I’m not part of a blogosphere, but the one blogosphere I’m occasionally tuned into has a new “meme” circulating. (I still don’t understand the how and why of the term meme, even after trying.)
Members of the Wand of Wonder have been tagging each other to write a letter to their 13-year-old selves. I wasn’t tagged, so I’m not going to write that letter, but I did think a lot about what I would write if I could actually deliver a letter to myself way back when. The purpose of the meme seems to be to review your life since age 13, and write about what you’ve learned since that time, usually revealing things that a 13-year-old version of yourself would never expect. I’m looking at the exercise from a far more practical perspective, obviously.
And I’m assuming that if I am writing a letter to myself at age 13, it would be delivered in an envelope. That’s crucial to what I would do.
My letter would explain in careful detail to 13-year-old Fonzie that the letter is coming from Fonzie circa 2007. It would also contain a separate letter stating “do not open until your 21st birthday.” Why?
This is where the “Back to the Future” mythology enters the picture. Knowledge of the future, and changing the course of human events, will alter the future. We learn that over and over in the trilogy.
Let’s say I write a letter to my 13-year-old self, telling young Fonzie about all the good times and bad times that are forthcoming, all the things I did or didn’t do. Chances are that would greatly alter the course of my life, and my life as I know it today would cease to exist. In theory my new life would be better than the one I have now, but there’s no guarantee. That’s a gamble I’d be willing to take, but cautiously.
One Wand of Wonder blogger gave his 13-year-old self stock tips. The right stock tips and other information would easily alter the course of his life, perhaps for the better, but there’s no guarantee.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to arm myself with profitable information, but if I had that information at age 13, as soon as I was able to put that information to use, whatever age it turned out to be, my life would change forever. Perhaps I’d go on living the same life for years, never taking the stock tips seriously until some time in my 20s when I realized how valuable the information is.
I wouldn’t want to take the risk that I’d never go to college. That would definitely change my life dramatically.
But if I waited until my 21st birthday to provide young Fonzie key information, I’d likely have made the same choices up until that point, never knowing how the content of the second envelope would change my life.
So why 21? A couple of reasons.
When I turned 21 I still had nearly two years of college to go. My last two years of college were a great experience, but I’d give myself a lot of advice about how to shape my future beyond college.
I was working on the college newspaper during my final two years, preparing for a career in journalism. I wouldn’t tell myself to abandon journalism and the newspaper, but I’d strongly encourage myself to get a second degree in business or something broad like that, and I’m spell out compelling reasons to pursue a career in something other than journalism. I don’t hate what I do, it’s just not rewarding enough at this point in my life to want to do it all over again.
I’d suggest to my younger self that there’s nothing wrong with spending a sixth, or even seventh year in college pursuing another degree. I really enjoyed the last two years of college, and while there’s something to be said for moving on and joining the workforce, if I needed to hang around school for another year, it’d be worth it.
I would also spell out a detailed plan on how I could finance a year or two of college without living like a poor college student. I’d detail a plan of how I could take a marginal amount of money and parlay it into a modest nest egg for a year or two. I’d spell out how I could go to Las Vegas for a week and bet a modest amount of money on a series of sporting events, turning it into more cash than any college student should have.
I’d limit that information, however, giving myself just enough information to build a two-year college nest egg. I’d detail the plan very carefully, provide plenty of cautionary advice and make it clear that there’s a finite amount of information available, and that if I screw it up, I’m stuck living like a poor college student and doing things the old-fashioned way. If I gave myself the keys to success for a lifetime of gambling I am sure the riches of excess would get the best of me at that age, and I’d end up paying a high price.
All of this assumes that my visiting Vegas at the ripe young age of 21 and betting hundreds of dollars on any one sporting event wouldn’t somehow affect the outcome. That’s a risk I’d be willing to take.
I’d also limit how much I could win in my first trip to Vegas because I wouldn’t want to deprive myself of the experiences of working for a living. Jobs suck, bills suck and life is hard, but I know I wouldn’t handle an embarrassment of riches at that age. Today I’d be just fine. At age 21, I’d have one gigantic party, but I wouldn’t trust myself to do the right things.
I wouldn’t limit myself to one trip to Vegas as my lone source of easy income. I’d also provide myself with some investment advice to help make sure as I worked for a living I was setting myself up for a very early retirement.
And I’d probably include one more letter within that second letter. This letter would read “do not open until Dec. 25, 2006.” That letter would contain a few more stock tips and several sporting event results, along with a lot more advice. I figure by 2007 it’d be OK to have a little more info for easy money. Presumably I will have worked hard in life up until that point.
So why not give myself the bonus information in the letter I open on my 21st birthday? If I had that info then I’d always know I could fall back on easy money if all else failed, and perhaps I’d drift through my 20s and 30s haphazardly.
There’s one other reason I’d encourage myself to wait until I’m 21 to open the second letter. Assuming I lived my life the same way while holding the contents of an unknown letter, I’d still end up going to the same college, meeting the same friends and doing the same things I did for the first 21 years of my life. If I never went to college, I’d never meet several people I still count as friends today. I’d risk those friendships by pursuing a different career in my 20s, but I wouldn’t want to sacrifice them outright by changing the course of my life in my teenage years.
But there’s one drawback to that logic. Everyone I count as a friend since graduating college would likely never make my acquaintance. I have several friends through my years in journalism, and although none of them are people I spend a lot of time with socially, I’d never have any of them as friends, I am sure, and that’s a sad thought.
Would it be enough to stop me from sending a care package to a 13-year-old Fonz if actually presented the opportunity? That’s a tough question. If I said no, would that make me a heartless person?
It would have been a lot easier had I simply been tagged and told to play along with the meme, but the easy way isn’t always for the best.