25 years ago, I was a few weeks away from heading off to my first year of university. Since that time, I’ve often thought about how much I have changed and how I would have acted if I’d known then what I know now.
So in an act of self-indulgent narcissism, here are 25 things I would tell 25-years ago self:

  1. Teasing can be a sign of friendship – You were teased throughout  school. It was mean-spirited and meant to hurt you. In moving into the dorms, surrounded by young men (and women), you will be teased again. It might be away to establish a pecking order, but can also be a sign of friendship and familiarity. Do not immediately pull away from those who poke fun at you. A way to find out is to tease the person back. If they laugh, they are your friend. If they react with anger (i.e., how dare you break the pecking order and tease them), they are a bully.
  2. Don’t assume you are disliked – After 13 years of being the outcast, the victim, the weird0, you have come to assume everyone you meet will dislike you. This is, and has been, a false assumption. No one you will meet knows who you were or what you were like in high school. They will judge you for who you are now. Do not sabotage new friendships before they have begun. Show interest in them, ask questions, and decide if you like them.
  3. Stop being weird – Because you assume no one likes you, you stress your weirdness. It’s a defense mechanism to put people off. It doesn’t work. You can be a fan of Star Trek or Highlander or Stephen King, but don’t make it your identity.
  4. Not everyone is out to exploit you – You feared anyone paying attention to you. If the cool or cruel kids noticed you, it was either to tease you (“Hey Matt! You fucking freak!”) or exploit you. (E.g., “Hey Matt! What was the answer on the home work last night!”) When it came to exploitation, sometimes you almost gave in because you were grateful they did not tease you. But now, someone paying attention to you or showing affection is not a path to exploitation. Not everyone who is nice to you wants something from you. Don’t be distrustful of someone unless you have a reason.
  5. There are still bullies – Even with what is said above, bullies still exist who are out to exploit you, or delight in hurting your feelings. Your best defense is to ignore them. If they see they cannot get a rise out of you, they will move on. They will exist at college, in your job, when shopping, etc.
  6. Do not be a bully – Sometimes, the best way to get away from the bully is to join them in exploiting or demeaning those who are weaker, more shy or more eccentric than you are. Do not do this. Ever.
  7. Stand up for what is right when someone is selfish – There is a difference between a bully, who wants to hurt you, and someone who is selfish, where their focus is on themselves. Do not give in and think “Well, no sense making a fuss.” Stand up for yourself and demand to be treated fairly. Call them out on it because they are counting on you not saying anything. Tell someone to move their bag off a seat, don’t allow them to cut in line, etc.
  8. You can’t change people – Still, there is a difference between demanding you be treated fairly and expecting someone to treat everyone fairly. Some people call out people for littering or being vulgar in public—this will accomplish nothing and can invite a confrontation that is impossible to win. Such people will not change. Stand up for yourself, but that is as far as you can go.
  9. Friendships can fade and it’s not your fault – You are going to meet a lot of new people and form new friendships. Those friendships may endure, or they might last a semester. That’s life—not all friendships will be life-long. If a friendship does not last, do not assume it is because the other person does not like you. The friendship may have been based on proximity, like living a few doors down or having a class together. If you want one to endure, you must work to maintain it. And be prepared if the other person is not willing to put in the work.
  10. Show commitment to groups – You are suspicious of groups and are not a “joiner”. You fear joining a group will require you to sacrifice your identity or do something you do not want to do just to be accepted. There is truth to this. But be prepared to not be accepted or included in the group—be it a club, group of friends, or team—if you do not show a level of commitment that is needed to show you value the group and want it to succeed.
  11. Drinking – Right now, you do not drink. You will be tempted to and even pushed to by some people. But others will respect your decision. The decision, though, is yours. Be honest with yourself.
  12. Prioritize physical fitness – You do not have genetics on your side when it comes to weight and fitness. Youthfulness will fade; even with the same level of exercise and diet, you will slow down as you get older. Do not define yourself by your weight, pant size or muscle definition, for that is vanity, but invest the time to keep your body mobile. The ability to physically do things, without pain or soreness the next day, will become important as you get older. Start now, establish good habits, and laydown a base.
