I got this idea from The Player’s Tribune, a site comprised of stories from contributing athletes. I particularly like the articles under the sub-topic Letter to My Younger Self. Even though everyone will still say I’m young at the age of 25, a lot has changed in the past few years. I think about things differently than I used to and I’m more aware of myself and my surroundings. Maybe I’m one of the few, but if I could go back ten years and relive the high school memories, undergrad friendships, and graduate school studies I would. There’s certainly plenty of things I would do differently so without further ado, here is my letter to my younger self.
It’s your birthday. It happens to fall on a Tuesday this year – October 11, 2011. Stereotypical day and it happens to be the only day of the week in which you have a night class. You’ll carry through most of the day without thinking twice about turning 20. However, you should. It’s another year closer to graduating. Another year closer to “real life”. Another year closer to dying. Another year of growing up.
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Let’s go back five years – 2006. You’re a freshman in high school and similar to how you are ten years later, you put all of your trust in others. Decisions on what classes you should take, whether or not you should lift before basketball games, what clothing you should buy – they’re all influenced by those you look up to. Coaches, friends, teachers, and family members. Dare I say that ten years later you will realize that those people aren’t always right. While you need guidance at 15, you’re still responsible for your own decisions. You should speak up. You should be the decision-maker.
I wish I could tell you that making decisions on your own is easy, but the truth of the matter is it’s not. The outcome of your decisions will sometimes have a major affect on you. Other times, not so much. You’ll be proud of the decisions you do make on your own – calling off relationships when you weren’t ready for them, attending the University of Iowa, spending summers as a lifeguard. You won’t be proud of the times you let people influence your decisions – getting drunk to please others, skipping classes to hang with friends, deciding on a major. When you make a decision on your own, you can live with the outcome. You ultimately choose your fate and more often than not you will be able to see the positives in doing so. It’s important to be intentional and focus on each and every decision. No more acting on impulse. No more doing things for others. Becoming accustomed to the influence of others at a young age may never allow you to escape. Be cautious and act now.
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Fast forward nearly six years – July 14, 2017. This is where I write you from today. In most people’s eyes, your an adult. On the inside, you’re confused. You question more things than you ever have before (and no, we’re not just talking about religion). Decisions are still tough, so you look to those you trust: coaches, friends, teachers, family members. The terms “coaches” and “teachers” take different forms now, but nevertheless you’re influenced by people. Stop this. Own your decisions and never look back. Life is too short to spend all of your time worrying about upsetting other people. By doing this you’re just upsetting yourself.
You’ll question where life is headed. All of the possibilities make it difficult to predict what might happen. You think in a way that only the next two sentences could accurately describe. There’s no one person made for you out there, you’ll never get married, kids would just take away your freedom, drinking is overrated, people are too selfish, and healthy is the goal. Meanwhile you’re waiting until you find the one so you can get married, you love kids, Saturdays spent drinking with the boys are fun, everyone acts with good intention and a couple donuts never killed anyone. I’ll reiterate: you’re confused. You don’t believe in the cliche manifestations of American culture. Why is it that marriage must signify commitment? Isn’t it just a religious doctrine that makes things more difficult? Who defined the standard work week? Who says I have to raise a family? If our culture is known for being materialistic, ignorant, and fat, what makes you think that it’s ideal to stick to the norm? Then again, you don’t want to be an outcast. You care too much about what other people think to let your reputation falter to lazy, careless, and weird. So you continue to please other people by doing things that you often question. You don’t take as many risks as you would like and you’re not fully comfortable making decisions on your own.
People tell you things will change. That you will find “the one”. That decisions will get easier and you’ll start to give less of a shit about what other people think as you age. But you’ve never been one to plan for the future. You act in the moment. Your patience for resolution is dwindling away, because with every second, minute, and hour that passes you’re loosing precious time. Time that you’ll still be able to dash a little pinch of youthful spice into your life before those spices lose their flavor and your roaring twenties are a thing of the past. Maybe you’re listening to too much “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran, but you wholeheartedly agree with making the most you can of your youth. And since life’s only giving you until the ripe age of 28 to call yourself “youthful”, you best try to experience as much as you can. You want to be the old guy that has stories for the younger generations. Wisdom and shrewdness is garnered by seeking new experiences: traveling, taking risks, avoiding boredom and complacency, and much more. You must seek as many opportunities as you can.
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October 11th, 2011 – You come back to your dorm room to the surprise of your high school sweetheart in your room with a birthday cake. You should be happy. You should be excited and smiling from ear-to-ear. She deserves the biggest hug you could ever imagine giving to a human being that’s smaller than you. It shouldn’t be your intention to make her effort feel unappreciated. Even though you’re able to establish trust, honesty, and loyalty, you don’t feel that way on the inside. You feel like you’re cheating yourself and her out of life. You’re waiting for things to escalate to the point where you can call it off, but you just can’t let go. Eventually, she’ll be the one to call it off. You’ll feel relieved at first, but that feeling will soon change to sadness and you’ll cry for the first time in your adult life. You’re not mature enough to date. You may never be mature enough to date, but you justify it by telling yourself that commitment is tough. The experience of meeting someone for the first time is riveting and you’ll wish you could experience that over and over again. The truth is, you can’t.
