A few days ago, my wife and I stopped at a Panera Bread one morning for coffee and bagels for our staff.  It was a decent-sized order so there were a few minutes to peruse the patrons.

Young professionals on their way into the office, retirees with a little less urgency, the employees preparing for a days work, and a random young man… Unlike the rest of us, this guy (we’ll go with Ryan) was firmly supplanted at his table.  Didn’t seem like he was going anywhere anytime soon.

How did I draw this inference? 

It was some combination of the dozen notebooks or textbooks scattered throughout the table, noise-canceling headphones, and the, “Don’t even think about talking to me,” he had tattooed on his forehead.  Figuratively, of course.  This guy was on a mission.  And nothing was going to deter him.

It was his specific mission that left a mark in my brain, though.  Otherwise, I probably would’ve seen the haphazardly-organized young man, processed his situation, then moved on.

Ryan was studying for the SAT exam.

And seeing him do that took me back to a different time in life.  Back when I thought test scores, summer jobs, and social life were the most important things in the world!

Unsolicited Advice Guidelines

I turned to my wife as my stomach started to tighten remembering the stress that accompanies SAT exams (I took a couple), and I said: “If you could give that kid any two pieces of advice right now, what would you say?” “What in the world are you talking about?” Was her response as I realized that she still doesn’t hear the thoughts in my head… But after a little explanation and context, she was up to speed.
Our makeshift guidelines were these:

  • Advice can be about any aspect of life
  • Nothing is off limits
  • Your words have to be life-changing

We took a few moments to think about the sage wisdom that helped shape our lives to this point.  The good, the bad, and the cliches.  What had we learned over the past 30+ years that made them happy, successful, and joyful times possible?  It was quite an exercise.

Before we get too far down this path, I’m interested to hear your thoughts. 

Don’t scroll down for inspiration – just chill right here for a second…

What would you tell Ryan if you had the opportunity?  Think about it for a moment then let us know in the comments section below.

OK – you’re free to scroll again.

I tried to put myself in Ryan’s shoes

At 18-years-old, time is a completely relative concept.  18 years constitute a significant time period, but I realized at 25 that I didn’t know anything when I was 18; even though I was a supremely confident guy.  Some may say, “Overconfident.” Then the same happened at 30 when I could look back on 25.  And I assume that will continue happening throughout my life.

Each time period brings more wisdom and a greater appreciation for all past experiences, but more so – appreciation for the things in life that remain unexplored.  As Don Henley put it, “The more I learn, the less I understand.”

But at Ryan’s green young age, I thought I had life figured out.  So I modeled my advice with that thought in mind. And here’s what I came up with.

Here’s the Unsolicited Advice I Prepared to Give an 18-Year-Old Stranger…

Advice #1 – Do what you love

If you know what your passion is – Phenomenal!  Find a way to incorporate that into your life.  The more often the better!

However, if you’re in the majority of recent grads or young professionals who don’t know what your passion is and didn’t get help from the career test you took a senior year, just take a moment and listen to yourself. “What,” you ask??

When the clock hits 5:00 pm on a Friday or it’s noon on the weekend – what are you looking forward to most?  What gets you motivated and calls you to action?  What do you enjoy doing for free just because you like doing it?

I had organized boot camps in the past.  I know a friend that loves helping her friends with interior decorating ideas.  Another friend teaches young children how to swim.  Another tends bar 2 nights each week.  One of my in-laws takes a group of high-school-aged students on an international learning vacation every year – paid for by the sponsoring institution.  Another teaches a couple of nights each week at our local church…

I could write a post about these different ‘jobs’ but the point is they all are doing something they enjoy doing.  It may not be regular, full-time work, but most of them earn some form of income.  Find your something and start doing it now when you’re young and free.  With any luck, you’ll either turn it into your job someday or eventually realize you have a different passion.  Sounds like a win either way.

Why should you chase after this dream even if that isn’t financially best for you right now?

First, you deserve to be happy.  There’s only 1 opportunity to get the most out of life and you owe it to yourself to enjoy the ride.  Although heading to a mill, mine, or another manual labor-type job was a requirement for large portions of previous generations, we’re seeing that it is not necessarily the case today.

