What 12 Lessons About Life Would You Teach Your Younger Self If You Had A Time Machine?

Nobody likes taking advice from other people. 

What if you could get advice from an older, wiser version of yourself?  Would you take it?  What if you had a time machine and could travel back to visit your younger self and spend one day to help him or her prepare for the future?  Would your younger self listen and learn?

What advice would you give you?  How would you be convincing.  What proof could you bring?

There are two ways to approach this problem.  First, you could teach yourself how to get more of what you wanted in this life with hindsight, or you could convince yourself that you should be a totally different person, a better person.  If you collected rare baseball cards you could tell yourself how to get the rarest ones for your future self.  Or, you could tell your younger self, don’t waste a lifetime on collecting baseball cards, just play a lot of baseball.

As much as I’ve enjoyed my life, as much as I love my wife and friends, I have never been the person I wanted to be because of introverted habits and laziness.  I would go back and try to convince my younger self to become a different person knowing full well it would erase me and my current life.

If you had a time machine and could spend a day with a younger self, what age would you target?  Why?  What would you say?

I’d go back to 1964 when I turned 13, when I understood science fiction.  I think Jim-13 could understand Jim-60 and time travel.


Here’s what I’d try to teach Jim-13.

  1. Give up my addiction to science fiction.  I have a life-long addiction to fantasy that I overindulge with books, television and movies.  I’d work very hard to convince my younger self to never look at television again, and to promise to read no more than one novel a month.  I’d try to convince him to read more non-fiction and classics.  I’d tell him when he did read SF, to find and read the very best science fiction, but no more than four SF books a year.  I’d try to convince him to seek out SF books that taught him more about reality and not use science fiction to escape reality.
  2. Study science and mathematics.  I wouldn’t try to help my younger self get rich by telling him to buy key stocks, or which horses or football teams to bet on.   I’d try to teach him that the key to a good life is working hard at something you love and that being a scientist is probably the best way to spend a lifetime.
  3. Give up junk food, eat healthy, and exercise.   I was an active kid, and skinny until after I got married, but I have an addictive personality and I ate lots of junk food.  Seeing Jim-60 weighing 234 pounds would probably be pretty convincing evidence.
  4. Don’t get involved with drugs.  Hey, I grew up in the 1960s, so that will be a hard lesson to teach.  I might tell him to experiment under certain social conditions, but convince Jim-13 that drugs will waste a lot of time and money.
  5. Pay more attention to other people.  I’ve always been introverted, self-centered and egocentric.   I’d try to convince Jim-13 that getting out of his head and focusing on what’s going on in other people’s heads will lead to more social success and a richer life.
  6. Warn him about sex.  Hey, he’s 13.  I’d try to convince him that all those gazillion hours of sex fantasies won’t get him laid.  I’d try to teach him not to think about what he wanted but learn to observe women and study what they wanted.  I’d tell him, yes, all the girls have pussies, but the organ you really want to lust after is brains.  I’d tell him to learn to dance.
  7. Take good notes.  I’d try very hard to teach Jim-13 to keep a journal, studying the art of writing as deeply as possible, learn to draw and sketch, and take one photo a day.
  8. Find ways to make money and save it.  I’d teach him working provides social contacts and access to mentors, and that saving money will mean freedom to do more.  I tell him that easy money from time travel tips is wrong and a waste of time.
  9. Finish school as fast as possible and get into college as soon as you can.  I’d convince Jim-13 that it’s very important to become independent as soon as possible and college is one way to do that.   Try to get in by 16.
  10. Move in with your grandmother.  My parents were alcoholics and at age 13 I was about to go through some very bad years.  If I could have gotten away from them it really would have helped me tremendously.  And my grandmother managed an apartment building in her old age, and could have used the help.  If I could have grown up living in one place and had a stable life for junior high and high school I would have been a much different person.  I’d tell my younger self to not leave Miami until after college – to even get into the University of Miami for college.  Maybe even study marine biology.  I’d also advise him to leave for grad school and to study physics or astronomy then.
  11. Find mentors.  I think the key to success is to start work young and find mentors that can help you understand the game in any situation.
  12. Learn to focus and work hard.   I’d tell Jim-13 to push himself to work a little harder at his favorite projects each day.  To learned to focus his concentration a little harder on every task each day.   If you can spend 30 minutes focused on learning calculus one day, try for 31 the next.  If you can grind on a telescope mirror for 2 hours on one day, try for 2 hours and 5 minutes the next.  If you can run four miles one day, try for 4.1 the next.  Just keep pushing your body and mind to go further.