  13. Make decisions – There will be a lot of hard choices ahead of you in the years to come about money, school, relationships, family and your career. Make those decisions. More time has been squandered, lives lost and money wasted by not making a decision than making a bad one.
  14. Don’t be afraid to make quick decisions – You prefer to have time to consider something, and don’t be afraid to ask for it. But if you need to decide in the moment, make the decision. You have a lot of time ahead of you to mitigate or undo any bad outcomes that happen.
  15. End each day without regret and don’t beat yourself up – You will make a lot of bad decisions. You will make dumb mistakes. You will forget things, rush through things, say the wrong thing. Don’t spend hours or days telling yourself that you are dumb, worthless and incompetent. Try to learn from what happened, incorporate that lesson into your day-to-day dealings, and move on vowing to never make that mistake again. Be able to end each day looking in the mirror without regrets, knowing you made the best decisions you could and vowing to improve tomorrow.
  16. Don’t pretend to ask for someone’s opinion when you are really showing off – You are always looking for external validation since (1) you never received it from your family and (2) often your peers mocked you. You have a habit of wanting to show someone something you made under the guise of wanting their feedback or that it might interest them, but the reality is you are trying to show off. Others see this. It stinks of desperation and low self-esteem. Knock it off. If you are honestly interested in someone’s feedback, let them know why you are approaching them and ask specific questions. Otherwise, stop being so desperate for others’ approval and worry about what makes you happy and fulfilled.
  17. Don’t share all of yourself right away – You can sometimes assume friendships are closer than you think. Don’t share your thoughts and feelings right away. Do not be dishonest, but it’s okay to hold back. Not everyone will be comfortable with such a sudden rush of candor.
  18. Improve you how sleep – You have never slept well. But you have never made sleep a priority. You stay up too late, nap too long. It’s fine to have a late night, but don’t stay up late because you can. Your memory and anger issues come from being sleep-deprived for most of your life. Get better sleep and you will be able to focus better.
  19. Keep a notebook with you always – Always have a pen and paper with you to write things down. Phone numbers, assignments, product names. Do not trust your memory.
  20. Your life is a project – You are an organized person on projects, but not life. You forget events, are late with assignments, find yourself at the end of the week not having done what you wanted to do, etc. (This is because you are sleep-deprived.) Use the skills you bring to a project to run your life like one. Make lists of things you want to do. Make shorter lists of what you need to get done now. Cross things off as they are done. Keep a calendar, keep it updated, and check it often.
  21. Finish what you start and don’t be distracted – You get ideas frequently, often in the middle of accomplishing something, and tend to pursue them without completing what you set out to do. As you get older, the things you will need to do will become more complicated and more important. Do not end up like your father—asleep in front of the TV with a basement full of half-completed projects. Finish your task and cross it off the list before moving on to something else.
  22. Take advantage of culture – At university, you will be surrounded by culture—plays, music, lectures. Most of it free or at a price lower than normal. You will never again have access to these events. Take advantage of them, even if in the end you did not enjoy them at least you will know instead of being left to wonder.
  23. Buy music – You will be exposed to a lot of music. Buy what interests you, not just what you love. You are pragmatic, so hate to buy something you know you will not need, but make an exception. Music will mark events and milestones in your life, and give you common ground with people.
  24. Stay current with music – In college, you will be surrounded by music. After, it will be harder to be exposed to new music. For the most part, it will be the radio driving to and from work, which will be a limited selection. Find ways to learn about new music, listen to it, give it a chance, and buy it.
  25. Don’t worry about fashion – You don’t follow trends and wear conservative clothing. Some people will push you to keep up with trends, but you keep your clothes for a long time, often longer than trends last. This is OK. But it is also OK to buy clothing that is in-style, knowing it won’t last. Not everything you buy has to be worn for as long as it will last. However, make this an exception—don’t waste a lot of money things that will have a very short period of usefulness.