A Handful of Life Tips I’d Give My Teenage Self

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Do you ever wish you could go back in time and just drop some life advice on your angsty teenage self?

I sure do. And at 34 I feel like I’ve gained just enough experience to feel I have something worth sharing with a young, foolish, goofy version of myself. These tips might have saved me lots of time and frustration.

Most of the things I’d  share can really be condensed down to:

  • respect yourself and your ability to learn, create, and grow
  • respect your time
  • do things that increase your self-respect, your self-sufficiency, and your options

Here are the life tips I’d give my teenage self.

And consider sharing this post if you know anyone who would benefit from reading. Parents. Children. Grandchildren. It’s always a good time for some solid life tips.

Follow Social and Technical Trends

Pay attention to where social and technical trends are headed, and get involved.

I don’t mean start wearing skinny jeans. And I don’t mean buy a new iPhone. I mean try to see where things are headed and position yourself strategically to take advantage of coming opportunities and industries.

I know you’re young and your prefrontal cortex is still developing. I get it. Just try.

Instead of spending your teens and 20s playing video games in your “free” time, create things using modern technology. Here are some other things you could be doing that will pay dividends on the time you invest:

  • Learn to create your own video games
  • Learn how to build websites
  • Start an online store
  • Start a YouTube channel
  • Start a blog
  • Start a forum and make friends

This isn’t to say that anything not built using computers and the internet is a waste of time.

By all means, write a book. Go outside and draw what you see. Make pottery. The act of creating is energy well spent.

But building skills with growing technologies gives you many more opportunities to grow and change with the times and make increasingly more money as time goes on. Modern skills just give you more options.

Cool trends are happening all the time. Nothing is static. Not you. Not your interests. Not your insecurities. And definitely not the job market.

By observing technical and social changes, you can position yourself to fill high-value roles.

The Institute for the Future (yeah, it’s a thing) estimates that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.

So pay attention. See where things are headed. Get in the game.

There’s No Such Thing as Free Time

No matter how you spend your time, today is going to come and go.

Time doesn’t wait for you to grow up, feel ready, or “get your shit together”. Time keeps moving. You need to keep moving too.

Time is a limited resource. You can make more money, but you cannot buy more time. Unfortunately, wasting time is the default for the majority of us.

While relaxing and recharging is necessary, too much spent on mindless activities doesn’t really refresh you and can actually have negative effects. If you’ve ever binged Netflix for a few days (or weeks) at a time, you know how that makes you feel about yourself.

Use your time well.

Plant seeds that can grow into something amazing. You’re not guaranteed a return on any investment, but your chances are much better if you use your time to build skills and make meaningful contributions to your own life and the lives of others.

Don’t let your days pass you by without making progress in the areas that matter to you.

At the end of the day, you know if you can do better. Be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up over it. But commit to using your time more productively.

I read a post on Reddit in 2016 that showed me the importance of making at least a small amount of progress each day. No exaggeration, this mindset was the beginning of some life-changing habits. I encourage you to read it. No More Zero Days.

Everything Compounds

Your habitual thoughts matter. Your habitual actions matter.

Little bits of time wasted here and there on your phone add up to minutes, days, and years that could be spent in ways that are more satisfying to you.

Consistent small amounts of time learning a new language or a new skill add up to minutes, days, and years of growth.

Even improving a small percentage daily or weekly makes a huge difference in your outcome.

Whatever you spend your time doing, you’re getting better at that thing. Only practice doing the things you want to be good at.

I spent literally thousands of hours playing video games in my teens and 20s. I could have mastered multiple hard skills in that time. But instead I “invested” my time into activities that, in my opinion, had no long-term positive return. More than that, I didn’t use that time to build skills or projects that would be more valuable in the future. I consider that a loss.

I’m not trying to say there’s no room for relaxation and fun. Play games. Just know which activities lead you to your goals and which keep you stuck in a rut.

