Younger Self

A Quick Chat With My Younger Self

Derek Personal Stuff 67 Comments

Younger Self
Older Earl: “Hey, man, how’s it going?”

Younger Earl: “Not bad, yourself?”

Older Earl: “Quite well.”

Younger Earl: “Sweet.”

And so begins the conversation I would have with my younger self, if ever such a conversation were possible. My guess is that, if we could organize such a meeting, we would meet up at Town Spa, a well-known pizza place in my hometown of Stoughton, Massachusetts.

I can see the hostess leading us to our table and then, after we both order an unsweetened iced tea, we would stare at each other for a few minutes, trying to get comfortable. I might chuckle at my younger self’s ridiculous attempt at growing a beard, and my younger self will most likely stare in confusion at my plucked eyebrows, but hey, once we get over these peculiarities, the conversation should flow smoothly, maybe.

Older Earl: “Hmmm….”

Younger Earl: “What’s wrong?”

Older Earl: “I’m trying to think of something to tell you, something to prepare you for the road ahead.”

Younger Earl: “And you’re having trouble? Haven’t you learned anything over the years?”

Older Earl: “Sure I have. I mean, let’s see….well, I’ve learned that Bucharest, Romania is a great place to live, especially if you ever plan to work online. And I’ve learned that arriving into Dhaka, Bangladesh by plane late at night is not such a good idea. Those taxi drivers will kidnap you, literally. What else? Here’s one…the best homemade taro chips you’ll find anywhere can be bought from a small general store in American Samoa. And….oh wait! Don’t worry about calling Capital One Bank before you travel anywhere because they’re going to block your account no matter how many times you tell them where you’re going. Yeah, that’s a good one.”

Younger Earl: “That’s it? That’s all you have to tell me?”

Here’s the problem. The more I think about it, the more I feel that a conversation with my younger self probably wouldn’t be as deep or as inspirational as I might have originally thought. In fact, such a conversation would probably disappoint my younger self and leave him wishing he had just gone out with his much cooler friends that evening instead of spending time eating pizza with me.

While I’ve certainly learned a great deal during the past fourteen years of traveling around this world, I’m just not sure there is much that I wish I had known before I began this adventure. At first, it might seem that I would have wanted to know all of the great life-changing lessons I’ve now picked up, that I would be eager to share the advice and wisdom, about life in general and about myself, that I have gained, and that I would want to spend hours and hours talking with my younger self so that he ventures into the world as a more prepared and knowledgeable individual.

I actually started compiling a list of all the things I would want to tell my younger self. I have it open right now in another document. But the more I read the list, the more I realize that I actually don’t want to tell my younger self any of these things at all.

The main reason why these lessons and bits of wisdom are so important to me now is because I had to work hard to learn them. I had to struggle, to fail and to challenge myself over and over again in order to gain a little more understanding about who I am as a person and about the world I live in. And in the end, it is the struggles, the failures, the challenges, as well as the successes, that have shaped who I am and that have led me to try and improve myself as a human being as much as possible.

And if I were to go sit down with my younger self, that innocent, naïve 21 year old who is just about to graduate from university, I wouldn’t want to spoil the adventure ahead for him. I wouldn’t want him to know what I know now or else he wouldn’t have a chance to figure out life on his own.

I want him to start off naïve and innocent and completely clueless, just him and his life goals, staring into the future, uncertain and unaware of where it will all lead. I want him to try and uncover what is most important to him, what he wants to achieve and which direction he should take in order to succeed.

This way, my younger self would be forced to learn, not from my words or the words he can read in books, but from his own life experiences, which in my opinion is the most important educational tool we have access to. The wonder of life lies in those very experiences and in the actual discoveries that we make about ourselves as we venture off into and through the unknown, with only an open mind to help us move forward. I could indeed share an impressive-sounding collection of wisdom and pieces of advice with my younger self, but without my younger self actually getting out there into the world and making the same mistakes and earning the same victories, without him hitting bottom and rising up again, without him feeling truly lost and confused and without him knowing pure fear and pure happiness first-hand, my words mean nothing.

Older Earl: “That pizza was good! Just how I remembered it.”

Younger Earl: “Older Earl, are you sure there’s nothing else you want to share with me? You’ve seen and done so much, surely you have some advice to give me.”

