Advice to a 16-Year Old

I get e-mail asking for help. E-mail every day. And I answer every one. Don’t believe me? Try me.

I’d say 85% of the e-mail I get is the same general request for help: get me overseas. For general e-mails, I give general help. See examples here.

But sometimes I get an e-mail that tugs at my heart. Today was one of them. A 16-year old wrote for some early life-direction advice. At first glance, it was almost “cute.” I mean, imagine, a 16 year old asking a total stranger (-me, of all people!) for advice. He doesn’t know me at all. He only knows I have travelled and he wants the same. Then I read it carefully.

Simple Instructions

But as I read his e-mail, I realize this is no ordinary kid. Because of his dad’s global career as a young executive, this kid has grown up overseas. He’s spent half his life in Asia, and travelled extensively in the region. Already, as the kid puts it, “Travel is in my blood, and I absolutely love it!” But as a 16-year old, he’s asking for career direction to take after or during college. Valid questions, but I don’t feel comfortable answering specifically. And I do feel that he, as a 16-year old, has more potential in following his dad’s footsteps, if he looks more to stretching his comfort zone while still at home.

Do I envy him? You bet!  🙂

Anyway, here’s the reply I sent.

Hi xxx, thanks for the note and kind words. You sound like a pretty cool guy yourself!
When I was 16, I hadn’t yet left the US except for Niagara Falls, Canada. So, you’re well ahead of me. 🙂

I completely agree with you that companies do admire language skills. They also admire traits such as taking initiative and willing to seize an opportunity, especially when outside the “comfort zone.” Those are the traits your dad showed when he said “Ok, I’ll move the family to Japan…” He was a younger worker then. Maybe he had some experience then, but he set himself far apart from his peers after he moved. While other candidates stayed behind, your dad’s life grew tougher in the short-term, but more rewarding in the long-term. You’re seeing the product of that.

And that’s what I’m about to suggest to you. Decisions that are tougher in the short-term, but more rewarding in the long-term.

First couple suggestions are schooling. Absolutely finish high school (obviously). I know you weren’t considering traveling right away, but had to say it. And though I highly recommend getting a university degree, it’s not necessary to spend a ton of money, on a high-profile school. In the end, the degree is what matters, not where you got it.

Next couple suggestions are networking. Make yourself available to folks in positions to help you. You shouldn’t ask for help right away, or even after a while. But help them. Take a sincere interest in what they do, and offer to help them, however you might be able to. I can’t get specific since I really don’t know you, or folks around you. Do some part-time work or intern work in a professional office. Get to know them. If you start this skill early, it’ll pay off in multiples later on.

Last few suggestions… write down goals to accomplish. Seriously, write it. Jot down “silly” goals like “Treat any local CEO to coffee by June.” or “Earn $100 within a month like someone’s got a gun to my head.” If you don’t write them down and hang it where you’ll see it every day, then next month or June will come faster than you’d like.

One last thing. Show your dad this e-mail. I’m curious of his thoughts. Besides, if I knew him, he’d be one of the first people I’d suggest you talk to about what you want.


That’s the exact text I sent to him, just an hour ago. It took me only 10-15 minutes to write his reply, but when I re-read it, I realized this reply might help other high school students. So, there you have it. Hope it helps you.


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An American who likes to move around.
I now live on the eastern Canadian seaboard. My job? A stay-at-home dad for two cute but demanding bosses. My wife? Also cute; not so demanding.
My wife and I both love travel. We met in South Korea, travelled across Australia, India, Europe and beyond. We lived in Czech Republic for four years. Many stories to tell and experience to share. If you let me, I will help you travel as we do.

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