If I had a time machine…well, first off, that would be awesome. I think everyone’s dreamed about being able to jump forward and see the future, or go back in time and change something in the past.
But if I had one, there are some things I would tell the past me so that he (or I) could have a better future (or present). Things have turned out all right for me, but at 34 I’m a bit older and wiser than I was when I was making life-altering decisions at, say, age 21. There are mistakes I made, and things I could have done better.
So, for those who are a bit younger, and are where I was then, here are 21 things I wish I could go back and tell my 21-year-old self.
1. Good things come to those who wait (and who patiently pursue good things). Instead of giving in to what feels good right now, practice delayed gratification and choose long-term benefits over short-term pleasure.
_ 2. Diets determine cravings. _ You are creating an appetite. Think about coffee: the first time you drink it, it doesn’t taste that great; but if you drink it regularly, you’ll develop an appetite for it or even an addiction to it. Coffee’s probably not the problem, though. Stuff like the pornography you’re watching—that’s a problem. You’ll develop an appetite for it, and sex within marriage won’t satisfy that addiction, because sex isn’t porn. Marriage sex also isn’t premarital sex, so don’t make sex outside of marriage part of your diet. I believe one of the biggest predictors of extramarital affairs is premarital sex. You've grown an appetite for sex outside of marriage, so of course you will crave that.
_ 3. Habits form your character. _ What you do now determines who you will be later. Develop habits that will turn you into who you want to be.
_ 4. Failing to plan is planning to fail. _ You are becoming something. If you’re not careful you’ll become the wrong something. Figure out what older version of yourself you want to be and consider what path might help you get there (Proverbs 21:5), understanding that the Lord determines the steps (Proverbs 16:9). So start with knowing Him better.
_ 5. Read the Bible and memorize all you can. _ I still know all of the words to Lil’ Troy’s “Wanna Be a Baller,” but I wish I’d memorized all the words to the book of James instead. Or even Leviticus, for that matter. The lyrics (and many other pointless things) are still with me, but I wish they were something else.
_ 6. Memories are the hardest things to lose. _ So be careful what you listen to and watch. I have a mental Rolodex of dozens of pornographic images in my mind that I am only slowly forgetting. I wish I could expedite that process.
_ 7. Look for godly characteristics in a spouse. _ Pretty people get old, and popularity is a short-term investment. Godly characteristics produce an incredible life-long return.
_ 8. Date towards marriage. _ Don’t just date for fun, or slide into living together. You’re either called to singleness, or you should be actively pursuing a spouse (or preparing yourself for one).
_ 9. Grow up. _ You’re in your 20s, which means you’re well old enough to be an adult. So take responsibility. Get married. Work hard. Be a man. (I’m talking to my past self here; if you’re a woman instead, be a godly woman.) History is filled with people who did great things and started great movements before age 30. Start now and be faithful to see it through.
_ 10. Getting drunk is stupid. _ No one has ever said, “That was the best idea ever! Being drunk really helped me navigate that situation.”
_ 11. Save money. _ You'll need it later.
_ 12. Be generous. _ It will be the best money you spend.
_ 13. Exercise. _ Getting in shape only becomes harder as you get older.
_ 14. Eat right. _ Again, it only gets harder. Your metabolism really will slow down. #2 applies here also.
_ 15. Rest. _ Do you feel like you don't have any time? Add a spouse, a couple kids, and other responsibilities to the mix. Trust me: you have more time now than you ever will. Learn to stop and rest and slow down.
_ 16 Material things are often bad investments. _ Buy experiences instead. 14 years from now, you’d rather have memories of that backpacking trip through Europe (the one I never took) than an obsolete big-screen TV or a slightly nicer 14-year-old car.
_ 17. Travel. _ It’s easier when you’re younger. You can do more, and do it cheaper. A 20-year-old can crash on couches or stay in hostels without a second thought, whereas your older self might expect a four-star resort.
_ 18. Learn to appreciate what is available to you. _ See above. I used to love going to the beach in Galveston. But once I saw a beach in the Caribbean, the Galveston I loved was no longer appealing. Basically, enjoy what you have while you have it. Don’t think you have to achieve all your dreams immediately. What you enjoy for the first time now may soon be boring.
_ 19. Disciple others. _ Want to change the world? That’s how you do it. You don’t have to be old and wise and have all the answers; you just have to be one step ahead of who you’re discipling.
_ 20. Get in community. _ Biblical community, with people who really know you and care enough to tell the hard truth when necessary. It’s one of the most helpful things you’ll ever do.
_ 21. Don’t get that haircut. _ Just don’t. Trust me. There will be pictures, and this thing called “social media,” and a future job where you’ll be on stage and coworkers will be in charge of a giant projection screen behind you.
What decisions would you have made differently?