Have you ever wished you could go back in time and warn your younger self about some of the ridiculous crap Past You is going to encounter? Like a crazy ex? Maybe a poor career decision? The championship match where your opponent's manager distracted the ref just long enough for you to be knocked out by a folding steel chair, costing you the title?
I think the things I'd warn myself about are more general knowledge than specific incidents. Things that, had I known them back in my 20s, could have saved me an estimated assload of headaches between then and now, in my 40s. So, just in case Google ever comes up with a way to send emails into the past, I'm telling Past Me to listen up, because there are some important things you need to be aware of ...
#6. Learn To Apologize ... You're Going To Need That Skill
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Hi, Past Me. Don't get defensive, but I need to tell you something that's kind of upsetting. Right now, you're doing a whole lot of things that are going to embarrass your face clean off in just a few years. A lot of it centers around the fact that you can't admit or even recognize when you're wrong ... and trust me, you're wrong way more often than you think. Some of what you're bullshitting about seems pretty harmless: incorrect movie trivia or repeating urban myths as fact. Other times, it can be directly damaging: giving romantic advice to a friend, even though every relationship you've ever been in ends with someone praying for a meteor to fall on your crotch.
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"Just stare at her without blinking or speaking. Chicks dig the mystery."
I know why you do it. Being wrong sucks. It's humiliating to be called out in front of other people. You end up looking like an idiot, and everyone thinks you're either a dumbass or a liar. The thing is, when you stand your ground and refuse to acknowledge that someone else is right, even if it's about something minor, you're dumping those terrible feelings on them. You're making someone else feel like crap, even though they totally don't deserve it. You need to apologize to those people when it happens. Even if that person is Chad, who always deserves to feel like crap.
Most of your inability to apologize comes from your ego, and, unfortunately, changing that isn't something you can just decide to do and then make it happen on the spot. Don't sweat it too much; everyone goes through it. Mastering that is a huge part of graduating into adulthood, and everyone learns at different paces. But the brutal truth is that you're at the tail end of the most egocentric phase of your life and, when you look back on it in 20 years, you're going to wish you could physically fight your past self. We're talking Mortal Kombat-style, complete with spine-exposing finishing moves and groups with stupid-sounding acronyms protesting your existence.
Again, totally normal. In fact, I doubt you can even read this warning without that ego kicking in and telling me that everything I'm saying is philosophical horseshit. But what you're about to find out very shortly in life is that ego is a poor man's substitute for self-confidence. Ego is emotional rust. It clouds your ability to empathize with other people and, if it isn't kept on a leash, it destroys relationships.
The good news is that unless you're a psychopath or a narcissist, shedding that ego comes fairly naturally. The bad news is that empathy isn't something you choose to obtain ... it's a byproduct of living. It takes time. Learning to apologize is a huge step in getting there, because it forces you to acknowledge not only your mistakes but other people's ... not-wrongness.
This isn't a small issue. Between where you are now and where you want to end up, you're going to go through a lot of crappy jobs, with a lot of crappy bosses, dealing with a lot of crappy customers. You're going to be passed over for promotions that should have been a slam dunk for you. You're going to think that you're being overlooked and unappreciated. But the truth is, you're being looked at very closely. Your inability to bite your tongue around authority and paying customers is being noticed, and it's often what holds you back. That's what your ego does for you. It cock-blocks.
If someone pays in pennies, don't tell them to go fuck themselves until they die of semen poisoning.
Your natural reaction to me pointing this out is going to be, "Hey, this is the real me. If they don't like it, they can suck half of my dick. Then they can take a break, get something to drink, maybe grab a quick lunch or something ... then come back and suck the other half of my dick." But I'm telling you the most solid truth I've ever learned about positive change: "The real me" is just an excuse to avoid it. Learn to apologize. Until you do, virtually everyone you know just sees you as an egocentric, know-it-all asshole.
#5. You Are Going To Be Someone's Annoyance -- Accept It And Move On
Right now, your house is the hangout spot. Every day is a cycle of beer, Magic: The Gathering, Killer Instinct, and more beer. Friends drop by on a daily basis, and it feels pretty damn good. Well, for the most part. Not all of those people are awesome. Every group, no matter how tight, comes with a person or two you just sort of tolerate. They don't hurt anyone. You don't exactly dislike them. They're just not people you'd call friends, because they kind of annoy you.
