So you're 18 years old — finally an adult. You have the world at your fingertips: lotto tickets, cigarettes and maybe even a tax return to file — if you're lucky. But, given all of this, allow me make one thing perfectly clear:
You're a rookie.
That's right, rook. Seventeen years and three hundred and sixty something days (depending on leap years), have prepared you for this moment — or at least that's what people want you to believe. Your education and experience have provided you with just enough slack to live a life of mediocrity. But you want more. You believe that you're destined for something epic, that your youthful invincibility will somehow propel you to the front of the pack and one day, you'll wake up and be Time Magazine's “Person of the Year.” Before you go out there and conquer that macro-economy on your micro-experience, let me hit you with a dose of the truth.
Every generation judges the generations behind it to be entitled, selfish, thuggish, do-nothing punks. But truthfully, you have lived a life of entitlement. But it's not your fault, so don't fret. Social and economic factors have influenced younger generations to the point that we now can't imagine living without certain conveniences.
Remember those times when your circuit breaker would go out and you'd be in complete darkness for a couple minutes, fumbling to replace a fuse? Do you remember your reaction, especially since you were just about to get that sniper in the tower on level 2 of Goldeneye?! Well, check out a few statistics to help you deal with that grief.
There are approximately seven billion people in the world, and it's estimated that around 17 percent (1.2 billion) of those people have no access to any electricity, at all. Zero. None. Zilch. You're probably thinking, “Well those people have always lived that way and they're used to it.” I guess you can't miss something you never had, but there's a logical fallacy in there.
One in five children born in the United States are born into poverty. That means, one in every five Americans is born into a household that, if both parents are working, has an annual income of less than $18,000. I know those numbers may not mean much to you, because you've never paid rent, a mortgage, auto insurance, property insurance, health insurance or any of those other ankle-biting expenses. But the point is this: if you grew up with a roof over your head, had electricity that was consistent for more than two hours per day and had clean water, you were blessed with a life of privilege.
With that said, I'm not here to berate you. But like any new recruit or rookie, you must be broken down, then gradually, built back up — it's the typical Army model. So, in no particular order, here's a little list of things that I wish I knew when I was just a rookie so I didn’t have to find out the hard way:
Credit Cards are the devil.
Yeah, they can "build credit" and you can get some really sweet rewards, like a hydroelectric battery-pack charger or a solar-powered espresso machine, but seriously, they’re awful. One card is okay, two is pushing it, three is playing with fire and four? Well, you might as well get a fifth to pay for a good lawyer because you're setting yourself up to file bankruptcy faster than you can hit that marginal credit limit.
Invest in yourself.
No, I'm not abdicating that you become the next Jordan Belfort — actually, that's the complete opposite of what I mean. Get an education (but not necessarily a degree). The mode of education you acquire is your choice, but never stop learning, exploring or experiencing. The world is a pretty big place and it's a shame that most of us don't get to see more of it. Take some time and some money and go to those places you’ve dreamed of visiting — you won't regret it.
You probably won't realize the importance of this until you're older, but the smallest things, like smiling and saying thank you, will get you far. It’s a low-cost, high-reward investment. Plus, you never know whose day you might make.
Find a healthy hobby.
Whether you run, lift, bike, rollerblade, swim or practice CrossFit, Zumba, yoga, or whatever the new fad activity is, just get out there and do it. Try new things, develop healthy habits and expose yourself to the infinite amount of endorphins at your disposal. Your body will thank you in 10 years.
Your friendships may not be forever.
You might be the most popular person this side of the Mississippi, but like anything else, relationships and friendships will run their course. I like to refer to this as the "real" social Darwinism — survival of the strongest friendship. Don't be upset when you lose touch with people and don't hold it against people if they lose touch with you. Get used to it and enjoy the ride.
You're inevitably going to mess up. If you accept that you are completely fallible early on, it'll lessen the blows later. Nothing is worse than when someone shrugs off responsibility. Embrace your mistakes, fix what you can and move on. But, don't compromise your character, integrity or other people's trust in you. Not only will this make people look at you in a completely different light, but you'll be able to look at yourself in the mirror and be prideful.
Read the news, read books, read blogs and most importantly, read instruction labels. Take in as much information as you possibly can, develop informed thoughts, have insightful opinions and become a citizen of the world. There are few things as vital to your progression into adulthood than being able to engage in adult conversation with adults.
Forget "swagger" or "dapper" or whatever the next trendy, hashtag-worthy word is. One thing never changes is class. Old fashioned? Yes. But those of you who rock the loafers while drinking an old fashioned are in luck because this look never goes out of style. The rest of your peers will catch up eventually.
Still, the most important piece of advice I can offer you is to not trade what you want most for what you want now. If you think you have an insanely brilliant idea, write it down, lock it in a box and wait 72 hours.
Then, look at it again and decide if you still think the idea is so brilliant. Don’t make emotional decisions and carefully calculate your every next move because while life is full of choices, it's the consequences with which we end up living. It's your life and you only have one, so make it count, rookie.
Photo credit: We Heart It