I’ve lived well past the 20 year mark in my life, but those first twenty years of my life were full of life lessons that I carry with me every single day. Sometimes I may not have understood these things in the moment because I was too young to understand what was really going on. Some of these lessons weren’t even things being shown to me at the time at all, but looking back, all these lessons come through loud and clear.
1 year old
Starting well isn’t nearly as important as finishing well.
My early life was a mess, and my parents were trying to figure a lot of things out, but where I came from didn’t need to determine where I was going.
2 years old
Nothing can steal your destiny.
As a gifted child who excelled well beyond the knowledge and wisdom of other two-year olds, I wasn’t afforded an environment that many gifted children had to thrive. You don’t have to look any further than your favorite world changer, like Steve Jobs, to see that no one can steal your destiny from you, unless you decide to give it away. You can be more than your environment.
3 years old
Your toughest journey today, makes for your easiest journey later in life.
At three years old I was moved across the country in the back of a raggedy old truck, right in the dead of winter. I don’t remember more than a few moments of this journey from New Jersey to California, but I do know that it helped prepare me to live in my car when I was a teenager. It gave me a foundation of toughness for the future.
4 years old
Life has a way of giving you second chances when you least expect them.
When I was four years old my mother, my sister, and myself moved back from a dysfunctional life in California to New Jersey to live with my grandmother. This was perfect timing for me to start kindergarten in the place I would call my home for the next three decades. Most importantly, my grandmother provided an environment of structure and education that would carry me well into adulthood.
5 years old
When you’re forced to fly solo, life feels like it’s ending when the journey is really just beginning.
In my third or fourth month of kindergarten, my mother sent me to the bus stop by myself for the first time. I felt rejected, abandoned, and hurt in the deepest way I had ever imagined up until that point. I cried for the entire ride to school. Two months later, I saw another kid crying on the bus. I asked him why he was crying. He told me it’s because he missed his mother. I told him that he was going to be fine, and we could play together if he wanted to after snack time. This was the beginning of my pursuit and passion for leadership.
6 years old
Parents don’t have to be perfect in order to help you figure out who you are.
My earliest memories with my real father are during Christmas when I was six years old. From my perspective, I was meeting him for the first time since I hadn’t seen him for many years. He’s not a perfect person, just like every other parent in the world. However, meeting him and realizing we have the same mannerisms and proclivities gave me a sense of identity. He may not have done everything right, but he helped me learn who I was without even knowing.
7 years old
Your passions have a purpose. Don’t disregard them as simple interests.
By the time I was seven years old, all I wanted for Christmas was my own laptop computer. I loved video games, gadgets, and tinkering with anything technological. I’m thankful for my grandparents desire to fan the flame of those passions, as those things would mature and later become my very method of survival when all I had was my passions to provide for myself.
8 years old
Everything seems like a big deal when it’s happening, but with time it’s NBD.
I had my first big crush when I was eight years old. Her name was Ashley Anne, and boy did I daydream about this girl. She consumed every thought I had for months. Eventually, I worked up enough nerve to pass her a note that asked if she liked me back. She looked up from the note in front of our entire class and said “I’m sorry, but I don’t like you at all.” Life sucked right then, but I couldn’t give a flying flip about that event today. Time is really powerful.
9 years old
It’s the weird things you do which have the most potential.
My parents, my friends, and my teachers all thought I was weird for carrying my little HTML book around. During school, I would write little code mockups for building websites that I could test when I got home. When I was home I would build useless webpages for hours upon hours. It may have looked weird then, because the internet hadn’t even made a name for itself yet, but when I was selling websites for big money at 14 years old, it didn’t seem so weird anymore.
10 years old
Have the smallest amount of friends that you’re comfortably capable of spending time with.
I had a big sleep over birthday party when I was ten years old. All my friends were there. I still have photos from this little shindig actually. As a matter of fact, when I recently looked through these photos I noticed something really telling. Only one person out of 25 or 30 kids still has a relationship with me today. I have had a lot of fun with friends over the years, but there are a few exclusive relationships that matter a lot more than the others. Don’t fight it. It’s okay to build lifelong relationships with a select few friends. It’s with these people that I find the most joy.
11 years old
Never try to change yourself so others will accept you.
As a kid I played soccer, hockey, and baseball. When I was eleven years old, I wanted to play football. My friends were doing it, and it seemed like that’s just what guys my age should do according to all the TV sitcoms I watched. Here’s the catch though; I freaking hate sports. I loved being athletic, but I HATED sports. It was all just so boring for me. One of the best things my mother ever did for me was convince me not to play football; it just wasn’t me and I got no joy out of playing sports. Many of my friends went our own separate ways this year, and I never really talked to some of them ever again. However, I learned a lot about insecurity and being confident in who I really was. I would rather be alone and be myself, then be with friends and act like someone I’m not.