What you don't realize -- and won't for many years to come -- is that for some people, you are that guy. Don't freak out, because I know that the thought of someone not liking you sends you into a blind panic, and you start throwing out friendship attempts like a lawn sprinkler that sprays desperation. You'll go out of your way to correct their impression of you by trying to be funny, talking about things they like ... really making the effort to crank up the charm and win them over.
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"MERRY PIZZAMAS, AND A HAPPY NEW BEER! ALL FOR YOU; I'M ONLY HUNGRY FOR ACCEPTANCE!"
The thing is, that's impossible to keep up, regardless of what your ego is screaming at you. You have to learn to accept this because it's going to come up a lot more often than you think, and most of the time, there's simply nothing you can do about it. Sometimes, you are just the Chad in the room. Let me give you an example:
Right now, I work with a whole bunch of people whom I respect and would love to call friends. We have similar worldviews, the same sense of humor, the same desire to create and entertain. But the biggest thing we have in common is also our relationship's downfall: If we're awake, we're working. If I message any of them at any given time, I'm likely interrupting something important that they're working on. If that message is just some goofy joke or even a simple, "Hey, how are you doing," that interruption is an unnecessary one ... and it is as annoying to them as a kid bursting through the bedroom door 10 seconds before a parent's orgasm.
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Bonus points if they did it to ask where babies come from.
That means even the simple attempt at connection is rooted in annoyance from the very start. My instinctual reaction is to try to "fix" it by doing the whole "look at me, I'm funny and adorable" song and dance ... but every one of those messages are also interrupting them. Trying to fix it only makes it worse. It's inescapable.
This is going to come up in your life on a regular basis until the day you die and annoy one last room full of people by making them come to see your stupid corpse. If you're not prepared to accept this fact and move on, it's going to leave gigantic teeth marks all over your fragile little feelings.
#4. Your Idea Of A "Dream Job" Is A Romantic Fallacy
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From your very first summer job -- throwing rocks at police cars -- the idea of a "dream job" was always on your mind. That image changed on a fairly regular basis because you had 10 billion hobbies and virtually no focus to settle on one. But no matter what the actual point of the career was, it always had these basics:
-Requires little to no effort
-No asshole boss
-It's your favorite hobby
And if you must commute, only the finest free Learjet would suffice.
A "dream job" is something you'd do even if you weren't being paid. I'm not going to tell you that those jobs don't exist, because the good news is that you do find one. I'm doing it right now, and it's awesome. (Note to anyone eavesdropping on this conversation with myself: You can do it too.) But what you have in your head is an unrealistic exaggeration.
The reality is that if you do anything long enough, no matter how fun that thing is, it becomes a job. Yes, even being a porn star. The reason is because you're not working a dream job. You're working a dream career. And careers aren't a clock-in-clock-out sort of deal. They become your life.
A late night at the Blowjobs And Video Games office is still a late night at the goddamn office.
You're going to find out sooner than you think that, once you're committed to a career, your most formidable enemy is Burnout. It's damn near a supervillain, complete with a cape and a stupid-looking metal hat. Burnout shows up when you've spent every waking minute, including days off and vacation time, making damn sure that you put out the absolute best work you can. Then holding everyone who reports to you to the same standards. You feel like if you slow down for even a few minutes, you're cheating both yourself and the company.
I know that this is a weird thought to you, because right now you're thinking, "If you're truly working a dream job, burnout should never be an issue. A real dream job will always be fun no matter what." While that sounds logical, I know that your favorite food is lasagna. Try eating that every day for the next year, and see how long it takes you to say, "If I eat one more bite of lasagna, I'm going to fork-murder everyone in my entire neighborhood."
Garfield must have entire underground bunkers filled with bodies by now.
Everything I've said so far has been the long-form means of telling you to take your fucking vacations. Don't just take them, but actually use them like vacation days were meant to be used: sleeping until the late afternoon and then playing Diablo 3 until the sun comes up. Don't check your email. Don't check in to make sure people are handling the workload while you're away. Those vacations are your reset button, and it absolutely needs pushed from time to time so you don't stress yourself into an ulcer.
Understand, I'm not telling you to abandon all hope of getting a dream job. I'm just saying that if it doesn't perfectly fit in with the fairy tale expectations that are floating around in your big ol' face-skull, you can't let yourself be disappointed. Otherwise, you could easily convince yourself that this just isn't the job for you. You could end up passing on an incredible opportunity, in search of something that just quite simply doesn't exist.