If I could, I’d encourage my younger self to strike a much better balance between relaxing and participating in activities that could improve my life (and the lives of others).

Enjoy Some “Mindless” Hobbies

Trying to fill every single minute of the day with productive activities is a recipe for burn-out and is largely counter-productive. “All work and no play…”

Relaxation is necessary. Don’t mistake rest and relaxation with laziness.

We’ve all experienced moments where we just needed to turn our brains off for a while. And we’ve also experienced that moment where we realize, “Okay, that’s too much doing nothing for now.” Both of those feelings should be respected, and we should try to strike a balance that works for us.

Jane McGonigal is a big proponent of a healthy amount of play and she specifically talks about video games. She gives an estimate for a healthy amount of relaxation and warns about too much of a good thing:

Studies show that games benefit us mentally and emotionally when we play up to 3 hours a day, or 21 hours a week. (In extremely stressful circumstances – such as serving in the military during war-time – research shows that gamers can benefit from as many as 28 hours a week.) But for virtually everyone else, whenever you play more than 21 hours a week, the benefits of gaming start to decline sharply. – Jane McGonigal

The goal is to get all of the benefits of relaxation without going past the point where relaxation turns into laziness, self-loathing, and social isolation. Only you know when this happens. Respect it when it occurs.

It’s Better to Produce Than to Consume

Consuming content is easy — you just sit down and read or watch.

Consuming is necessary, especially in the beginning of any endeavor, but the sooner you make the move to producing and doing the better.

In his book Ultralearning, Scott Young explains that people who learn and actively create wildly outperform those who passively consume information.

Watching TV will never get you anywhere worth going. Writing scripts and producing your own low-budget series, however, could change your life.

Your early efforts might not make you millions, but you might discover activities you’re really good at or that you really enjoy. You won’t know if you don’t produce.

Producing isn’t just about the end result. The act of creation alone puts you in a different mental space. Producing inherently gives you new experiences that help you learn and grow.

So if you’ve been wanting to write a book, sit down and start.

If you’ve thought about painting, get some acrylics, some brushes, and a canvas and get started.

If you’ve wanted to learn to code, find a free channel on YouTube or a paid course on Udemy or just Google until you find something interesting and get started.

You never know where your interests will take you, so just start.


Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

C’s Get Degrees

I was stressed out. I developed an eye twitch sitting in a college calculus class. I shared my stress with a guidance counselor who told me: “Relax, Lyle. C’s get degrees.”

You don’t have to be perfect to pass.

You don’t have to be perfect to be valuable.

By itself, getting A’s isn’t all that important. Learning is important. Growing is important. Understanding how things relate to one another is. Understanding the fundamentals is. Applying yourself is.

Instead of chasing A’s, use some of that time to build things with the knowledge you’re gaining. Be active. A handful of quality, realistic projects goes much farther than just having a degree — whether you got a 4.0 or just barely made it.

I’m not advocating mediocrity. I’m advocating making conscious decisions about how to spend your time to get a better real-life outcome.

C’s get degrees, but you’ll never regret applying yourself. You will always get some benefits from applying yourself to your activities and goals.

Maybe school isn’t your thing. Great. Do what you need to pass your classes and move on. But apply yourself to something else that matters to you.

Apply yourself to something bigger than just finishing work or homework so you can “do nothing”.

Pick one thing that you believe will bring you joy if you master it. Or pick something that will bring you money if that’s what you want. But pick something that you can commit to and give it time to see where it leads.

Think of it as an experiment. Treat it as an adventure.

There is No Waste

I used to be afraid of starting any project. My brain would throw all sorts of worst-case scenarios at me.

“What if I commit to the wrong project? What if I don’t enjoy it after a few days or weeks? What if I start with the wrong method? Maybe I should do more research first…”

And on an on.

The result? I chose to do nothing. But doing nothing provides no output, and it’s impossible to reuse or transform what doesn’t exist.

