5 Things I Wish I Would Have Known When I Was 18

Ever wish you could go back and tell your teenage self a thing or two? Here are 5 pieces of advice for 18 year olds, graduates and young adults.

My adorable–er, I mean super handsome and very manly–nephew Jacob graduated from high school last night. It seems so crazy to me that the sweet little boy I used to babysit is now ready to head off to college.

As he begins this new phase of his life–adulthood–I couldn’t help but reflect on the time when I was that age and wish that I had only known then what I know now. Oh, if I only I could go back and tell my 18 year old self a thing or two!

Jacob, I know most of this advice will probably go in one ear and out the other, but I decided to write it down anyway.

5 things I wish I would’ve known when I was 18

When your young like this guy, there's still a lot to learn about life.

1. You control your destiny

You will have a lot of people–parents, advisers, coaches, professors– giving you advice & telling you what to do. Most of the advice will probably be good; some of it may be conflicting. But here’s the thing: you’re not a kid anymore. No one can tell you exactly what to do. You have to make your own decisions and be responsible for the outcome. It is exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.

Getting a tattoo is often times something people in their teens will regret.

2. Don’t get a tattoo

Just trust me on this one! While I know you probably think you will love it forever, chances are you won’t. Wait until you are at least 30, and if you still want a tattoo, I will pay for it myself.

3. Your mistakes, weaknesses, and fears don’t define you

Everyone has faults or weak spots. Everyone makes mistakes. It is important to recognize them and work to correct them as much as possible, but not be consumed by them. Don’t assume you can’t do something just because it’s not what you’re good at. If you fail, dust yourself off and try again. Ultimately, what will define you is not your handicaps, but your willingness to continue on even through adversity. Winston Churchill once said, “Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is only the courage to continue that matters.”

Don’t ever neglect to try something new because you are afraid of the outcome. Another of my favorite quotes is by Eleanor Roosevelt–“You must do the thing you cannot do,”–and it is so true. The more you are willing to conquer your fears and try things despite being afraid of them, the more you will grow as a person.

When your 18 it's important to think of your future like college.

4. Pay attention

At 18 it is hard to see anything outside of your own narrow world, but try. Pay attention to the people and world around you, and to current events and news. Learn to apply what you are learning in college not just to the next exam you have to take, but to how it relates to the bigger picture. You will not only retain information better, you will see how interconnected life is. History matters because what happened in the past affects the future. Economics matter because it affects your wallet. Read everything you can, not because you have to, because you want to be better. Education is a gift; don’t waste it.

5. Follow your passion

If you want to be successful in life, do what you love and give it everything you’ve got. If you don’t know what that is yet, keep looking. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing or saying; listen to your own gut instincts. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to work hard–you will–but if you can find something you are passionate about, follow your dreams, and give it your all, you will be ahead of the game.

To recap, here are 5 Things I Wish I Would Have Known When I Was 18

1. You control your destiny
2. Don’t get a tattoo
3. Your mistakes, weaknesses, and fears don’t define you
4. Pay attention
5. Follow your passion


Ever wish you could go back and tell your 18 year old self a thing or two? These are the 5 things I wish I would have known when I was 18. What are yours?

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  1. Ruth, thank you. Being the MOM of the graduate means anything I say automatically is not listed to…you on the other hand are the aunt and are full of wisdom and grace in his eyes. Thank you so much for your influence on my son, it is MUCH appreciated.

  2. I loved this post. One point I would add is when making any decision, ask yourself “What is it that I want?” and don’t focus so much on what other people want.

  3. Nice photos, great blog… Jacob must be happy to have so a nice aunt!
    Congratulations Jacob! I am sure that your parents are very proud of you! :0)

  4. It is so true about #4; pay attention not only in class but to the things and the things that are happening around you. I wish I had of known some of these things at the age of 18. Congratulations to your nephew, Jacob.

  5. Fabulous tips Ruth…where were you when I was 18? Wait, don’t answer that lol…you were probably in 1st grade. 🙂

    I miss you!!! Are we going to meet up at Blissdom again or another blog conference? Or just a girls trip with Edie, Polly, Patty, and all the other girls??

    Hope you’re having fun on your vacation and Congrats to Jacob!!!

    xoxo, Jess


  6. Don’t fall for the credit card sellers at college just to get a free t-shirt. Just don’t go into debt ever!

  7. Never stop learning. Amazing things rarely happen in your comfort zone. Love everyone…God will sort them out later. Girls, don’t let a man guilt you into something you don’t want to do. If they don’t care any more about you than to force you into submission, you DON’T want or need them your life. DEBT is a 4-letter word. You might have to borrow for your education, your first car, or your home, but have a clear, fool-proof, short-term plan for paying it off as quickly as possible. Debt-free living IS possible if you have the discipline to live beneath your means. A little scrimping won’t hurt you. Being thrifty and resourceful builds character and humility, and you can’t ever get too much of those!

  8. Great advice! Especially the tattoo. 🙂 And #5 “don’t worry about what everyone else is doing and saying…” It’s so rewarding doing what you love instead of what you have to. The tuff thing is figuring out what that thing is. So I would add take time to be by yourself and figure out who you are and what makes you happy. And then work hard to achieve that goal.

  9. Learn all you can. I wish I’d gotten a masters right after my bachelors. Would have saved me lots of money!

  10. Misspelling. Under “Don’t get a tattoo”… “chances you want” should be “chances you won’t”.

  11. The point is that at 18, many things don’t seem wrong and maybe you need to make small mistakes to gain experience. But of course, a full arm tattoo is no small mistake. As a teenager, I wanted a tattoo on my arm so badly. And now I would probably regret it.
    My advice to 18-year-old me is to take your time and not limit yourself, there are so many things you have to learn about, don’t give up on new experiences. It’s trivial, but a lot of time has already been missed.

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