I know this is a fantasy and time travel isn’t possible. But playing this little thought experiment is very educational. I can always pretend its advice for Jim-13 from Jim-60, but it could be advice for Jim-80 to me at this moment.

But if this little fantasy was possible it would have played out different than what I wanted.

Convincing my younger self of all of this would be hard.  If I could print out all my blog posts into a book, I give him that.  I might bring an iPad to show him how far out technology gets.  I might bring him the book Replay by Ken Grimwood.  I might bring him a photo album of my life. 

I was a bullheaded kid, so I’m not sure I could have convinced him of anything.

I’m pretty sure he would have demanded that Jim-60 stay in 1964 so he, Jim-13 could return in the time machine to 2012.

I would have agreed.

JWH – 8/4/12

7 thoughts on “What 12 Lessons About Life Would You Teach Your Younger Self If You Had A Time Machine?”

  1. You have always been too hard on yourself.

    You think of yourself as introverted, but the Jim that you became has been a wonderful friend to me, like a big brother, guiding me through my life for so many years.

    Long ago you introduced me to the world of computers. Always patient, always kind, leading me along with your tremendous enthusiasm. You were never too busy to give advice to dumb kid. Without your direction, I would never have become a computer programmer.

    You taught me so much about all kinds of literature. It is still exciting to hear about what you are reading and why.

    Your insatiable curiosity about the world is infectious. Minds that burn with such beautiful intensity are very rare.

    So I take exception to your self analysis. I love the Jim that you are.


    1. Mike, don’t think I’m being hard on myself. The idea of traveling back in time to meet yourself came up in our science fiction book club. I’ve always loved this idea. It’s a fun idea. What do you say to yourself?

      We only get one chance in life, and no matter how much we regret the way things turn out, we should accept and embrace our lives. I love my life. But how often have you heard someone say, “If I had my life to live over I do everything the same exact goddamn way!” I always thought that was silly. I always thought if you got a chance to live your life over why not do everything different. Why not take a different road each time?

      Most people when they write about time machines work very hard not to interfere with the direction of their own lives. I’ve always been amused by the idea of taking the road not traveled, so I’d mess with my own timeline. This is all theoretical I know.

      I think there are two kinds of people. The first are so attached to themselves that they always exclaim, “If I had to live my life over I do everything the same.” Then there’s the second kind, a kind your don’t often hear about, who say, “If I had my life to live over, I do everything different.” It’s not about hating your life, it’s about missed opportunities and variety.

  2. You said it yourself, Jim – we only have one chance in life. I agree that you’re too hard on yourself, but I also think that it’s foolish to think back about what you’d change in your past. (Admittedly, I do the same thing sometimes.)

    This is the life we’ve got, and it starts now. Your 13-year-old self is beyond reach (and I’d say that he turned out pretty well, anyway). What matters is what you’re telling your adult self in real-time, because this isn’t a practice run at life. This is it.

    And if you’re still telling yourself all the ways you need to change, well, I think that’s a bit foolish, too. I like the Jim we’ve got, and so should you. None of us is perfect, but sometimes you just have to accept that you’re not so bad, either. 🙂

    Forget about regrets. We all have them, but none of us can change the past. And at this time in our lives, IMHO (speaking as someone the same age as you), it’s more about enjoying what we’ve got that dwelling on what we should have done differently.

  3. Well Sir thankyou for the amazing advice…i have figured i am a lot like you like downloading tons of math books and not reading them.I love math,and judging by your regrets about it,i am now in andreline rush to be a scientist as soon as possible..i am only 18 now and learning Mathematica…but will turn to sage(my ultimate software but its hard to use without knowing advanced math).

    1. Good luck then at becoming a scientist. You are still young and should be able to get up to speed fast. The key is to learn to concentrate and push yourself to stay in the zone longer and longer each day. Having tools like Mathematica and Sage should really help, because I believe their visual results will help you to see abstract ideas. You might also like to play with the programming language Python.

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