Unsolicited Advice to My Teenage Self

Dear younger, more idiotic, teenage me:

Teen Jeff
Me at 13.

There are a few things I want to tell you about yourself and your future. Hopefully, they’ll save you some pain.

But before that, here are a few quick updates from the future:

First of all, the Internet wasn’t just a fad. It’s still around. Crazy that people stare at screens all day for work and then go home to do the exact same thing for fun, huh? Well, you’re the only one who thinks so.

Second, no flying cars yet. Yeah, I know. I’m bummed about that, too.

Lastly, you got married, had a kid, and did a bunch of other grown-up stuff. The crazy part? It wasn’t that bad. Which is what this whole letter is about. So let’s jump in, shall we?

Here’s my advice to you, teen Jeff:

  1. “Chasing girls” is a misnomer. The paradox is that you often find the one you’re looking for when you stop looking.
  2. Keep playing guitar and creating art. You won’t regret it.
  3. You will find yourself most contented when you think about yourself the least.
  4. Travel sooner.
  5. Not all commitments are bad. Make some.
  6. The habits you form in the next few years will stick with you, in some form or another, for the rest of your life.
  7. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
  8. Just pick a college already.
  9. Learn more about business. It’s not as evil as you might think.
  10. Get into shape sooner, not for what other people think but for your own confidence.
  11. You don’t have God completely figured out.
  12. Read for fun, even when you don’t have time.
  13. Restlessness is a season, not a lifestyle. Be ready to let it go.
  14. Stop being afraid of what other people think and trying to win their approval. Everyone you’re scared of right now doesn’t amount to much.
  15. Write. For yourself. For others. Just write. (And don’t ever settle for your first draft of anything.) There’s a reason words come to you in the middle of the night.
  16. Buy some stock in Apple. Seriously. You’ll thank me later.


The older, still idiotic You

Note: My friend, Emily, had this great idea to write a letter to her teenage self to celebrate the launch of her new book, Graceful. If you’d like to join, find out more here.

What advice would you give to your younger self? Share in the comments.

79 thoughts on “Unsolicited Advice to My Teenage Self

      1. Fantastic? I concur.
        #13 – a “season” – fist/forearm/elbow pump!
         Aren’t you concerned about  “making changes” in the time loop paradox?

        for me, I’d add: “Congrats you WILL publish a book, but it will be fractal art, not poetry or prose So BE PATIENT with and kind to yourself!”

        janet / buddhakat

  1. Never even think about picking up any type of tobacco product!
    You will never fully understand girls even after they grow up, so get over it and just go ahead and fall in love. It will be one of the best things you will ever do.
    Quit trying to fully understand God. He is too great for us to ever understand the way He thinks.

    1. Hasn’t Jeff written a great post today, Alan. I like your comment to it, too.

        About our trying to understand God: He has shared a thought about that, with us—-“My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” I am so taken with the way God expresses his thoughts. He can’t be anything but straightforward, and with that, he has quite a sense of irony and a great sense of humor when fitting.  (Why else is he called the happy God?) Have a fine day, Alan.

  2. I had a horrible life during my childhood and through my teens. As a result, I was damaged and was coerced into some damaged choices. 

    But if things had been different, or if I had not made the decisions I made, I wouldn’t be the me I am today, and wouldn’t have the children I have, or be married, second time around, to one of the most wonderful human beings on the planet. So really, I can’t even contemplate what I might say to my teenage self. Better to let the past lie, maybe, and live for today.

  3. I’d tell myself these things:

    – Stop looking back. Yes, it was good but you can’t go back. Look forward and trust God.
    – Make sure. Be absolutely certain about every decision.
    – Take more chances. Yes, that seems contradictory to the last one but it really isn’t (at least not to me).
    – Never stop dreaming. Our dreams and desires are God-given. Go for them at all costs.
    – Find the men at Third Option Men, the men at NoMatterTheCost.org and the men at Ransomed Heart and get to know them – QUICKLY. (These are the places I’ve learned about REAL manhood!)

  4. My notes to my teenage self…. Let God pick your husband. There is a whole new world out there, discover it. Bored is a state of mind, change your mind. Don’t open the green door. You’re the only one who thinks you know everything.

    Thanks for this prompt. It was fun.

  5. What a fine post, Jeff.  When in my very early 20’s I didn’t know (!)  that people  have to choose very carefully when they marry. And so—-to be what my family-by-marriage thought I should be, I put away my talents for art and writing, and my love of horses and riding,  in hopes that, then, they would accept me and not view me as ‘other’. It was obvious that they really didn’t know what to do with me. I threw myself into housekeeping and the raising of 4 great children. Never would I want to be without these exact children, so in that regard, it was worth it, even though in-laws’ views didn’t change.

    My advice to my teenage self, though, would have to be: Do not forget that the talents you have, and the fellow feeling for animals and the less-fortunate, cannot be buried forever. These things WILL surface—someday. It will hit you right between the eyes, and in the heart, when suddenly you can’t stand NOT to write…paint…draw…play the guitar…own a horse and learn to ride it with understanding so that both of you benefit….whatever it is, the day will come when you say, This.Is.What.I.Would.Have.DONE. And that day may come more than once. Your one-time young hopes will come full circle when you are older. Don’t throw in the towel at 20, by trying to impress the ones who are not really that impressed with you. Keep peace with them where necessary, but be true to yourself where possible. Know, too, that you’ll never be too old to keep those interests alive and working when those moments of truth show up.