Older Earl: “Well, I already told you about my favorite beach hut in Goa, right?”

Younger Earl: “Yup.”

Older Earl: “How about working on cruise ships? It really is such a great opportunity to save money, network with people from….”

Younger Earl: “…all around the world, and have one hell of a good time in the process. I know, you already mentioned that, several times.”

Older Earl: “How about the amazing Dona Mary’s Tostada Restaurant in Playa del Carmen, did I forget to tell you that it’s closed on Mondays?”

Younger Earl: “You told me.”

Older Earl: “Hmmm…all that’s left to say is that you shouldn’t be afraid to get out there and live the life you want. You really can do anything you set your mind to, as simple as that sounds. Do you mind if I have that last piece of pizza?”

What would you tell your younger self if you had the chance?


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Comments 67

  1. WeiLe

    Hey Earl – I love to read your writing, it motivates me every time I read it. And I would read it a few times and not get bored of it. I’m quite a new follower to your blog and I will randomly choose some blog post from before and it always surprise me. Thanks for sharing your experience and adventure with us. I can’t wait for your new blog post!

  2. Sawyer

    Hey Earl you rock!!!!! Thanks for being a role model. Question though. I’m a freshman in college and hate sitting in a classroom. I skydive, cave, adventure on my free time. Do live a life of action , travel , adventure, and amazing experience would I really need a college degree? I’d love to just start now and go somewhere epic and do an odd job. And repeat the process. Did you oh to college? Will it really help with the life you lead? Thank you!! God bless!!

  3. David

    I love your fro, bro… Haha. Thanks for the amazig quote. This was definitely one part of life that I’ve never really gave much thought about.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey David – Thanks for reading and glad you like the fro, although I don’t think I’ll be growing that thing again for a while!

  4. sumankit

    That’s a refreshing thing to read all i can say and your blogs ..simply amazing ..well am an engineering student and .travelling is the only thing i did most of the time in all these four years and just realised recently that its my only aim in life .travelling .But again i am not a good writer nor am good at English ..as its my second language..And i don’t wanna travel on parents money…plus no savings…so basically am stuck thinking ..Its like one of those gumption traps mentioned in Zen and art of motorcycle maintenance…Its gets difficult,sometimes when you come,from the third world countries ..may be …or may be not…but am still staying positive and hope i figure it out someway…..

  5. Darcy Latta

    I definitely agree that our trials have shaped us into the people we are now and I wouldn’t change that for the world. I think a simple, albeit cryptic, “it will all be okay” would be sufficient for my former self.

  6. Sara

    Hi Earl,

    I stumbled onto your blog today while working on some chem hw (or not working on it.) Anyways, I like your post about how our life experiences, not other people’s advice, are the best way we can learn. I am a second year university student, and right now I am struggling with what direction I want my life to take: namely, if I want to pursue a career as a doctor or as a businesswoman/teacher/writer. Haha, or none of the above. Sometimes I think its really unfair that we have to decide what we want to do with the rest of our lives before we hit 20…but back to the point, right now I am “my younger self,” and I realize I have every opportunity to live an extraordinary life. But since my older self can’t talk to my younger self, I was wondering if your older self could share some wisdom. I guess what I would like to ask is: how do you decide on a path when there is no clear road ahead? Or if that’s one of those questions that doesn’t really have an answer, maybe you could answer this one: if you were me, how would you decide?

    Wishing you all the best,
    Sara

    P.S.
    You may not have all the answers, but from what I’ve read, you’ve realized that having all the answers really isn’t the point anyway. Good for you.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Sara – Thanks for the comment and to be honest, I can’t decide for you. I’m not you, I haven’t had the experiences you’ve had and I have no idea how you think or what you truly want from life. What I can say, however, is this: You don’t have to decide right now what you’ll do for the rest of your life. You simply need to decide what you think is right today, knowing full well that you can indeed change paths at any time. It may not be easy, but it’s always possible and for those who feel stuck in one path even when they wish they were living another lifestyle, they do have the power to change the situation.

