23 Life Lessons For Teenagers

Here are 23 bits of advice that I would give to my 18-year-old self.

23 Life Lessons For Teenagers
Photo by Travis Yewell / Unsplash

I get asked what advice I'd give to myself aged 18 or, in fact, anyone in their teens or early 20s. So here is a list of 23 life lessons for teenagers.

1. Always be learning

The person you are at 16 or 18 or 21 isn't the person you'll be in 10 years time. You'll go through loads of experiences good and bad. The most important thing is that you learn from every single experience. Right now you might be focusing on outcomes like exam scores, getting into the best university or being the most popular person in school. These are all fine but they are vanity metrics which compare you to others. Instead try and focus on what you have learned and reflect on how much you've grown.

If you continuously learn you'll get better and better over time.

2. Learn how to learn

If there is one skill that can completely transform our lives in school, university and at work it is learning how to learn effectively. Being able to effectively teach yourself means that you’ll be able to get top grades while not having to spend all your time in the library and having time to actually enjoy your life.

The problem is that nobody really ever teaches us how to learn effectively or study efficiently so we end up worrying about exams, we spend ages reading though textbooks without actually being able to remember things and we might even start to feel like we’re just not smart enough. But all of this is completely wrong and avoidable.

There’s a lots of scientific evidence from research studies into the science of learning that tell us exactly how we can study to maximize the amount that we learn, and minimize the amount of time we have to spend learning it. Books like Make It Stick are great for this and will save you loads of time if you actually learn how to learn.

3. Ask for forgiveness, not permission

This one is slightly controversial but if you spend all your time worrying about what might happen if you do something you'll end up never doing it. Think about Uber for example. They didn't go and ask loads of private taxi firms if they could launch their ride sharing app to disrupt how we travel. They just went and did it.

You needn’t be that extreme but if you have a calling, you need to back yourself and don’t waste your shot! Go for it, don’t seek permission. If it goes wrong, seek forgiveness, but at least you tried!

4. Don't worry what others think (no-one is judging you)

It's really easy to get stuck in our own head and worry about what other people think of us. We're social animals by nature and we worry that people will judge us or laugh at us as it will kind of de-value our social capital. The thing you don't realise is that everyone is so focused worrying about their own problems very few people will actually be focusing on you and what you're doing.

If there are people you feel are judging you it's probably because they're jealous or have their own problems. If you're putting yourself out there and executing to make your dreams a reality; you're in the game, you're going to have wins and losses and learn and often the people judging aren't even in the game, they're sat in the stands just watching and not taking action and you'll beat them with success.

5. Focus on what you can control (don't worry about what you can't)

Something everyone has to deal with is the fact that things happen outside of our control all the time. Natural disasters, prices going up, your favourite sports team losing, you don’t have a hand in any of these, yet you’re expected to cope with the results.

It can be easy to feel powerless and like a victim when things go wrong. Instead focus on what you can do to make things better and take action focusing on what you can control.

6. Be kind

This one is really simple. You never know what other people are going through so default to being kind to everyone.

7. If someone else has done it you can do it too

At times when you doubt yourself, look to others for inspiration. There are billions of people on this planet and many more who have lived before you. Chances are that whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, someone else has already done it or at least something similar. If something is physically possible then you can do it.

Not every idea you have needs to be original in order to succeed. Austin Kleon's book Steal Like An Artist says that nothing is truly original and it's about putting your own spin on things to make them your own.

If you want to be a YouTuber for example, check out the competition in your niche, find out what makes them successful and then re-imagine things to discover your own path.

8. You are not defined by your job or money (fight club)

"You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet."

If you’ve ever seen or read “Fight Club,” you may recognise that speech (and if you haven’t then I highly recommend it). It means that you should not define yourself by how much money you make or the possessions you own. People who flex using these things usually have little to no personality and use their material possessions to hide behind. Those things can be easily gained or lost.

It's easy to take your identity and your confidence and self-worth from your job for example being a doctor. But this is pretty superficial and

9. Execute and do

It's easy to imagine how your life will look in the future or to watch videos like this one and get inspired, but at the end of the day it’s all meaningless until you actually follow it through and execute those plans.

Rather than reading or watching videos you need to apply what you're learning and start doing.

Using motivators and rewards to help you hit targets is a good strategy. Or reveal your plans to friends and family so they can motivate you and you feel more urgency.

10. Don't worry about failing and make mistakes

To expect everything to go perfectly first time is very unrealistic. It’s only by making mistakes that you can improve and get things to the level they need to be. Just ask anyone who’s started their own business. You'll need to fail again and again and it's that small percentage of people who see failing as a way to grow and who don't give up who succeed.

How about the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, who once said,

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

11. Build multiple (passive) sources of income

Something that isn’t often taught in school or anywhere else for that matter is the importance of having multiple sources of income. The common way of thinking is that you go to school, get a job and then you’re set for life. The reality is that most successful people have multiple income streams that all add up.