  6. My advice to my teenage self would be:  “Be prepared.  Everything you swear you’ll never do, you’ll end up doing (including quitting your high-profile job, living in the suburbs, owning a mini-van, and cleaning your kids’ faces with your own spit).”

  7. “That grass is not greener over there; it’s a test.  You have the power to make your own grass as green as you want.  Once you jump over the fence, there’s no going back.  And you  WILL regret it.”

      1. Thanks, Jeff.  That has been the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn and it’s resulted in the most regrettable consequences. 

  8. I think I would tell my younger self to be at peace with who you are because who you are is who I am now and I wouldn’t be me if not for that stubborn, frightened, trying to please everybody so they’ll like me girl.  And I like who I am.  So she may have put off her dreams to do all that crazy futile pleasing, but now the dreams seem more valuable then they did back then.  Maybe different choices could have been made, but the thing I wish I had been back then was less afraid.  I have only just begun to be less afraid.  It’s a terribly hard habit to break!  

  9. Great stuff jeff… I often wish it were possible to combine the vigor of youth with the wisdom of experience…. Perhaps that’s why I should work out and take omega 3’s?

  10. I wanted to come back and say something else, because I was surprised by my emotional response to such an innocent question. 

    Life taught me not to have dreams. I was let down too many times. I learned to live just for today (possibly up to next Tuesday, if I’m really daring). Dreams aren’t real. But learning to live for today has its benefits. It means trusting God, which actually breaks all the old chains from the past. So, to all those broken little girls (as I was, even though I was a teenager): You are wonderful. You are loved by God, whose love is so deep that it goes beyond any hurt. Your wounds will only show you more of Him, in the end. Your life is a journey home, and when you finally get there, you will be in His arms. Never give up.I think some days I still need to hear that. Like today. 

  11. I would say to that frightened, overly self conscious, affection starved teen in my most kindly maternal voice that having a boyfriend will not soothe the ache in your heart, will not necessarily make you happy nor fill what only God can fill in your soul. Also, I would encourage your writing, not dismiss your thoughts or emotions and underscore your value.

  12. Tom, you’re not as cool as you think  (You’re not cooler either!)
         your kids will love you no matter what, as long as you love them, and then some
         ya, kids, three, all boys
         don’t hide your pride
         don’t buy the bribe
         push, then glide
         don’t take sides
         Lie (for fiction’s sake)
         buy low
         sell high (but don’t write high)
         Lead a tribe, even, and especially if they’re under 5
         Hug hello
         Kiss goodbye

  13. I like your list, but even if I could give it to myself, I doubt I would have listened.

    Regarding #15, write, I’d add two sub-points:

    15a) Keep a copy of everything you write.

    15b) If you ever say, “Someone should write that down,” that someone is you and you better do it.

  14. I LOVE this!!! 
    I would love to go back and talk to myself too…at around my late teens. I don’t know if it would have helped…after all i didn’t listen to my family or my friends, what makes me think I would listen to an older me?
    What I do think though is that I learned a lot by my mistakes, and they have led me to where I am now…so maybe it wasn’t so bad.

  15. Love this post!  I did this a long time ago in a notebook to myself (I think I was like 27) and I am ready to give myself another talking to.  You told yourself a lot of great stuff. 🙂

  16. Great collection of advice. I agree with it, especially the part about girls. I shared just last week with a group in Tampa about the regrets most of my peers have today based around that area. so many would like a rewind button.

  17. Love it Jeff!  I also wrote to my teen age self at my place here. . .

    Her book is such a great thing.  Teens need all the help they can get;)
    And my husband and I are reading your book right now. It’s as if you pulled the thoughts right out of our heads!  We run a blanket ministry for the homeless just down the road from you and next week is the kickoff for the very first homeless outreach in Bowling Green.

    Thank you for your book.  I’m recommending it to EVERYONE!

  18. I like this. What’s funny is I only recently found the letter I had written to myself when I was 13. I have posted it on my blog.
    I think I am going to take this idea and write back! 

  19. Thanks – you inspired me to write me a letter!! It’s very introspective to the mindsets we develop and encouraging to push through the bad and give credit for the good. 

     We all have a purpose!  Love your writing…

  20. An excellent one! Even at middle age still feel like a teenage…And believe to start a new life all over again from any point…So, one can be a teenage as long as he wants…lovely post!

  21. What a great post! I would tell myself: 
    1. It’s okay to take yourself – and life – a little less seriously.
    2. Learn to be comfortable in your own skin. You won’t be happy otherwise. 
    3. Be adventurous and try new things. It’s more fun than sitting home alone watching reruns – and you’ll have some great stories to tell. 
    4. Failure is okay. Just learn from it. 
    5. It’s also okay if you don’t have it figured out. Sometimes not having a plan is the best plan.

  22. Great addition Jeff. I love your posts for their diversity and uniqueness.  Not all commitments are bad. Make some. The best advice for teens.

  23. Jeff, I want to do this and will join in on the idea started by your friend. In my work I write a lot about my childhood. I just chronical the crazy little kid I was. Advice. Hmmmm. I wonder if I would have read it? Well, I read the ketchup bottle if nothing else was available so I supose I would have. Thanks for sharing yours. Come visit the Princess Speaks when you aren’t buried in a book. Oh wair, you write books… Susan

  24. 7 and 14 are huge ones for me. Still are. If I could have learned about those when I was younger I would have been way farther ahead. I didn’t realize how important 10 was either until recently. 

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