What Do you Know Now?

What do you know now that you wish you knew twenty years ago?

I guess if I was asked to give a real answer to this question, I would say, I wish I knew that having a good education improves the odds of having a good career. I know this sounds stupid, but hang with me and I’ll circle back to this shortly.

During my freshman year, I racked up a total GPA of less than 2. I was dismissed and told to go home, get my act together, and reapply after a year. So I did, and they let me back. But I was still the same person when I returned.

I remember one conversation with my roommate where he asked “what’s the matter with you?” He told me that I would end up getting kicked out again. He was right.

I used to wonder if I was a rebellious student because my parents got divorced when I was young. I wondered if I smoked too much and studied too little to numb the pain of knowing that my mother only had a few years left to live. But I think I finally realized my truth, and it has nothing to do with things I could learn in therapy. My college experience was what it was because I am who I am.

My educational failures aren’t something I spend too much time thinking about, but I was reminded of them while reading John Doerr’s Measure What Matters. I had a holy shit moment that was inspired by Brett Kopf, co-founder of Remind. In the book, he said:

As a college freshman, I was hopeless with academic deadlines and schedules, which my professors seemed to change on a whim…Success in college is a matter of time management. When to start writing that ten-page poli-sci essay? How to prep for the chem final? It’s all about dynamic goal setting, and I kept dropping the ball.

Anybody who knows me knows that time management and dynamic goal setting are the oil to my water. So even if I knew then what I know now, I still don’t know if I would have listened. It’s not that I didn’t know at the time that I was doing the wrong thing, it’s that I didn’t have the tools to succeed in that sort of environment. It’s hard to believe it took me so long to realize this.

I think the whole premise of the “what do you wish you knew” question is flawed because you are who you are, today. I’m pretty sure I know the sort of answers I would give to this question twenty years from now, and I’m also pretty sure this won’t change how I live my life:

  • I wish I knew how quickly my kids would grow up.
  • I wish I knew to spend less time on my phone.
  • I wish I knew to eat less and exercise more.

What I know now wouldn’t have helped me then, and what I’ll know tomorrow wouldn’t necessarily help me today.

The things we know aren’t always enough to change our behavior. If they were, 6.5 trillion cigarettes and 550 million big macs would not be bought each year.

When internalizing how I messed up in college, I used to say, “I don’t know what I was thinking,” or, “I don’t know who that person was.” Now I still don’t know what I was thinking, but I know exactly who that person was because it’s the same person I am today, which is just a different version of myself.



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