When you try, even if you fail to accomplish what you initially set out to do, your efforts have the side effect of giving you experience. You learn through doing, even if all you learn is what not to do. You also learn how to just start. And you learn how to apply yourself. And, after trying and trying, you build one of the most valuable traits: grit.

Everything you do will teach you something. Your successes, yes. And even your “failures”.

By trying new things you learn new things. You learn about yourself, about the world, about what works and what might not work so well (for you, right now, this time).

Don’t be afraid of failure. Our concept of failure is very limited and short-sighted. For the most part, failure is a temporary situation.

Don’t fear failure. Instead, fear inaction. The results of failure can at least be used to create something better.

What do you think?

What kind of life tip would you give a teenage version of yourself? What do you wish you’d known or realized sooner rather than later?

Who do you know that could benefit from advice like this?

What interests you?


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  1. It is not uncommon to look back to a time in your life and realize that you didn’t do your possible best at the time, we all get that feeling. This feeling might not be outright regret, but I know I’ve had moments that I’d surely wish i made a different choice. The popular saying that “if you knew better, you’d do better” comes to mind.

    I think the advice on your list I find more compelling is the one about the compounding effects of all our actions and how that knowledge can be put to deliberate use by spending time doing things that are important and valuable.

    This has been really insightful. Thanks for sharing.

    • Rhain, thanks for sharing your thoughts. If only knowing better and doing better always went together…

      I’m glad you find the compounding effect compelling. It’s mind-blowing how small actions have a huge impact over time.

  2. Wow!  Thanks for such an insightful and inspiring post.

    I figured I’d see the “and the winning lottery numbers are” mentioned somewhere in there but then you really wouldn’t be doing yourself a favor growth-wise.  What you’ve said here rings true on many levels.  I played away a lot of my younger years that could have been better spent in the pursuit of bettering myself and enhancing my skill sets.

    That said, I spent a lot of time entrenched in technology and that has served me quite well in my professional life, if not in my social life.

    Thanks again.  This was a great read.


    • Scott, thanks for your comment and compliment.

      I laughed about the winning lottery numbers. Yeah, I’m glad I never “won big”. That’s probably good for some people, but I don’t think I would have developed the skills or mindset I have now, which I think is more valuable than dollars.

      Technology has and will continue to serve us well. And the best part: there is technology available for all kinds of people. You don’t need love (or be good) at programming. Graphic design. Writing. Art. Research. Analysis. It’s all on computers and is very accessible given the work.

  3. Hi Lyle,

    These are valuable advice and how I wish I had found your article sooner when I was in my teen age! I have wasted a lot of time.

    Indeed, developing our skills is the best thing we can do instead of playing video games and watching movies. In this informational age, anyone can change their life with the available information, it’s the great blessing we have nowadays. Information is wealth! We need to take advantage of the advancement in the technology and make use of it.

    When I read “85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet” I was shocked, amazed and surprised. It tells it all! It might seem that we have a decade for 2030 but we know time flies.

    The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot. – Michael Altshuler

    Time management is life management and I need to work on managing my time properly. Wow, that post is amazing and I want to live in a NON-ZERO system. Thanks for sharing that thought-provoking article.

    I am going to share what I learned from your article in our Church youth group, for sure they are going to get valuable insights. I am bookmarking your post for future reference.

    • Paul,

      I like that quote about being the pilot. That’s such a strong mindset.

      Time does change quickly, but that’s part of what makes life fun. The good thing is that if you “missed” some new trend, just wait a bit because another opportunity is coming. You just have to be prepared and growing.

  4. Wow, I related so much to this article, as these tips will definitely help me to get back on track, as I like many others, waste a lot of time on meaningless activities. I have actually bookmarked this page to read again, as your writing is very motivational and applicable to life. With all these new advances in technology, it can be hard to be productive

    • Living in the information age has plenty of advantages for personal and professional growth. And you’re right. It also introduces lots of distractions.

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