What I Wish I Knew At  17

By Chris Hulls

This time of year, I tend to flash back to my own high school graduation. That was a summer of real freedom. I had a few bucks in my pocket from a small business I was running, some good friends, and the car keys — pretty much the most important things back then.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to grow up really quickly. In 2000, I joined the military and ended up in Afghanistan less than a year later. 

While I hope that not everyone has to grapple with that kind of speedy adjustment, it taught me a lot. In the spirit of celebrating new chapters, here’s some advice I’d give to 17-year-old me, and all the other recent graduates out there.

1. Wherever you go, there you are — so work on YOU.

Going off to college, starting a new job, or moving out on your own… these are all huge steps that can be a fresh start. And fresh starts are great, but just remember that at the end of the day, you’re still YOU — so make sure your true colors are what you want them to be.

Everybody has their stuff, trust me. But the better you get to know yourself, the healthier you’ll be. You’ll have a better shot at fixing bad habits, taking constructive criticism, and being accountable. I believe people can change, but it doesn’t happen by accident. So spend some time taking care of the real, authentic you. It’s the most important thing you can give to the world and the people who matter most in your life.

2. Get caught trying.

As an entrepreneur, I can tell you that life is a process of trial and error. Not everything you do is going to be a raging success, but they won’t all be abject failures either. The worst thing you can do is not show up. To not even try. In my experience, everything I’ve ever achieved — from making lasting friendships to building a company that makes a difference I’m proud of — has been on the other side of my comfort zone.

You know your limits, so trust yourself. But when you get that nervous/excited feeling in your gut, GO with it. Because you might make a connection or learn a new skill that will turn out to be important in ways you can’t imagine yet. Try hard for yourself, try hard for the people that depend on you, and KEEP on trying. Because the only real failure is phoning it in.

3. Keep an open mind.

When I was 17, I was sure of my convictions and I felt things strongly. Today’s teens find themselves in an even more polarized world, and it’s easy to think you have it all figured out. There are plenty of voices out there confirming your biases and telling you what you want to hear.

But the truth — thankfully — is often a lot more complicated and interesting. That’s why it’s important to take a step back and consider other points of view, hear people out, try some things on for size, and be open to the fact that you might be wrong! If there’s one thing that’s been true time and time again throughout my life, it’s that good ideas, great friends, and incredible opportunities can come from anywhere. To this day, I try to stay open to new perspectives and approaches — because just about everyone you meet can teach you something if you’re paying attention.

4. Live in the moment.

Ferris Bueller was right: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” This past year, we all saw just how quickly things can change. You’re only young once, so enjoy it. Make the most of your ability to be awesome on very little sleep, say yes more often than no, and have a blast.

Congrats, grads! Stay safe out there this summer, and good luck!


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