7 Pieces of Advice to Teenagers (and My Former Teenage Self)

7 Pieces of Advice to Teenagers (and My Former Teenage Self)

by Farhan Shah

As managing editor of AUGUSTMAN, I’m sometimes asked to give career talks to teenage students. I mainly speak about a career in publishing, but also include life lessons I’ve picked up along the way. Here are some of the things I share.

1. Fail and fail again

There is nothing wrong with failure.

While pursuing your passions, I always believe in trying and failing. There's no harm in failing. Because when you fail, you just end up where you already were to begin with.

(Unless you're skydiving. Then you better not fail.)

Failure is a teacher. I love what Michael Jordan said in a Nike ad:

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

2. Chase your dreams

7 Pieces of Advice to Teenagers - Farhan Shah

Sometimes people talk about dreams but forget about the chase.

My ascent to managing editorship was not without difficulty. I was never the first choice. But I talked to my boss, told him I really wanted it, and outlined my plans.

Go for your dreams, but really go for it.

3. Keep an open mind

That said, don’t get fixated on just one thing and end up afraid of trying something new, something that you think you won't like. Maybe your boss asks you to try something that you're not good at. Just give it a shot.

I believe that you should never say no to a job. You may gain new experiences, find new opportunities, and perhaps even discover something about yourself. As Richard Branson wrote:

If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!

4. Never stop improving

You should always be better than who you were yesterday – whether it is physically, mentally or spiritually. You should always grow as a person. Otherwise you're as good as dead.

It could be anything: getting from one pull-up to two pull-ups, reading to grow your mind, impacting young people and passing on your knowledge.

Personally, I'm very physically active. I gym three times a week and do a lot of sports like basketball, boxing and rock climbing. Currently, two business partners and I are in the midst of starting a new gym concept – essentially partner workouts to promote social interactions.

Even when I play chess on my phone, I look back on previous games to see how I can improve. I'm not trying to become a grandmaster like Magnus Carlsen. I just find joy in self-improvement.

5. Remember your why

7 Pieces of Advice to Teenagers - Farhan Shah

I believe a job should inspire and enrich you. Lots of people get jaded about work. If every day you wake up and dread going to work, then you should quit that job. You spend one third of your life in the office. So make sure it's something that you enjoy.

Sometimes the workplace gets you down. Sometimes you choose a job for the wrong reasons. That's when you need to make an active decision to change yourself, change your perception of the job, or remove yourself from that situation.

I got into writing because I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless and shine a spotlight on social issues. Nine years on, I still try keep that flame alive and do what I believe in. It’s important to remember why you joined an industry in the first place.

6. Ignore the haters

My generation, the millennials, is pretty misunderstood. We’re not the strawberry generation, as people like to say. The millennials I work with are passionate and hardworking. Just because they think differently doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Millennials are living in the most blessed time. With their talents and resources, they have the ability to change the world in a way that generations before could not.

Recently I met Toh Tai Chong, a marine biologist and founder of Our Singapore Reefs, which is a community of volunteer divers that cleans up the waters around Singapore.

Life gives you the exam first, then the lesson afterwards.

He uses a lot of his own funds. I found that amazing and asked him why. He said, “I love the ocean”. People like him inspire me.

Your generation will be misunderstood too. Ignore the unfair criticism. At the same time, it's important for different generations to be open to each other, listening and learning.

7. You are where you need to be

Growing up in a single-parent family was tough. I got teased and bullied at school for not having a dad. My mum worked all the time, so I would never see her.

Life didn't seem very optimistic, but in hindsight, all these incidents helped me grow and made me who I am today. Life gives you the exam first, then the lesson afterwards.

If there’s just one piece of advice I would give to my teenage self, it would be: You are exactly where you need to be in your life right now.

Don't worry about other people who are better than you. Don't beat yourself up because you are not at the level of your peers or haven’t reached your goals by your set deadline. Everyone progresses through life at different speeds.

The fact that you are thinking about your progress is already a good sign, because it means you are actively improving yourself.

If you’re unclear about what you need to do, unsure whether you’re going down the right path, I extend the same advice to you: You are exactly where you need to be.

For more millennial stories, visit the #LetsTalkMillennials page.

7 Pieces of Advice to Teenagers - Farhan Shah being interviewed