Advice I’d Give My 18 Year Old Self

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Reminiscing

I was idly digging about in my desk drawer the other day when I found a CD onto which I’d backed up some files from my old PC back in Australia. Curious, I decided to pop it into my laptop and see what I’d deemed important enough to spend $2 on.

One of the items I found was a back-up of my old Open Diary. The site itself went down earlier in 2014, so this back-up proved to be more of a time capsule than it might otherwise have been. With nothing else to do, I decided to open it up and read through what 18 year old Chris had to say.

The year was 2002 and I was a shy, socially awkward kid who’d never had a girlfriend, had no real life experience, and clung to the ridiculous idea that all I needed to get over my battle with the black dog was somebody to miraculously come in, love me, and make it all okay.

Reading through those old entries about near misses, perceived heart-breaks, self pity, and naive optimism I felt a few conflicting feelings. I felt sadness for the kid who knew so little of the world and thought so little of himself that he needed somebody to validate him. I felt anger at how naive and childish his worries seemed. I felt happiness at the old friendships, romances, and experiences he had thought important enough to write down. I might not remember them at all if it weren’t for that.

If I could reach back across the gap of twelve years and impart some advice on that occasionally optimistic, sad, naive, and desperately lonely kid – what would I say to him?

You will always feel homeless

One of the first entries this young CWB wrote was about how he felt homeless. My family had left my childhood home around the same time I left for university, so when I came back ‘home’ between semesters, I didn’t have a room to call my own. I’d share with a brother or shack up in our caravan.

To my 18-year-old mind, this seemed like something painful that I would never get over.

In many ways, I guess I didn’t.

Your one big regret about life abroad is not spending enough time with these fantastic people.
Your one big regret about life abroad is not spending enough time with these fantastic people.

Chris, twelve years on, I still don’t know where home is. I’ve called eight cities in three countries ‘home’ since we graduated from university, and if my desire to keep moving is any indication: we’ve still yet to find it.

That’s not a bad thing, though. While other people will be anchored to their idea of home, you’re going to see and experience so much. You’re going to make friends from countries you’d never even thought about as a teenager: dear, true friends from everywhere in thew world – from Wales to Kenya, Bosnia to Chile, and everywhere in between.

You’re going to fall in love with girls – enchanting, confusing, beautiful girls who you’d never met if you’d stayed in Glen Innes or Armidale.

You’re going to touch the lives of children in China and South Korea. You’re going to write a Chinese sit-com, start a modestly successful website, see things you daydreamed about seeing as a kid, and you’re going to get to be that popular guy you thought you’d never be.

You’re always going to miss the feeling of belonging – I can promise you – but so far, it’s been worth it.

Get a haircut and grow a beard

This might hurt, but it needs to be said. You look fucking stupid with that messy, oily mop of hair.

You look ridiculous, Chris!
You look ridiculous, Chris!

Shave your head and grow a beard. It’s not going to come into fashion again for ten years or so, but you look infinitely better that way.

The world is so much bigger than it seems right now

That failed Communications assessment isn’t the end of the world. The prank call that got your hopes up and then dashed them isn’t the end of the world, either.

That girl you felt sure was the one that got away? I didn’t even remember her until I read her name in our diary.

Right now, Armidale and university feel like the entire universe, but so much of what happens to you won’t even register with you in a few years. People aren’t going to care if you only got a credit on that assignment, and you’re not still going to be wondering if Amanda or Laura or whoever was ‘the one’.

They weren’t. If they were, you wouldn’t have to wonder.

You do not have a right to be loved

When I read you calling girls ‘stupid’ or ‘bitches’ because they didn’t pay attention to you, it made me cringe. I know we were often drunk and bitter when we wrote such things, but that doesn’t excuse it.

You do not have a birthright to be loved by whatever girl you turn your attention to. The world might have convinced you otherwise with its romantic comedies and friends & family who only want the best for you; but love is earned.

You do not have a right to it, and if you’re not getting the attention you want – that is either your fault, or just bad luck. I’d tell you to be more confident, but I remember how much I hated hearing that when I was a shy shut-in. You don’t know how awesome you are yet, but when you figure it out, you’re going to be a much happier person.

