Advice to My Younger Self

Posted by Anthony E. Steele II on 8/11/2021

Advice to My Younger Self

Without a doubt, everyone shares my hope and enthusiasm to start a new school year without pandemic complications. There is extra excitement in the air to move on from Covid and begin a whole new chapter at BVT. Our incoming freshmen will experience vocational-technical training for the first time, and we all look forward to putting our full focus on our mission to bring our students closer to career, college, and life readiness. One challenging aspect of accomplishing this mission is giving cogent advice to our children, as we might have given to OUR YOUNGER SELVES.

Why does it always seem so challenging for adults to convey advice to kids? As adults, we have several decades of accumulated wisdom and experience to draw upon. A youngster would be a fool not to listen to our sage-like advice, right? After all, we adults have been there-done that, and we’re only trying to help. But we all know that it is rarely so simple. It may be relatively easy to know what to advise, but it is far more difficult, and at times very frustrating, to convince our kids to buy-in and utilize good advice. Why is that? Let’s dive in and analyze.

First, let’s have some fun and remove one variable — credibility. Hypothetically, if you could go back in time to your high school years and meet with yourself for thirty minutes, what advice would you give to the younger you? Do you think the high-school-you would have listened? Do you think you would have embraced this advice and done anything differently? As farfetched as this hypothetical scenario is, it provides us with a valuable thought exercise in the challenges of advising our students and children. Why is it exactly that you might not listen to future you? If we can excavate a few of these reasons, we will be much better prepared as advice-givers.

Time: Perhaps the most significant schism between the young and old is our perspective of time. As a 15- to 18-year old, we don’t have a developed concept of how finite time is. However, the 40-year-old-you is far more aware of how quickly those decades slip by. We are also more aware that goals often take longer to realize than we imagined, which creates a dynamic where adults see urgency and kids feel like they have “forever” to get around to a task. Although we elders may be correct, our urgency doesn’t resonate the same with youth, and I am sure we sound like excessively worried nags at times.

Curiosity: Young or old, trailblazing is always thrilling, and some say it’s the spice of life. The very heart of innovation and exploration is going down paths never traveled before. Making mistakes is part of the experience, and sometimes we learn from failure. It is so ingrained in our nature that we absolutely have to try things. A classic example of this basic human trait is touching the stove to believe it’s hot. No doubt you were told it would burn you, but you just had to see for yourself. Why? We have to experience life. We have to learn for ourselves. Sometimes we have to fail to truly learn.

Determination: Part of a healthy mind, body, and soul includes some degree of defiance and determination. As youths, we often wish to prove our elders wrong when they say we can’t do something. When we are young, we think we know better — we don’t know what we don’t know, and we have a high degree of confidence that we know plenty. As elders, we have a 30,000-foot view of that attitude and want nothing more than to spare our youngsters from tough experiences and hard-learned lessons. Again we hit a dynamic where our perspectives couldn’t be any further apart.

For all these reasons and many more, we can start to see why it is challenging to have youngsters follow our advice. Even the opportunity to meet with our future self, an amazing hypothetical scenario, may not have the profound difference in our path through life that I first imagined. However, the more I think about it, this hypothetical scenario has impacted how I might present advice to youngsters differently. Understanding your audience always makes one a more effective speaker. Approach advice-giving from the young recipient’s perspective and avoid being perceived as the all-knowing, finger-wagging adult.

As we tear into this new school year with gusto and enthusiasm, let us hone our skills at being more effective at guiding our kids. It’s a very worthy goal, even if you’re a seasoned pro at parenting and educating, but hey, that’s just my advice!