      So, just pick a path that seems best right now and go from there, one step at a time. I will suggest picking a path that excites you though…if you’re not excited about what you choose, then that’s probably not the path for you 🙂

  7. PassportDave

    Love the post. I have to say that you are absolutely correct. Having experienced a lot in my life between the military and living all over the United States to my first time stepping foot in a new and unfamiliar country, there is nothing that I would tell my younger self. Experience these things for yourself is what shapes you as a person. If everything was easy and you had all the knowledge in the world… life would no longer mean a whole lot. It is these very actions and experiences that makes us who we are.

  8. Greg Seymour

    I love this concept. While the blind journey is a big part of learning there are certain things I would tell my younger self…Hey, you can live anywhere…There is no reason to kill yourself working. – As it turns out I retired to Costa Rica at 41 this past June. But I just about killed myself doing that. I would tell my youngerself to start earlier.

  9. George Bezushko

    Earl, I first went to Europe when I was 21, alone, and not figuring I’d ever be returning to the US. I returned two years later. I should have kept on traveling, but it’s not always easy to find a way to stay on the road. That need to stop for a time only postponed my travel lust. For the 37 years after that, with many of life’s trials to include, schooling, marriage, divorce, jobs, and living in several countries, I still see myself as one of life’s transients, still trying to find my way through this journey of life. Had I never tested myself and had I stayed in my little town in upstate New York, I would never have understood your words of wisdom so well, or admired them so greatly.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey George – As most of would agree I’m sure, the most important thing is to get out there and to break away from our normal routine in order to challenge ourselves, to learn about ourselves and ultimately, to figure out what we want in life.

  10. Londoner Kate

    I love this. Mainly because I haven’t started my travels properly yet. I’m frustrated I’ve left it so long, despite still being the ripe ole age of 27, even though this might stop me from making some awful mistakes I may well have made if I were younger (even though I’m still bonkers). I’m leaving to travel for a year in September but in the back of my mind I feel like I won’t come back. And reading that your 3 months turned into 14 years it almost makes me certain that I won’t.

  11. Lisa Niver Rajna

    Earl,
    I love the concept and this part “And if I were to go sit down with my younger self, that innocent, naïve 21 year old who is just about to graduate from university, I wouldn’t want to spoil the adventure ahead for him. I wouldn’t want him to know what I know now or else he wouldn’t have a chance to figure out life on his own.”

    I think you could make this into a whole novel on the benefits of travel and of knowing yourself. Very Richard Bach-esque!

    I agree that the journey is important and you would not want to ruin it for your younger self.
    Happy Holidays!
    Lisa
    We Said Go Travel

  12. Francis Cassidy

    Nice post Earl.
    I was actually reminded of the following quote by Issac Asimov as I read this:
    “Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is”

    I’d love to have the opportunity to talk with my younger-self. I’ve made one or two screw ups that I’d do anything to change!….but life goes on as they say!

  13. Victoria

    Wow Earl. What did you do to your hair LOL? Amazing!
    To my younger self, I would say take the German, Spanish and French classes you had more seriously as a child, don’t drop the clarinet as a teenager and don’t tell your mother all your secrets!
    Apart from that, I think I’ve had an interesting, varied life and I wouldn’t change a thing.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Victoria – I simply let it grow 🙂 And good call with the language learning…I always wish I had paid more attention as well!

  14. Deia @ Nomad Wallet

    I agree with you, I wouldn’t know what to say. After all, it’s all the mistakes I made in the past that turns me into the person I am today. If I were to start giving advice willy-nilly to my younger self and then she changes the course of history, does that mean I’d disappear? 😀

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Deia – I’m not even going to get into that…but if anyone’s willing to experiment, and is capable of doing so, I’m up for following along 🙂

  15. Daynne@TravelnLass

    “…You really can do anything you set your mind to…”

    Brilliant. In the end, that’s the ONLY lesson the young might well learn from we dodderin’ travel vets.

    Well o.k. that, and my life-long mantra: “This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!” (so just take the leap and DO IT!)

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Dyanne – Your mantra pretty much sums up the most important points in a few words. I might have to use that one myself every now and then 🙂

  16. mzuri

    What I’d tell my younger self:

    1. When you drive by that jaw-droppingly beautiful glacial lake on the side of the road, turn around. Stop. Soak it in. It doesn’t get any better than this. You don’t need to go looking for the lake with the “name.”

