Recently I was asked what I might say to myself as a teen, assuming I could travel back in time. The knee-jerk response was “Don’t worry about anything, just touch lives.” While I like this response, I also must admit that I kept thinking about the question. And thought about it some more. Then, in the most timely of ways, I was reading a piece over at Killing the Buddha wherein Nathan Schneider offered up 7 pieces of advice to his 18 year-old self, which rekindled my interest in the topic.
Here’s what he wrote:
1. Cultivate a really good memory; in doing, try not to lose perfect pitch, and learn languages.
2. Learn how to make rules for yourself and how to break them appropriately.
3. Try to understand the ideas of those you disagree with as well as you do your own.
4. When you want to do something, find the people who are doing it the best, ask to meet with them, and when you meet with them ask how they got to where they are.
5. When you’re frustrated with yourself, or otherwise in a bad mood, do something for someone else.
6. Don’t abandon friendships. If one isn’t working, modulate.
7. Be prepared: your most important relationships may take different forms than you expect them to.
I thought these were interesting, but my advice went in a different direction. Perhaps my Buddhist training spills out a little much here, but I’m convinced that our 18 year-old selves, being at the high tide of ego-centrism, may each need specific prodding in specific directions in ways that only we can offer.
So here’s my list, along with some additional context. And, I should also note, my list goes up to ten:
1. Learn humility.
There is nothing more dangerous than ignorance in action, so don’t be ignorant of the fact that you don’t have a monopoly on truth. Get your ego out of your decisions and you’ll be amazed at what happens. Walking your most loving talk will allow your light to shine a little brighter and keep you from falling prey to your youthful, egoic tendencies.
2. Embrace failure.
Failure is the greatest teacher once you become intimate with its implications. So be fearless in relation to responsible risk. You’ve got nothing to lose and lots to gain since it’s a direct path to the ultimate glories of life. Whatever your ideas are, surrounding success and failure, let them go since clinging to them only inhibits your growth as a person.
3. Be upright.
Honesty is the foundation to any authentic life. This means be honest with others as well as yourself. Doing so cultivates enough wisdom and compassion to allow for a life lived in the service of helping humanity evolve.
4. Study yourself.
This is important because the better you know yourself the more you’ll be able to see what’s inhibiting the natural states of grace and ease. Once you see what’s getting in the way, it will no longer be a mystery and therefore can no longer keep you small.
The world needs the focussed and energetic application of what you’ve learned and what you will learn, so get out there and explore. Commit yourself to traveling the world and seeing as much of humanity as you can. Know that the rest of the world isn’t like much of the privilege that you’ve known. Your blessings aren’t anything you should feel guilty about but rather what you should share with others. Travel will help you develop a more complete picture of how and what it is that you can give to the world.
6. Be engaged.
Life is shorter than you can imagine, besides each day is pure profit. So let your light shine and make a difference, never giving in to the temptation that you, as an individual, can’t change the world. History is littered with people born into less than you who have proven that any of us can fundamentally alter the course of the human experience in truly helpful ways.
7. Enjoy intimacy.
Allow yourself to feel for others deeply, but don’t be reckless with either your heart or theirs. And know that even in the pain of breaking up you’ll find that getting deeply involved with another is a gift that’s worth whatever pain might result. Through heartbreak we automatically become more compassionate in relation to others and we can also realize the Infinite within ourselves. When you see this you’ll find that you are available to the sacred in others.
8. Be open.
Openly define yourself and yet don’t be afraid to redefine as your psychological and spiritual center of gravity begins to expand. Know that there are no mistakes, only adventures.
9. Be curious.
Let the questions come, or, as the cliché goes, wonder as you wander. This will help you to see a number of things, none the least of which is that everyone is trying their best. Whether or not we agree with their methods or not isn’t the point. Being curious helps us get past this sticky place and into an open kindness that can’t help but attract kindness. This also applies to our interior landscape since curiosity about who and what we’re about, what we’re feeling and what we’re thinking, helps keep us from living in either the past or the future. Invariably, conscious curiosity forces us into the “Now” and supports a life that is willing and able to be truly expansive and truly generous.
10. Have courage.
This is another way of saying, avoid nothing. When we let the Infinite consciously inform all of our activity we realize that there is nothing to fear. Living without fear is a mysterious and magical offering that allows for us to truly capitalize on each gift we uncover. When we can truly and continually open to these gifts, no matter how dark life may become, you’ll know, very deeply, that there is a radiance in positively everything that will forever shine Truth if we are ready to receive it.
How about you? What’s your list?