I'm sitting in Minneapolis at a Doctoral Dissertation Residency (and yes it is as exciting as it sounds) on my 42nd birthday wondering where the vanishing years have gone.
I attended a lecture on scholarly research and as I sat there, would my 17 year-old self have envisioned that in 20-plus years that we'd be sitting here. That got my brain rolling; what would I tell my 17 year-old self and what would he tell me? My advice to that younger self would start out with education; taking time off to "find yourself" only delays any gratification you'll get from completing your education.
Another factor is that if you do happen to find a good-paying job right out of high school, it's really difficult to give that up to be a poor college student. My path to education was an associate's degree in 1991, a BS in 2001, and MS in 2007, with my Ph.D. looming in 2014 or 15. I've "found myself" and it's not something I could have done at 17.
Another bit of advice is that broken hearts heal, friends come and go and if you can maintain one friend from high school, a couple from college and have a scattering of friends from your present day, you're doing well. With social networking, we have a greater access to keep our relationships that previously would have been left behind.
On my birthday, more than 100 people wished me a happy birthday online, which made being seven hours away from home a lot easier to take. You will still have your hair, a very important thing for a 17-year-old boy to know. The Billy Idol hairstyle will not last, or the perm you gave to your mullet (I've destroyed all evidence of said mullet), but you can still spike the bangs to try to look cool.
Exercise when you're in your teens and twenties; it's much more difficult when you're in your forties. A bit of advice to me would be to watch where the money is going at all times. Someday, your kids may need some for college, a necessity in their future. Somehow my parenting style came about so I'm not sure on tips to help that would help a 17-year-old because if I've done one thing right, it was having kids when I was ready for the responsibility.
Maybe I'd let him know that you'll never be able to afford children so waiting for that to happen isn't a good enough reason to wait. One bit of sound advice for my younger self would be to allow yourself to grieve the losses in your life, but then pick yourself up and move forward. Those who are past influence you when they're here are even more so when they're gone.
Lastly I would have to tell myself, my younger self, goals can be reached, dreams aren't just dreams and you can live where you want to live. My 17-year-old self is interrupting me; he wants to give me some advice. Gramps (I hadn't learned respect for elders quite yet), don't let our body look like a pear, work out some. He's also telling me to "chill dude," try to relax and stop trying to grow a beard; it's never going to happen.
His last bit of advice, or rather a question, what is life like at such an old age? My answer is my mantra, "I can't complain." Complaining won't solve any of life's issues.
Brian can be reached at email@example.com.