Life Advice to 18-Year-Old Me

In a week, I turn 26. It’s not really a landmark birthday… not one that anybody makes a big deal over. But for me, birthdays represent change and growth. So maybe it’s not a big deal, but definitely a regular-sized deal.

My 25th year was eventful. After three years of travel, I signed a lease. I bought a car. I got an office job, then got let go from it. I spent the summer in Costa Rica, then built a bed in my CRV and traveled alone through the National Parks until I was ready to come back to Colorado.

At age 18, I was a freshman in college and had no idea what to do with my life. I felt this immense, heavy pressure to make the “right” choices, to choose a career, to not screw up. If I were to have a conversation with 18-year-old me, this is what I would tell her.

18-year-old Erin

1. The pressure you feel to be perfect is pressure you put on yourself. Let it go. 

You don’t have to be good at everything. Learn to let go of your idea of perfect. Instead of worrying about what the “right” thing to do is, do what feels right. If it ends up being something that doesn’t make you happy, you can always change your mind. Try not to judge yourself so hard; there is nothing good that comes out of mean self-talk. Learn to appreciate yourself and you will enjoy life so much more. Learn to treat your body well and move in ways that feel good. Develop a love and respect for your body, your mind and your spirit– ultimately, those are the things that will get you through tough times.

2. Pay attention to what interests you. Those things are your passion.

Notice the things you find yourself doing when you have free time. Notice what makes you feel most happy, alive and fulfilled. Go after those moments, they are what you are passionate about. Try not to over-think the path you are on. You might not think your passion can help you earn a living, but it can. You might not think you know anything at all, but you do. You already know what you are passionate about– just start paying attention.

3. Surround yourself with people that enrich you. Actively seek out things that improve you.

Spend time with friends and family who make you better. Let go of people who are constantly late, or who stress you out. Make time for those who make you a priority, and reciprocate that. Treasure your mentors. They will teach you more than you know. Recognize the people who you are learning from most. Spend time with them. Ask them questions. They will shape you. Be hungry for knowledge and stay curious. Read, write, go to events, find people you look up to. You will find more things you didn’t know you cared about, and it will lead you to a richer, deeper sense of fulfillment.

4. Learn about money. As much as you don’t want to care, it is important.

Read about as many ways to earn an income as possible… it’s not as boring as you think. Explore your entrepreneurial side. An office job isn’t the only way to earn a living. Nothing is actually stopping you from selling things or starting a business right now. Utilize the resources you have in order to find out what type of career interests you. Look at successful people in that industry and pay attention to what they did to get there, and what they continue to do. Learn about investing and compound interest; your future self will thank you. Don’t spend frivolously; develop good habits now. They will come in handy later.

5. Take every opportunity to get to know and love yourself. Believe that your ideas are important.

Stop micro-analyzing every little decision you are making. Focus on self-awareness and learn to trust and love yourself. Know that your ideas and opinions are important. Develop a strong relationship with yourself, after all, you are the person you will spend the most time with over the course of your life. Don’t get discouraged or discredit your thoughts or feelings. Your mental health is important. Start working on it early. Anxiety and depression don’t serve you now and they never will.

Take the time for reflection. It will improve you.

Take the time for reflection. It will improve you.

6. Stop taking things so personally. Learn how to accept constructive feedback and compliments.

Work to let things roll off your shoulders– most of the time, nobody cares nearly as much as you do. People do and say things that benefit them; usually it has nothing to do with you. If you receive constructive feedback, say “thank you,” listen and use it. And if you receive a compliment, say “thank you,” and give yourself credit.

7. You don’t know everything; admit it and ask for help. Mistakes are good; own up to them and learn from them.

Your parents and teachers have more life experience than you do. Use them as a resource. Often they are there to help you. Listen to them. You don’t have it all figured out, and you never will. Accept that. Learning is what life is about. Failure is something you will deal with often. Instead of condemning it, celebrate it. It is okay to make mistakes. If your actions hurt someone, apologize and mean it. If you do something that embarrasses you, let it go and move on.

8. It’s really not all about you. 

Nobody is watching your every move because they are too busy watching their own. Not everyone gets a trophy, so celebrate your accomplishments when you do something worthy of one, but recognize that everything isn’t only about you. Do things for people before they ask you to. Little things add up and make a big difference.

9. Stay organized however you can. It will make you feel more prepared for the inevitable chaos of life.

Make your bed and do your dishes right away. Keep your bedroom clean and put away your laundry instead of leaving it in a pile somewhere. Get a planner and write in it. This will help you prepare for the days and weeks ahead. Manage your time and money actively and effectively. Do not be late.

10. Terrify yourself. It’s how you will grow.

Do things that scare you, every single day. Instead of turning your back on your fears, face them. Find courage. Challenge yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. Show yourself that you can do it. And more importantly, show yourself that you can fail and come out better and stronger.

Often I read posts like this and feel inspired. But then I wonder how I should actually begin to make changes, and it all becomes a bit overwhelming. If this list resonates with you, I recommend choosing one thing. Then, make a goal. Maybe your goal will be to do something that scares you this week, or to do your dishes immediately after cooking. It can be small or big, but make it attainable. Pick another one when you feel it’s appropriate.

This list is what I would have told myself at 18, but I’m still working on all of this stuff at 25. I think that’s important. What will I want to tell my 26-year-old self a few years from now?

You might not be 18. You might not be 26 either. Ask: what do you want to tell yourself today?




Photos in this post courtesy of Facebook and Nate Luebbe. I’ll let you guess which.

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  • Reply
    November 22, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    I turn 26 in a month, and somehow you managed to write everything that has been on my brain. Beautifully written, and a great example

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      November 22, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      So good to hear that Kitty! Thank you and Happy Birthday!! 🙂

  • Reply
    November 29, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Great idea for a post. Great read!

  • Reply
    February 21, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    The right place is here and now. I’ve been pondering what advice I would have given my 26yo self, and, although I would perhaps do things differently now, I’m not sure my 26yo self would understand my advice, let alone act on it.
    I think the easiest would be to advise myself to work on my weaknesses (like public speaking), that I will not get anywhere unless I make things happen, and that I am not responsible for anyone else’s feelings or emotions (no matter what they say).

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      February 21, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      Those are awesome, Erin! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Reply
    February 21, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Nice read… mentioned many things which we dont really notice in routine but are important for growth… bring some more inspiring & exciting experiences from Costa Rica..Erin!!

  • Reply
    February 21, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    This is amazing, as you may or may not remember i am 19 and i really recognize myself in this post. I wish that i could meet 18 year old erin, we would have really hit it off ;p

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      March 4, 2017 at 1:16 pm

      Haha that’s awesome Tom! I bet we would have!!

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