    2. When you feel tempted to go to the Top 10 Most Scenic Drives in North America, hit pause. The author left off part of the title: Top 10 Most Scenic Drives Clogged With Traffic. Enjoy the blacktop you’re on. They are thousands of scenic drives.

    3. If you’re only going to be in a top-destination city for a few days, don’t trust serendipity to find an example of great food. Save time, energy, and money and check out ratings in advance. There’s a lot of mediocre food being sold for inflated prices in big tourist cities. Istanbul, I’m talking to you.

  17. Marie

    This is all very nice, but what I would like to know is what you put on that list. You don’t have to worry about how learning come from experience because you won’t create any sort of time paradox by telling ME since I am not, in fact, YOU. so could you tell me?… I mean, I won’t really learn the truth of it anyway without living it so what’s the harm?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Marie – The list is quite simple actually, which is why I realized that the stuff on it, when trying to be deep and profound, really isn’t worth sharing with my younger self. I only had a few things on that list, such as…

      – stop being so shy, talk to as many people as you can
      – believe that you can accomplish anything
      – understand that there are endless opportunities out there, endless ways to live your life, so you don’t have to settle for a life that others tell you to live
      – go after your goals with confidence, determination and creativity
      – learn more languages
      – always have a goal when you travel, never travel just for the sake of traveling

  18. Iggy Pop Pbt

    Wonderful entry, I really loved it. And it is true too. Sometimes even when there are some bumps on the road and somebody might advise you about them, it is better to discovered it yourself, no matter how painful, it is the only way to learn.
    Love this blog,
    Keep on going Earl,

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Sara – That was my pre-travel fro but actually, it wasn’t too difficult to manage. I basically just woke up and that’s what it looked like 🙂

  19. Hana

    === Hey ! It was Funny is 2 get 2 read Ur Sweet Post 2day (My B.day)…
    Mmmm I would tell my younger self : Go & Have that Pizza with You ! ….
    The discipline of being a doctor is seriously Boring ===

  20. Erin

    I had a similar conversation in my head recently and arrived at the same conclusion. I wouldn’t change my life or experiences and I’m glad I’ve experienced it all since it’s shaped me and my character! I definitely wouldn’t be as wise, silly, fun, crazy, and headstrong as I am if I hadn’t lived through all the experiences that made me ME!

    I would definitely tell my younger self to grow a fro though! It’s impressive! Oh, that’s right…my Asian genes say no go on the fro!

  21. Jimmy @ Footsteps of Jim

    I think I would have told myself to go find this wandering Earl fella, tell him to keep growing his fro, cos it’s frickin awesome! and “please give your beard a few more goes”, haha ;).
    Oh and to quote Einstein “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”, i’d agree with you on your advice to your younger self, i.e. no advice, or rather choosing not to give much :). In my opinion, life is about the unexpected journey 🙂

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Jimmy – That sounds about right to me, although in regards to the beard, trust me, I knew then that a few whiskers was all I would ever be able to grow!

  22. Dennis Kopp

    Hey younger Earl,
    This is really one impressive hairdo I have to say… : )

    Hey older Earl,
    It seems to be quite an intriguing question to consider what to tell the younger version of oneself, but in the end I guess we all would come to the same conclusion: Everybody has to gain their own experiences in one way or another. So how good is any advice really if the experience is missing?

    Although I have to say the Capital One story is a good one. I would maybe add that walking through a dark alley at night in Santo Domingo is not the best of all ideas and that actually doing backups of the hard drive on a regular basis can really save you so much trouble…

    Besides that, don’t worry too much. It’s all good… : )

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Dennis – Those seems like reasonable pieces of advice to me and in my opinion, much more useful than trying to offer something more deep and profound that won’t mean much without that experience 🙂

  23. Mitch Roth

    I really enjoyed this. Thanks for writing. I feel the same way as I look back on the year. I would simply explain how I opened the door. It would be up to him to open it and see what is beyond.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Mitch – How’s things my friend? And you’re right, the key is convincing your younger self that they can open the door, that it is possible. Beyond that, it’s up to them to discover what lies ahead!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Jimmy – That kind of advice definitely makes sense…getting outside our comfort zone is exactly what leads to the kind of life-changing experiences that we remember forever.

