6 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was 18

The capacity to dream, imagine the future, and picture something that doesn’t exist is what differentiates us as humans.

As I was approaching 18 years old, I remember that most of my dreams were about having a career, being great at what I do, and spending my time in a sort of a busyness…from the gym in the morning to meetings in the day to dinner with friends in the evening (life like in the American movies set in Manhattan).

I was looking forward to being 23 already, even if I wasn’t even 18.

Like many of those in my generation, the options I had at that time were extremely limited and all pointed towards a certain type of college depending on what kind of high-school you were in.

My options were set even before I reached 11th grade, not by myself but by the way things were and what everyone else was doing. I was supposed to work hard and fulfill my generation’s promises.

The education I received was traditional, with a focus on memorizing and answering questions to prove my understanding of a particular subject. My answer was then compared to “the right answer” and graded accordingly.

I spent most of my high school trying to figure out the right answers, only to go out into the world later and realize that my answers had nothing to do with real life. The theoretical concepts I learned so that I could get good grades had no application in college. Furthermore, college turned out to be the same type of learning format, only with 10 times as many students.

Success depended on taking notes as fast as the professor talked, and then incorporating all of them in a way that proved you understood the material. This process had less to do with comprehension and more to do with replicating the same content, less to do with having your own ideas and more to do with proving the teacher’s theory.

Undoubtedly, some things have changed since then, with some colleges and high-schools putting more focus on applied concepts, but I believe the goal of traditional education sadly hasn’t changed that much.

Our education system is largely focused on academics, with the intent of providing more chances for students to have a job or a career at the end. It does very little to educate with the intent of generating happy and fulfilled adults.

As a mother now, thinking about my kids’ education in today’s complex world with so much uncertainty, I realize even more that there is no way I can predict how their world will look in the future, what jobs and careers will be available for them, but one thing is for sure. I wish they will know the things that really matter are not the grades, the awards, etc.

As I reflect back on my experience there are few things I wish I knew when I was 18, or at least started reflecting upon.

  • I wish I knew more about who I am, what really makes my heart tic. My days were filled with homework, reading, and trying to figure out how to face everyday fulfilling my “obligations.” The pressure of performing, being a good student, daughter, etc. replaced the time to reflect on myself as a person.
  • I wish I knew how to say “I don’t know” without the consequence of being considered less worthy. I wish that by saying it, I could have opened a door and taken the time I needed to know. Saying I don’t know was perceived as you haven’t done enough at finding the right answer. Curiosity to dig deeper and find my own answers wasn’t appreciated enough.
  • I wish I could’ve spent time understanding what I’m really good at and not have struggled to fit in a certain “template.” I wish I learned to play by my strengths and not play catch up all the time. I wish I learned how to create a winning game that can bring a change of perspective and a sense of achievement. Sure, human life is about improving and being better, but constantly focusing on what we still need to improve leaves less room to be grateful for what you already have, a skill that I had to work so hard on later as an adult.
  • I wish I knew how to trust myself and others around me, but the system focused on questioning, evaluating, and criticizing, left a big gap in building self-confidence.
  • I wish I knew that questions matter as much as the answers, if not even more.
  • Most importantly I wish I cared less about what other people think, and spent time understanding my own values and beliefs.

It’s already hard enough to be a teenager. If we don’t create enough opportunities early in life for the soul to evolve, this task will be harder later on when adult life takes over.

Imagine a time when the joy of learning is cultivated in our schools, when success is not measured by the diploma you have or by what you do or the title you have, but by how fulfilled you are, and when future choices are stemming from one’s passions and interests.

I’m not arguing that life should have no struggle, but it’s so important for us to dedicate ourselves to the right struggle…of becoming.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to human development. The traditional one believes that in order to become, you have to have (time, resources, titles, diplomas) and only then you can perform well. We call this ‘Have-Do-Be.’ The alternative is ‘Be-Do-Have,’where doing and having comes after being.

My dream is to embrace the latter in our education for our children, prioritizing their opportunity to become who they are here to be.

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