An Open Letter to My 18-Year-Old Self
Sorry to interrupt the Quake 3 match, but this is kind of important. And besides, you were probably going to win anyway.
Look, it’s your future self — 10 years in the future, to be exact. I’m writing this while watching a sunset on a beach in Turkey. Yes, THAT Turkey. Don’t ask why; it’s cooler than you think. In fact, most of the world is cooler than you think, but you’ll discover this eventually.
I have some things I want to say. And look, some of it may be painful to hear, but it’s for your own good. I know how much you hate to be lectured and scolded (oh, you rebel, you), and I know how squeamish you get with confrontation (you will get over this… mostly). But I’m here to help. And considering I’m you, there’s no way you can claim you know better than me. So listen up.
First things first: cut the damn hair. It was cool for like ten minutes in 11th grade. I know the girls giggle and say you look like Johnny Depp from Blow, but sorry, you don’t, and it’s not like it’d help your chances even if you did. You’re going to cut it in a year anyway, but let’s speed up the process here. I’m not getting any younger and neither are you.
But let’s address the bigger issue. You’ve got this whole faux rock-art John Petrucci wannabe thing going on at the moment. Look, I don’t know how to tell you this without hurting your feelings, but your guitar-playing isn’t going anywhere. At least not on the current path you’re on. It’s not because you’re bad, because you’re not, you’re actually quite good.
It’s just that you’re using music to escape responsibility rather than take on more responsibility. And until that changes, you’re not going anywhere.
See, guys like Petrucci and Vai are awesome because they’re unique and original, not because they play well. You’re spending all of your time learning how to play well and not being unique or original. In fact, you’re learning to play like that mostly because it’s the only thing that gets people to compliment you and hang out with you — you’re in a band, you can wail on a guitar, suddenly you’re invited to some parties.
(You’re actually a lot more like your brother than you think.)
No, the music thing is more of an identity choice than a necessary expression of yourself. If I’m not mistaken, you’re about to start music school. You’ll soon discover that when you’re surrounded by musicians who are as talented or more talented than yourself, your uniqueness will disappear and your identity will crumble. The process will torment you, but it will happen, and at the speed of a glacier running over a snail you’ll come to realize that you never loved the music, the expression, the creativity, as much as you loved the attention, the affection (you’re starved, you realize) and the adulation (how’s that for an alliteration, hah!)
And dude, give up on Kate, seriously… It’s been two years, she’s not going to change her mind about you. You’re going to end up dating girls of a stratospheric league; goddesses, really. Move on already so we can get this party started.
Which brings me to my next point: your social anxiety. You don’t realize it at the moment, but you’ve made a nice little cocoon for yourself. You’ve got your video games, your guitar, the occasional pot smoking and drinking. You spent the last four years in a high school with the same 100 kids. You’re sheltered. You have no idea what you’re doing and you’re afraid of people who don’t approach you first.
It’s time to grow up and start getting over this. You’ll be happy you did. College is going to help a lot — living in a dorm, especially. But it’s time to start putting yourself out there more.
That means stop with the video games. This competitive gaming stuff is a sinking ship, and the games themselves are a massive waste of your time. Now, I know what you’re saying, “They’re fun, and I’m good at them, and what’s the harm in that?”
Well yes, they are fun and yes, you are good at them. But the harm is that you don’t play them because they’re fun, you play them because you’re afraid of the world and the people in it. It’s escapism. It’s a borderline addiction. Delete them for a month and see how much you miss them. You’ll be surprised.
Keep reading books: your books, not theirs. The ones no one else knows you read. You’ll want to slow down a bit in your early 20′s, but don’t. And don’t let yourself feel constrained by your college courses. Most of the books they assign are overrated or irrelevant to your needs/ambitions. There’s going to be this thing called Wikipedia soon that is going to make college a cinch anyway, so don’t worry about it. You’re a natural autodidact, so keep it that way as much as possible.
Don’t be a slave to your self-image. Go to the gym. Go often. Whatever you think is “good exercise,” do twice that. It was never your thing, but you have a better frame than you think and you’ll thank me (yourself) later.
And stop eating shit. My god, you will waste a LOT of time undoing the nutritional slop you’re currently living in. May as well start now: no sodas, no fast food, meat and vegetables, meat and vegetables.
Ask a girl out right when you meet her, THEN get to know her better, not the other way around.
You quit your bands to go to music school. That’s backwards: you should quit music school to join some bands.
If she cheats on someone else, she’s probably going to cheat on you. That’s all I’m going to say. But don’t forget it.
Your ass looks funny only because you’re out of shape. Get in shape and the girls are going to love it.
Tell Dad to buy as much stock in Apple as possible. No, not the Beatles’ record label, the company with those fruity little computers with all the colors.
OK, this is getting long. I don’t want to overwhelm you. Things are bright in your future, kid. I realize it’s impossible to call you that without coming across as condescending, but this is the most true context there ever was: you are just beginning to grow and neither of us know where that will end up. All I can tell you is that we go to some pretty amazing places and things get better. Much better.
Keep your head up and try to believe in yourself a bit more. When in doubt, err on the side of risk and action. Trust your intellect. And remember: you’re cooler than you think.