quick glance; learn to strike a balance between giving folks the benefit of the doubt, but not appearing as a schmuck who can be taken advantage.
And finally, my favourite piece of advice about people: When talking to small children, ALWAYS crouch down to their level and treat them as equals – this has the ability to create magic moments for them, and you. Make them feel special at all times!
Above all, remember this: Just like you, (& I) everyone has a story, and most of the time people are kind and good, and worth getting to know – despite how things may look sometimes. I wish I’d realized this – and all I’ve spoken about here – much earlier in my own life; which is why I’m telling you now. Heed my advice, 20 year old David; it took me 33 years to learn all it’s lessons. And thanks for listening. And don’t worry; I’ll pick up the tab for the beers.
Coming Soon: Advice I’d Give My 20 Year-Old Self Part II: Tips For an Awesome (Yet Imperfect) Life