When I was fifteen, I met a man while I was riding the municipal bus to school one day. He was probably in his late fifties – a nice, elderly guy, I thought. We got to talking in that limited way adults and kids do. And then he patted me on the head. “I wish I were your age again and knew what I know now.”
I searched his face. “Like what?”
He paused, probably wondering how to organize his answer when the bus arrived at my school and I had to get off. I never saw him again.
I had to wait four decades for someone to answer my question. In 1992, Dr. Farina, a member of Mensa, the organization for people with very high IQs, conducted a survey of his fellow members. He asked them what advice for living they would give a fifteen-year-old kid.
The surveys came back with hundreds of suggestions in many categories, all fascinating. But Dr. Farina did something rather unique with the results. He gave lists of all the recommendations to a group of teenagers and asked them to prioritize the advice in order of how important it was to their lives.
The teenagers chose the ten most relevant and ranked them. In reverse order of importance, they were:
10. Never forget that being alone and being lonely are two entirely different things.
9. Retain the ability to laugh.
8. Remember that television is a made-up story. This often applies to the news.
7. Love yourself as well as others, and love yourself first.
6. Try to discover the true meaning of love, not the lust interpretation given the word almost universally today. Knowing and practicing the true meaning can give you peace and happiness even on the worst days of your life.
5. Read – read everything.
4. Be a child while you can. Don't be too anxious to grow up. At best you'll have about fifteen years to be a child before you’ll be forced to grow up. You’ll spend the next eighty years wishing you were back in that first fifteen.
3. Develop a healthy sense of humor.
2. Search for excellence, but do not ignore the fair or the good.
1. Follow your heart. It will inevitably be wrong, but you will never learn happiness until you find that out yourself. Your heart is like a compass – it points to the nearest metal, not necessarily to true north. You may have to suffer through the pangs of loving many wrong people before you learn the joys of loving the right one.
The older gentleman I met back then on the bus very likely wasn't seeking to return to his youth. He didn't really want to be my age again: he probably meant that there were things he wished he'd learned earlier in life. And, whatever our age, there are always things we will wish at some time in the future that we had known at our age today.
Here we are – back on the bus again.