To My Younger Self

Originally posted on by Navid Nathoo.

Growing up is confusing.

This is a guide to help you, probably a high school student, navigate your life as you’re trying to figure out the world. I’ve had multiple conversations with students in the last few weeks, and everyone has similar struggles.

You’re not alone.

These struggles also happen to be very similar to my experiences growing up. Since I’ve already lived through it, I thought I’d share my perspective.

If I could go back in time, this is what I’d tell myself:

1. Learn about yourself

To My Younger Self,

Every day you’re learning new things about yourself and changing. Which could also imply that every day you’re a slightly different person. It’s hard to keep up with all these changes. You’re starting to figure out what you’re good at, what you’re not good at, things you like and don’t like, and your beliefs and values.

Then there are all the things you’re being told by your friends, parents, and teachers that is confusing you even more! It’s ok. Chill. Take a deep breath. This is normal.

This is all you have to do: think. You never actually internalize and retrospect. Start being conscious of the things you’re good at, then do more of that.

Be conscious of what values resonate with you, and stick by them. Be conscious of the people you enjoy being around and develop those relationships. This also means that you need to rethink things that you’re doing that isn’t you. Rethink the people you’re hanging around with that hinder your growth. Rethink how you spend your time. Because right now, time is your most valuable resource, and it always will be.

For you, the reader, I recommend writing down a list of the following:

  • What you’re good at
  • What you’re not good at
  • What you enjoy
  • What you don’t enjoy and doesn’t give you value
  • People you like being around and help you grow
  • People that hinder your growth

After you have this list, take action. Do more of the things you’re good at, do more of the things you enjoy, and spend more time with people that help you grow. Figure out who you are. It doesn’t just happen overnight and the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll understand how you can optimize your life.

2. Be a good person

To My Younger Self,

People suck. They will be rude, mean, and put you down. They will make you feel unimportant and useless. They will steal from you, ignore you and be selfish.

Don’t be like them.

The world needs more good people, and you’re a good person. Follow these guidelines:

  • Don’t talk bad about people.
  • Don’t make jokes about people. It might be funny to you, but it’s not funny to them. Like when you made fun of Jake’s sweater. You and your friends thought it was funny, but he probably hated it and felt embarrassed.
  • Do nice things: If you see someone sitting alone, go talk to them. If you notice someone is making fun of another person, do something about it. If someone needs help, help them without expecting anything in return.
  • Don’t steal. Don’t judge. Don’t cheat.
  • Don’t make assumptions about people. You don’t know anything about their lives or what they’re thinking.
  • If there is someone you don’t like, just ignore them. Distance yourself. Don’t engage.
  • Be conscious of others — develop empathy. It’s one of the most important life skills.

To the reader, keep an eye out for those good people. If you don’t know them well, make an effort to get to know them. Develop relationships with good people, your life will be better.

3. Think about your purpose

To My Younger Self,

You have no idea what you want to do in the world, or what the world can do for you. Use this as guidance as you’re thinking about your life and finding your purpose:

To the reader, as you’re thinking about this, get more information about the world. There are many more opportunities and career paths than ever before. Learn about these opportunities and find the one(s) that resonate with you. The world needs so many things, so don’t limit yourself.

4. Find a mentor

To My Younger Self,

The world around you is built for the masses. You’re not going to be guided on a personal level - it’s not scalable for the system to implement. Make it a priority to find a mentor. A good mentor will catalyze your growth. They will help you figure out what you want to do in life, guide you through problems you’re having, and expose you to opportunities.

Eventually, you will find amazing mentors in Silicon Valley. You will realize how much you missed out on by not finding smart mentors earlier. You will learn more from these mentors than you ever did in school. You’ll start a company which will get successfully acquired by a billion-dollar company, and it will be because you had mentorship and guidance from really smart people.

To the reader, I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a mentor. It won’t happen overnight, and it takes time to find the right person/people. Here are some things you can think about to help you identify a good mentor:

  • Who is someone that inspires you?
  • Has that person achieved what you want to achieve?
  • Has that person failed before? Having gone through failure is very important. It sucks at the time, but the learning experience is priceless.

As you’re looking for a mentor, don’t be entitled. You need to earn the mentorship. Earn their trust and respect by showing progress (I recommend sending monthly updates to people). Ask to meet in-person for advice, but don’t expect them to say yes. And don’t expect them to be your mentor from day 1. Invest in the relationship.

5. Take initiative

To My Younger Self,

Stop expecting things to just happen. The best opportunities won’t just come to you, and you won’t randomly wake up knowing exactly what university you want to go to, the program, and the job you want to get after it. In fact, you’ll go to Western University only because your dad was in business, so you decided to do that. You had no idea what computer science or bioengineering was. Your choices were so limited because you expected that you’d just get all the information by going to school. You were wrong.

While in university, you’ll start to realize that there is so much more to the world and it won’t be spoon fed to you. You have to take initiative and find opportunities. Eventually, you’ll start creating your own opportunities. You’ll learn how to hustle, network with people, and ask for things. Once you start setting goals for yourself, you’ll achieve things you never thought you could do. Stop sitting around waiting for things to come to you, go get them yourself!

To the reader, don’t be lazy. Don’t feel entitled to getting opportunities just because you joined a club or program. Instead, figure out what you want, then go make it happen. Hustle. And then hustle more. Hear 100 “no’s” before you get a “yes”. Ask yourself, what’s the worst case scenario? Often times, you’ll realize that the worst-case is the same as if you didn’t do anything at all. And in that case, might as well try!

6. Learn about the world

To My Younger Self,

You’re in a bubble. There is so much happening in the world and the pace that information is growing is exponential. Ok, I get it. Our math teacher Mr. Nashi shaved his mustache and everyone’s talking about it. Cool. But guess what, this thing called Facebook just came out and it was made by a university kid. You should look into that. Learn about how this kid built a website using code. Oh also, remember that cool new phone that was just released? The iPhone? Well, you should think about what the implications are for the future. There’s more happening than what’s going on inside your classroom.

For you, the reader, think about what’s happening today that’s the equivalent of Facebook or iPhone. We have so much more innovation than ever before, including Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, CRISPR, Nanotech, Virtual Reality and so much more. Here are some resources to help you keep updated with the world:

7. Appreciate what you have

To My Younger Self,

Your happiness should not be tied to that G-Star t-shirt you really want or those Nike shoes that everyone else has. You have so many amazing things that most people around the world don’t have. You have a family that loves you, you have access to quality education, and you’re healthy. How many times do you wake up and appreciate that you’re healthy? People have diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, and others have broken or missing body parts. Put things into perspective.

To the reader, remember this: it’s easier to want what you don’t have than to appreciate what you already have. When you start appreciating what you already have, you’ll find yourself become happier, less stressed, and enjoying life.

8. Enjoy the moments

To My Younger Self,

The future hasn’t happened yet, and the past is a memory. Life is made up of moments, and it’s important that you enjoy each one of them.

Be happy. Don’t stress. You never know what’s going to happen next.

Since this will never reach my younger self, I hope it was valuable to you. It’s hard to imagine that these things aren’t openly discussed, and as a result, feelings of loneliness, stress, and confusion build up. From the discussions I’ve had with multiple younger people, it’s clear that these feelings are extremely common.

I also sense that the amount of pressure being put on younger people is increasing, and many parents and teachers aren’t aware of the effects. If you feel under pressure, be vocal about it. Communicate with those around you including your parents, friends, and teachers. It will make things better.

As you’re figuring out life, remember, you’re not alone.

*Navid Nathoo is Executive Director @ The Knowledge Society and a member of Founder’s Only.

Written by Navid.