Multiple streams of income will de-risk everything you do and you'll learn loads when trying to build a business. When you're in your 20s you have lots of time to have a go and selling things online or starting side hustles which could completely change your life if you stick with them and learn from them over the next 5 to 10 years.

12. Invest in yourself (courses, mentors)

People are all too willing to spend money on entertainment and superficial things but the best investment you can ever make is in yourself. You should never be stingy when it comes to self-improvement.

If you have ambition and want to be the best at something, there are courses and mentors that can be paid for to boost your skills and learn from experts. Wanna be a chef? You can take a masterclass from top chefs like Gordon Ramsay!

Don’t limit yourself for the sake of money (just be careful not to be taken advantage of or spend outside of your means). Your investments will come back to you with interest once you’ve made it to the top!  

13. Create a productivity system early

Systems and processes are will help you to be consistent and organise your time effectively. In books like the 4-hour work week Tim Ferris mentions outsourcing work to virtual assistants to free up his time so he can build passive income streams. By focusing on building processes like this or like a social media calendar or second brain in a tool like notion you'll set yourself up for success.

Equally having a morning routine where you get up and get work done will help you achieve your goals faster.

14. Document your journey and share it

Austin Kleon wrote a great book called Show Your Work which I'd recommend reading as it's pretty short. Whatever you are working on try and document and share your journey transparently. This will help you to reflect and save your thoughts to come back to later and it will also help you to build an audience.

Yep it might seem scary or you might think 'but I don't have anything to share'. Luckily YouTube and social media has made it easier than ever for people to document and share their journeys and everyone has something interesting to share and talk about. By sharing your journey you'll get better at communicating and you'll learn along the way too.

15. Challenge yourself to grow (do difficult things)

One thing you should definitely get into the habit of doing while you’re still young is to test your boundaries and challenge yourself with things that are outside of your comfort zone. Trying new things will result in both positive and negative experiences but both are beneficial and will help you to grow as a person.

The worst thing you can do is become stuck in your ways and then when something unexpected and difficult comes along you will feel anxious and not be able to deal with it. Confront your fears and open up a world of opportunities!

16. Get rid of negative people, fast!

There will always be trolls and people who will try to bring you down. Even if you have sympathy or some kind of affection for them, it’s best to cut these people out of your life if they’re unwilling to support you. Negativity is like a disease and it feasts on the weak-minded. It’ll only fester until you cut it out, so do yourself a favor and surround yourself with positive people who care about your well-being.

17. Be consistent and form habits to compound over time

If you can get 1% better each day for one year, you'll end up 37x better by the time you're done. Conversely, if you get 1% worse each day for one year, you'll decline nearly to zero. This is from James Clears Atomic habits and it nicely explains the power of compounding where consistency adds up over time.

One of my favourite Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes is that life is all about sets and reps. Just like going to the gym we need to be consistent and repeat the things we want to get better at. Whether that's going to the gym, learning, working on a business you need to show up and do the work everyday to improve. Small, regular habits lead to big results over time.

18. Be patient, you have time

Having dreams and aspirations is a great thing but remember that to realise them can take time. Learn to be patient and not to rush into things, as doing so could actually harm the chances of you achieving your goals. It may be that you lack the necessary expertise. Remember, being first is not the same as being the best!

Don’t feel pressured to experience everything all at once either. Forcing yourself into having a good time is never as satisfying as letting it come naturally. You’re still young, you’ve got time to figure things out.  

19. Work for yourself, not others (not your boss or your parents)

Working to someone else’s standards and specifications can be tedious and demoralising. When doing any task, ask yourself ‘What do I stand to gain from this?’ Try to work with the end-goal being a sense of self-satisfaction. If you can figure out a way to work for you and no-one else, not only will you put in more effort, you’ll get more out of it too. Not to mention the sense of freedom you’ll get!    

20. Health, Wealth, Love and Happiness

According to Aristotle in order to live the good life and find fulfilment and happiness you need to take care of all aspects of your life. I try to make sure I spend equal time improving and working on my health, wealth, love and happiness. You don't need to split this equally everyday. For instance you can work on your business with a lazer focus for a few months and then take some time to go travelling.

21. Solo Travel

Travel is the best way to broaden your mind and you’ll realise how diverse and interesting this world can be. You may even find the role you were born to play within it!

22. Hold Yourself Accountable

At the end of the day no-one is going to force you to do anything and no-one is suddenly going to give you £1M. It's up to you to take positive action and make things happen. Whether it's going to the gym, making friends, asking that person on a date or working on a business instead of watching Netflix it really is down to you. If you attack any problems head on and hold yourself accountable and motivate yourself everyday you'll be ahead of 99% of everyone else.

23. Have fun and make friends

And finally, the most important life lesson of all is to have fun! Put yourself out there, make friends who like you for who you are and what you stand for. Go on a gap year and use this time to educate yourself about the world and different cultures, because when you get older and busier you might not have the time and energy anymore.