  24. Scott

    I would tell myself two things. First, listen to your mother….she is usually right, and on that one REALLY important thing, she’ll be right….and while older me did not listen, you MUST!

    Second, I would say “make sure to tell those that matter that you love them. And don’t be shy about saying it more than once. It’s more for you, than them. You never want to wake up one day and find out someone is gone, and realize you never told them you loved them, and what they meant to you.

    That’s about it…oh, and when you eat at that restaurant in Budapest in 1998, and have that amazing banana fritter drizzled in hot chocolate sauce, get the name of the waiter, and owner, cause years later when you go back and they tell you they NEVER had that dessert, you can say “AHA, ask ____.”

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Scott – The mother one is quite reasonable, although, I never would have ended up traveling had I listened to most of my family and friends back in the beginning! And I’ll be in touch the next time I’m headed to Budapest 🙂

  25. Marina Reede

    Wow~fabulousness! I love all the incredible things we get to learn along the way. I’d say to my younger self~be brave. Go to Japan and teach English and go more for the experience than the money. Go do whatever it is you want to do, for you never know what miracles will come from one small step! Move to Key West much younger than 32! Cherish yourself and your experiences and stop fretting or being bored you’re not meeting such fabulous people~they’re out there. Trust you’ll find them when you’re living the life your heart wants you to live! Best advice is to live for yourself and shed what others think like when a bearded dragon sheds its skin 🙂 thanks for the fabulous post!

  26. Steve C

    The talk with myself would consist of questions, rather than statements. Questions are the fishing pole, statements are the fish. Fish are quickly consumed but that fishing pole will last a lifetime. I’d also suggest there be a balance of serendipity and planning. Looking before you leap can save your life. But constant looking will never get you out of your easy chair. Your life will be finding that balance.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Steve – Such a balance is a good idea of course and I like the idea of asking questions instead of trying to impart direct advice. Questions challenge us to think, and to think for ourselves, and in this case, it would be a great way to help mentally prepare our younger selves for the road ahead.

  27. Crystal Egan

    I would tell my younger self: “Don’t worry, every single thing you’re doing now will help you out one way or another in the future.” Wether it was just washing dishes for spare cash at the local pub to wondering why the hell I did a communications degree it’s all helped me now.

  28. Matthew Karsten

    I agree with Brian above. I would’ve told my younger self to stop trying to make it in Miami and start traveling 3 years earlier than I did. Or maybe start my travels right after college.

    Oh well. It happened eventually. Just took a few friends to show me what was possible outside the bubble I was living in. 😀

    Other than that, I agree. In the end, the process of learning everything the hard way is part of the fun.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Matthew – Ha…if you’re like me, I often think of how lucky I was to have met those first few people who made me realize that a travel lifestyle is actually possible.

  29. Brian D.

    I’d encourage myself to travel internationally early and often, and to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone to visit the types of places I wouldn’t think imaginable.

    I grew up without the money to travel internationally, and when all my rich friends from college and law school spent post-graduation/post-bar time prancing all over Europe and Asia on their parents’ dime, my wife (then girlfriend) and I just went to Baltimore, New Orleans and Florida.

    International travel never really seemed possible or affordable, and then we spent 10 amazing days in Italy on our honeymoon and it entirely opened our world to travel. Despite having never left the U.S. until age 26, 9 years later we’ve logged about 12 international trips, and we pretty much work so as to make money to travel.

    I wish that I had caught the travel bug earlier in my life, and that’s what I’d say to the 21 year old version of Brian. Great post, Earl.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Brian – Great response! But I think the lesson here is that you did make it happen despite once thinking that international travel would not be possible for you. Getting out there for that first trip is often all it takes to convince us that we not only want to travel more often but that we can rearrange our lives/finances in order to make it happen. Seems like you’ve accomplished that with your 12 trips!

  30. Melissa

    I love this!! I also am glad I had to trudge through my life, naive and equipped only with my dreams. Figuring things out has been both difficult and very rewarding. Funny, but this idea of speaking with our younger selves is one that I’ve been working on a lot lately, in a personal book project in which I’ve collected the stories and advice from 50 women around the world to their thirteen-year-old selves. I think it’s good to dream AND reflect:)

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Melissa – Absolutely and that seems like an interesting project you’re working on. Do you have an idea when it will be finished?

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