12 years old
There are some moments that can’t be recreated, so make them count the first time.
I was in the choir when I was in sixth grade. I was pretty good actually. I would go on these little trips to perform shows at events with the most talented in other local school choirs. Well, one day after school we were coming back from one of these musical events, we all got off the bus and waited in a classroom for our parents to pick us up. Sitting in the back of the room by a closet door, this cute little girl Donna grabbed my hand and pulled me into the closet. Then she kissed me. It didn’t matter how many times I got kissed after that, it was never the same. So take a moment to enjoy all the little firsts in life, and really make them count. You can never have a second first.
13 years old
Life has a way of being spontaneously fun sometimes.
This could easily become a long story, but for the sake of keeping it short I’ll just put it plainly. My parents bought a monkey when I was thirteen. A bonafide, lives in the jungle, eats bananas, and throws poop, real life monkey. When I was 12 I wouldn’t have imagined that a monkey would be in my future. There are some really fun and random joys headed your way, so never stop hoping for the future. Little surprises are hidden everywhere.
14 years old
Different people are created for different sized purposes.
At fourteen years old I was building and selling websites. I wanted to build a company. I wanted to change the world. I wanted to lead people to places they never thought they could be. The problem is, none of my friends felt the same way. Their plans were far less ambitious, if they had any plans at all. I was ready to be 21, they were barely able to be 14. I used to think they were way off the mark, and totally wasting their lives away. Then I realized I was the weird one. Different people find joy in different things. I found my joy in focusing on changing the big picture, but there’s nothing wrong with being someone who finds joy exclusively in small picture.
15 years old
Confront your challenges quickly, because they get much harder the longer you wait.
I was on medication for being ADD from kindergarten to tenth grade. It caused me to have no appetite, and sometimes be malnourished. It caused me to be anti-social. It caused me to be artificially mentally focused and physically strong. It made me a person I wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t right for me. So after fifteen years, I decided to stop taking it cold turkey. The next six months sucked. I didn’t know how to have an appetite. I didn’t know how to focus on my own. I didn’t know how to have friends and manage my plethora of raging hormones. I wish I had confronted this issue much much earlier.
16 years old
Stop being so patient and take every opportunity you can get your hands on. There isn’t always ‘next time.’
I was offered the most boring job in the world when I was sixteen. I mean, really boring. It was a customer service position where I would simply send emails and respond to clients at an online job board. I didn’t say, “I’ll take the next job that comes along because it may be more interesting.” I went for it. That job ended up providing me with incredible mentorship opportunities where I learned everything I knew about communication and running a small business. It may have been boring, but it was the best professional experience I’ve ever had. I’m glad I didn’t let it pass me by.
17 years old
Be respectful to everyone. Listen to everyone. Serve everyone. You may depend on them someday.
Throughout high school I was extremely respectful of my teachers and administrators. I was a bit mischievous, but I always treated adults with the added level of honor and respect that they deserved. So when my family dispersed at seventeen years old, I was both blessed and amazed to have one of my teachers offer to share their home with me for the next season of my life. I lived there for almost five years and they became like family to me. I’m glad I left a good impression on them as a younger teenager.
18 years old
I was always happiest when I had the least.
At eighteen years old I was running low on cash, low on friends, low on family, and low on love. Yet this was the happiest year of my life. I had a few video games, a few great friends, and some snacks. That was all I really needed to be happy in that stage of my life. Things got more complicated as I added to my minimalist life, and ultimately cost me this happiness that I thought I would always have. That’s why I’ve recently recommitted to living a minimalist life with a select few friends, and a singular purpose for my short time on earth. There is so much joy in simplicity.
19 years old
Never be too proud to accept someone’s help.
During this time in my life I was living with “the Lockwoods.” An awesome family that took me in and treated me like their son. They extended so many invitations for me to be involved with their family activities and events that I ignored. They offered me assistance with where my life was going that I ignored. They constantly tried to help me move forward, but I was too proud to accept any help because I wanted to make my own way by myself without becoming a burden on someone else. Thinking back, I wish I would have become a closer part of their family and allowed them to minister to my life in a deeper way than I did.
20 years old
Be thankful for the people and places that you’ve outgrown.
I had an awesome girlfriend when I was a teenager. Her family was incredible. Her focus on her future was spot on. Her care for me was second to none. She was just amazing. However, I was going to another place than her. We weren’t just kids in love anymore. I was an adult and the stakes were real. My future became the focus of my vision and I was running faster than her, and in a different direction to boot. So we couldn’t be together anymore. Despite the fact that I didn’t let her hold me back. Despite the fact that I was very comfortable with her and the lifestyle her family brought to my life. Despite the fact that I just wasn’t “in” that high school birthed relationship anymore. I’m still eternally grateful for the experiences, lessons, and blessings that both her and her family brought into my life. They may be behind me, but I’ll never stop being thankful for them.Published in