Luke Matthews

A letter to my 18-year-old self


Today is my 36th birthday. Most people would tell you that I’m a sentimental guy and that I even tend to live a bit in the past. Then again, who DOESN’T think that the 90s were the best decade ever for music?

In turning 36, it’s now been 18 years since my 18th birthday. On December 16, 1995, I was a senior at Valley High School in West Des Moines. I had been accepted to Iowa State University for the fall of 1996 and I was the station manager of the Valley radio station, KWDM. I would give almost anything to speak to that version of myself. He was so unaware of what life had in store for him. For the sake of this already-named blog post, let’s send a letter to my 18-year-old self.

Hey Buddy,

This may seem strange, but this letter is coming from the future. December 16, 2013 to be exact. I am you and you are me. I’ve decided to write this letter to you because I want to prepare you for what the next 18 years have in store. However, I’m not going to reveal any spoilers about the future, as I’ve seen far too many movies and TV shows that say I could really screw up the universe if I did that.

Right now, you’re just turning 18. You’re anxious to get out there and do the things that 18-year-olds do. Make sure when you do things, you do things that count. Make great memories with your friends now, because they may not be your friends tomorrow. It’s okay to let friendships come to their natural end. You can mourn those friendships and move forward by cultivating new ones. Don’t let anyone give you crap because you have more female friends than male ones.

Don’t let the pursuit of popularity consume you. Popularity only matters to kids in school. Once we’re all out on our own, everyone is just as unknown as the next guy. Worry more about strengthening the bonds with the close friends you have. In the end, we aren’t judged by the number of people that signed our yearbooks. Being popular doesn’t mean winning at life.

Keep your old love letters. It’s not to say that those will be the ones you love in 10 or 20 years, but it reminds you of the kind of person you’ve always been and the promise of the person you can still be. In fact, keep everything you write. It’s great for a laugh every 5 years or so.

Take more pictures. You and I both know that your memory stinks, so there’s no better way to take the best years of your life with you, than with photos. That said, write the names of the people in the photos on the back. Like I said, your memory stinks.

Enjoy being so skinny. It never lasts for anyone and it certainly won’t last for you. Metabolism is a gift that eventually runs out. Knowing this is half of the battle.

Don’t be embarrassed of your car. Yes, it’s ugly and smells bad, but if you strive to get something better later on, you can. You’ll also know how to really appreciate what you have because you know it could be a lot worse. But honestly, how bad does that car suck, am I right?

The job you have now won’t be the job you have forever. You fell in love with radio in high school and if you work hard and make sacrifices, it can support you and your family in the future. That doesn’t mean you should neglect the job you have now. Learn a good work ethic. That will pay dividends in the years to come. Plus, you never forget how to properly bag groceries.

Don’t fret over money. Life is not a contest to see who has the most toys. Enjoy the things you have and work hard to get the things you really need. Don’t let material possessions shape your opinion of your status in life. Whenever someone’s house burns down, when asked about what they lost, they always say, “they were just things.”

Your parents are smart. Learn from them. They’ll be hard on you and they’ll try to steer you in what they believe is the right direction. Trust me, they’re not too far off and it’s good for them to be hard on you now because they’re nothing compared to the people out in the real world that don’t love you unconditionally. They also know all the embarrassing stories about you and never seem to forget them.

Make a list of things you want to do. Don’t be afraid to dream big. If you want to go to Europe or Jamaica, write it down. If you want to own a brand new car by the age of 20, write it down. Always cross things off this list and never stop adding to it. Don’t bother with wanting a jetpack. We don’t have jetpacks yet.

You’re just 18 right now. There is so much in your life that you have yet to experience. You have college ahead of you. You have your entry into the “real world,” which actually happens sooner than you think. You have good days, bad days, your wedding day, births, deaths, celebrations, and ordinary days in between. Take not a single one for granted as each day shapes who you are as a person. Without giving too much away, you’ve done pretty well for yourself.

The next 18 years of your life are going to be even greater than your first 18. I’m hoping to find a letter from a 54-year-old me soon, dispensing more knowledge about life. Take it all in, take it one day at a time, and never forget how fortunate you are. You’ve got a hell of a life ahead of you!

P.S. I know I said I wouldn’t give away anything from the future, but there’s a girl in 8th grade in Burleson, Texas right now named Kelly Clarkson. Do whatever you can do to meet her and become her friend. Trust me.

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