Some employer’s tout working from home to improve the work/life balance, while others are reducing hours from 40 to the mid-30s and still considering that ‘full-time.’  Additionally, you can earn income from anywhere in the world by working online. Our world marketplace is more interconnected now than it ever has been, which leads to many more opportunities and possibilities other than tending the cubicle farm.

Another reason is that you’re more successful, productive, and innovative when you’re happier. 

Most of us have, at a minimum, 8 hours of work per day.  Add that to prep time in the morning and the drive both ways, now you have a huge chunk of each weekday tied to your profession.  If you’re miserable it inevitably affects the other areas of your life – personal, financial, physical, spiritual…

If you’re unable to “work” at the thing you love on Day 1, no worries.  Start small. If you can work on your ‘fun job’ for 1 hour per day – it can motivate you through what you have to do the other 8 hours of your professional day.

Another benefit to taking action is that you can finally differentiate whether your dream is something you’ll actually love doing or something better sounding in your mind.  Either you have a job you love or now more mental energy to focus on the next idea.  Don’t be afraid to try and fail.  As long as you’re moving toward your ultimate goals, the journey will reward you.

Advice #2 – Never stop improving

My 3-year-old asked me the other day, “Daddy. When will I stop going to school?”

I thought about the question for a moment then responded with, “Sweetie.  One day in a long while you’ll stop going to school, but we should never stop learning.”

While she was just concerned about how many more days until Saturday came (when she could stay home with mom and dad), her question sparked a whole string of thoughts in my mind.  And ultimately I uncovered a long-standing belief that I never took the time to write out… Until now.

There are many great things about this life we live. One, in particular, is the variety when it comes to potential sources of strength or happiness. 

When I told my daughter we should always continue learning, I didn’t mean strictly in the scholastic sense.  In fact, I think I’ve learned more over this past year than in any previous year, academic or otherwise.  My wife and I opened a business together, and the previous owner had misplaced the instruction manual so we had to figure stuff out (e.g. hiring, marketing, staff development, payroll, SOPs, our Mission Statement, etc.).  This experience has been the perfect combination of energizing and terrifying, and although we’ve had some highs and lows we’ve loved this journey.

You don’t have to open up a business to continue learning in life.

Maybe you’ve wanted to get a handle on your nutrition for a while now? Or, you want to learn more about all of the investment options available to you. It’s possible you’re finally willing to dive deeper into your country’s history…I’m not strictly concerned with the subject matter, just that you’re moving forward to your goals. Making progress and advancing every day.

We have a pretty big family and the difference is stark when it comes to my older relatives who are actively improving every day with those that aren’t. 

My well-seasoned uncle proclaimed a couple of weeks ago that, “I’ve had a great life and now – I’m in the checkout line.”  I don’t want to begrudge the man his ability to live the life he desires, but since that admission, he’s lost the drive, his motivation, and his youthful spirit.  Things are starting to break down more rapidly than before, and I believe it’s all because he’s resigned to the fact that there is no use in improving.  In his words – he’s lived a good life and now he’s out.

Alternatively, we have an aunt/uncle combo that is at that same seasoned age (over 75) that refuse to sit still.  This uncle owns a business where he builds handicapped ramps for local folks in wheelchairs, while our aunt remains a fixture in the community.  The pair literally has something going on every day.  Oh, and they still play volleyball, too… I mean, these two are an inspiration.

Their active lifestyle doesn’t scare sickness away.  They’ve had their bouts with many ailments but their attitude of improvement, of the drive toward activity and engagement, has truly helped them to stay active and overcome life’s hurdles.  It’s a stark contrast to happiness and value of life compared to my uncle above.

Good Luck Ryan!

As the Panera store manager said my name for the third time to try and get my attention, my wife also gave me an elbow to help me rejoin the present moment

We never did stop to share our unsolicited advice with this 18-year-old stranger (Ryan), but I wonder what impact it would’ve had on him? As we walked out the door, arms full of coffee and bagels, I silently wished Ryan good luck.  There is a myriad of hurdles that await this young man and while we don’t know him, I’m confident in his outlook.  How many other 18-year-olds would be posted up at a Panera bread at 7:00 am on a weekday? Go get ’em, Ryan.

This post originally appeared on Max Your Freedom