For now, just be patient and know your time will come. Believe it or not, there’ll even be a time where you’re spoiled for choice and agonize over it late at night.

I shit you not.

I still don’t have it all figured out

Don’t feel pressured to know what you’re going to do with your life. At thirty years of age, I’m about to leave China and head home with no concrete plans for my future.

Some people are blessed to find their calling and settle into it young. We’re not those people, but we’re living a life they’re sometimes jealous of and doing things many people can only dream about.

You do not need somebody else to complete you

So many of the entries in our diary were about how you just knew you’d be happy if a girl would love you.

I’ve got bad news, kiddo. We dated many wonderful, supportive girls who tried their hardest to love us enough to fill that hole left by our own lack of self love. Every one of them eventually gave up the thankless task and, angry though we might have been at the time, we eventually realized that they did the right thing.

Nobody’s love will ever complete you. There is no person out there who can miraculously chase away the black dog, instill some much needed responsibility into you, and make you the man you daydream about being.

Only when you are comfortable within yourself and accept who you are will you be ready to love and be loved. It won’t complete you, but it shouldn’t. Love compliments, it does not complete.

You have more to offer than you think

The one, over-arcing sentiment in the diary was one of self-loathing. You never needed people to say bad things about you (although they sometimes did) because you were so busy being your own worst enemy.

How did you expect to ever be happy, popular, or loved if you spent so much of your time highlighting your flaws and playing down your redeeming features?

You won’t know quite what you’re capable of for some time yet. One day in five years time, you’re going to get on a plane and fly to South Korea. You’re going to be terrified and there will be times where you’ll think it was the worst decision you ever made. You’ll stick it out.

I’d like to be able to tell you that after one year abroad, you realize what you’re capable of, but you don’t. It’s not even the second or third trip abroad that does it.

At some point, though, you’re going to realize that the things about you that you don’t like can either be changed or lived with.

You’re going to start to believe it when people tell you that you’re funny or fantastic or (gasp) handsome. Don’t let it go to your head, but don’t ignore it, either. You are worthy of the friendships, experiences, and romances you experience.

Believe it or not, people are someday going to tell you that they admire you. Don’t worry, it made me feel awkward too.

I wish I could tell you to talk to that pretty girl you’d decided was out of your league, to apply for that job you felt under qualified for, or to audition for that play you were too shy to try out for. Our life is full of missed opportunities, but they’ve lead us to where we are today – so it isn’t all bad.

You’re depressed. Get help.

I flat out cried when I read the entry in which you described how a group of our friends stood over you while you threw up into a toilet and told them all you wanted to kill yourself.

When I read you saying things like ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me’, I wish I could shout back at you that you’re depressed and that you should talk to somebody.

The number of nights you spent crying alone outside wishing you could be happy like everybody else seemed to be saddens me. The number of opportunities we missed because we were too sad to leave the house, too shy to open our mouths, or too anxious to take the plunge saddens me to this day.

The black dog was walking at our side for longer than either of us knew, and I sorely wish we’d talked to somebody about it when we were younger. So much pain and sadness might have been averted if we had.

So far, life has never thrown something at us that we haven’t been able to beat. No matter how dark things seem or how lonely that house feels at 3am on a winter night, you’re never alone. The friends who cared about you then still care about us today, and we’ve only grown closer to our family in the intervening years.

You're still friends with these lovable idiots.
You’re still friends with these lovable idiots.

We’ve always been blessed with friends and family who love us. When you’re down on yourself, remind yourself that there is a reason for that love and concern.

Be strong, kid. It gets much, much better.

In Closing

It was an experience to glimpse into the mind of a much younger, more naive version of myself. That kid wanted nothing more than to get married, have children, and live happily ever after.

I’m not sure how he’d feel if he knew about how I’d spent the last twelve years or the fact we’re still not married; but I like to think he’d be excited for the road ahead.

Your Say

If you could write a letter to your eighteen year old self, what advice would you give? Would you change anything? Or would you let things play out as they have?