You might think about this day often. Perhaps it’s a few days and experiences with this girl that frequently cross your mind. The July 4th, 2015 Cubs game. The September 2015 sleepover that would end up being the last time you kissed her. The countless times you parked your car at your “spot”. You give the space because you both need it. You both need to experience more than one another.
You won’t regret the fact that you gave so much time and attention to this girl. What you will regret is the way you treated her. How you let your optimistic, gregarious self become a pessimistic asshole and how you let other people’s thoughts and beliefs determine what you should do with your life. You’re smarter than that, come on, Nick.
Now let’s tackle some other things, because I’m not writing you to solely talk about your past relationship. You often did the same thing with your family. Your mother does so much for you and your dad is such a hard worker. You should take the time to thank them once in a while.
You don’t give much thought to your college major. You consult with an adviser that thinks they know what you want, but nobody really knows except you and boy are you indecisive. Think about the things you do well. Think about the things that you value. Lastly, think about the money. Think about it while you’re young so you’re not addicted to it when you’re older. Choose something that allows you to do the things you probably don’t spend much time thinking about at the current moment: traveling and helping people. Choose a major that puts you in a position where you don’t feel the need to climb the corporate ladder and where there’s opportunity for growth. In order to do this, you need to buckle down now and focus more on your school work and less on your Friday and Saturday nights. Become a nurse or a teacher. You will get enough satisfaction from your job to compensate for any wages you think you might miss out on.
You’ll soon realize that life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. You should be more responsible and conscientious, but you won’t be. You should tell your mother, father, brothers, and girlfriend you love them more, but for some reason your stubbornness won’t allow you. You’re jealous of the way things are for others while you make no effort to change the outcomes for yourself. You give random people more attention than you give your family and girlfriend. You’re kinder, more understand and empathetic around these random folks than you are around the people that are most important to you. You need to change this. Please don’t let this go on for another four years. Please. Oh, you don’t hear me? I guess I’m writing to you too late.
The proof that you’re a good person is validated by the amount of time you spend thinking about these things. But actions speak louder than words and you’re not one to act. You need to try a lot harder to not be a dick, because you’re not one. Most people might not get this impression of you at all, but you see it and so do the people you’re closest with. You can play the game perfectly: seeming like a great guy to those who don’t know you, but possessing a completely different personality around your best friends. You should live more selflessly and find satisfaction in bringing joy to others. Treating those who are most important in your life with more respect and decency. I know it may seem like I’m being hard on you, but I want you to be more comfortable with yourself when you come to be this age and not let anxiety and depression eat away at you on your dark days.
Regardless of where you come from and how badly you wish you could change outcomes, you won’t be able to. It’s important to recognize that the best things you will ever have in this life are the memories. There’s no sense in thinking about how things could have went. What’s over is over and you’re left with is the memories. Focus on what you can change now. And maybe think more about the future, because what happens tomorrow may or may not have an effect. Memories will last a lifetime and that’s the motivation behind your future blog. It’s crazy how even the bad ones seem to bring joy now that you’re older.
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One of my earliest memory of peeing my pants in first grade and blaming it on a leak in the ceiling. Tears quickly turned into laughter when I ran into the gym wall in seventh grade trying to save an arid pass that nearly bent my nose sideways. Running around inside the toilet bowl slide at the park district pool and getting yelled at or kicked out by the lifeguards. Laying on a blanket on the 50-yard line of my high school football field and watching the stars move in the night sky with my first love. Pumping myself up for high school football games and taking my habitual pre-game dump in a stall next to my best friends. Buying Phillips vodka and filling water bottles with it to sneak drinks into a Blink-182 concert. Getting a phone number from “the hot girl” at the bar. Dancing my ass off whenever “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk would play at DCs in Iowa City. Seeing how much food we could put down when going out to eat with the guys. Traveling around the country eating Taco Bell breakfast with one of your best friends.
The next six years will be interesting. You’ll get arrested for being an idiot. You’ll meet some of your best friends. You’ll drink more alcohol then you wanted to. You’ll enroll in a grad program solely because it’s an opportunity to get a free degree. You’ll teach students not to drink as much alcohol as you did. You’ll roadtrip across the entire western half of the country. You’ll lose a fair amount of money gambling. You’ll graduate with two degrees. You’ll have back surgery. You’ll get a big boy job. You’ll quit your big boy job. You’ll book a vacation to Hawaii to escape for a bit. You’ll grow up.
So what’s the best advice I could give you at this point? You don’t necessarily need to change a lot, because then you may not be the person that you are today. You could treat those you love better, be more aware of the situations you put yourself in, and maybe graduate with a different major.
I’m being hard on you now, but you will thank me.
Then again, I’m only 25, so what do I really know?