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18 comments

  1. Wow, Chris. I, too, had some struggles as a younger me, and I’ve had some similar reactions when reading over old LiveJournal entries and the like. I love the way you’ve framed this and have come to realize that so many of the bad things in life have a way of leading you to the very best things in your life.

    • Cheers, mate. I knew I wouldn’t be alone in having some sage wisdom for my younger self. I’m surprised how many people kept journals and the like, though!

  2. “You do not have a birthright to be loved by whatever girl you turn your attention to..” you absolutely have nailed it there! I totally agree! heartbreaks are romantic at 18 but they’re annoying at 28! How can you deal with the fact that just a random post 11 (night) call can so put you out perspectives?

    • Very true, Tom. The heart falls faster and hurts harder when we’re young. I find it hard to believe I ever found it possible to love as desperately or mourn as deeply over what amounted to very shallow relationships when I was younger.

  3. Nice one, mate. I don’t know that I’d tell myself much other than to work harder and push myself more, because laziness and apathy suck compared to hard work and passion.

    • I can’t say I’d give myself the same advise, given how I hate hard work these days. Would be hypocritical to wish it on my younger self when I’ve made a career of avoiding it :-p

  4. Loved this! Very brave post : )
    It doesn’t matter what I would say to 18 year old me, cause she wouldn’t have listened anyway…lol…

    I would say:
    Be kind, smart & gracious because your looks will fade & that pert little body you are flouncing around in will stretch sag & bulge in ways you can’t even begin to imagine, so you are going to need a fall back plan.

    You and illicit drugs or more than 1 bottle of wine are not friends, don’t get that tattoo in Hawaii better yet skip the Hawaiian holiday altogether it’s costs you close to 10k and it’s all a drunken blur….

    Also you do get married and have a family so keep all your annoying opinions about children to yourself cause they will bite you in the arse in about a decades time…

    • Haha! I loved your advice to your 18 year old self. Hard to believe that 18 year old CWB and 18 year old Kiri probably wouldn’t have had a kind word to say to (or about) one another. You’re definitely one of my fave people these days 🙂

      And I’m not sure 18 year old me would have listened either. He seemed to like the self pity and wallowing >_<

  5. I remember when you used to keep that Open Diary. I’m glad I never had one as I now can retrospectively remember myself being much cooler than I ever was :p

    I think I’d tell myself that
    1.) Arrogance is loud while confidence in quite.
    2.) You don’t know everything. That’s okay as you’re going to know a lot about a few select things.
    3.) Being dyslexic is actually your greatest gift.

    Also, that was my toilet, wasn’t it :p I spent that party cracking onto Natalie Schwartzman. Well, that’s how I choose to remember it. Maybe, the truth was I was too scared crack on her, despite it being soooooo painfully obvious that she liked me. So obvious, I only did it because Simon Wilkinson basically forced me too :p

    • Ha! That *was* your toilet, Lez. I also lost my lucky Newcastle Knights bucket hat that night. Given how ugly bucket hats are, though, I guess it was a blessing in disguise.

      I remember always envying your swagger in Uni, mate. Took me years to be able to be the life of a party like you often were.

      • Yeah, that Les was young and free but still struggling with all the same issues. We often envy others but in reality we’re all pretty much the same.

  6. Shared this post with my readers on Facebook.

    Really admire your honesty with this post, and I think it’s a great way of showing how travel can completely change your life for the better.

    As for what I’d say to my 18 year old self, I have absolutely no idea! I think I’m really lucky to not really have many regrets from that time.

    • Cheers, mate. Travel has been the best thing that ever happened to me, and reading those old journal entries full of anguish and self pity made me painfully aware of just how far I’ve come. I thought I’d share that realization, as I’m sure I’m not the only person who was a little lost at 18.

      Thanks for sharing 🙂

      • Oddly enough, at that age I felt like I knew exactly what I wanted. I’d just started my journalism degree and had my heart set on a career in journalism.

        How things change! I guess one thing I would say to my 18 year old self is don’t set your heart on too much – as my impulsive decision to travel has turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done. I completely agree that it’s good to look back and see how far you’ve come.

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