Date: July 18, 1990. I turned 22 today.
Time: 7:32 am
Place: Standing on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, near a cordoned off nest with a sea turtle and dozens of her freshly laid eggs.
Me: Hey there, aren’t you the guy known around here as the “turtle man”?
Turtle man: Yes, that’s me. It’s nice to see you again. Last time we met, you were strolling along this very same stretch of beach.
Me: Wow, how did you remember me? That was four years ago! I remember I was watching a bunch of baby sea turtles that had just hatched here and they were scrambling down the sand and trying to dive into the surf so they could begin their lives in the Atlantic Ocean. You were trying to protect their nest and make sure they at least made it to the water safely. That was an amazing sight.
Me: Well, I just graduated from college and I’m headed to graduate school for a Master’s degree.
Turtle man: Congratulations, young man. You’ve got a bright future ahead of you.
Me: Thank you, I’m glad college is over finally, but now I’ve got another round of classes and papers and exams on the way.
Turtle man: I’m wondering if you’re interested in hearing some nuggets of advice from someone who knows a few things about how the world works.
Me: Sure, I’d be grateful. But please spare me the lectures, I’ve had enough of those over the past four years.
Turtle man: Fair enough. But hear me out.
Me: Alright, go ahead.
Turtle man: Never stop learning.
Sure, you’ve got a college degree under your belt and you’re headed for another degree. But that doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know under the sun. The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing. Stay curious. Keep an open mind. Keep asking questions. Keep doubting and wondering.
Me: Okay, I’ll bear that in mind.
Turtle man: Know from whence you came.
Me: Sounds pretty biblical, the way you say it.
Turtle man: The author James Baldwin said it actually. Glenn, tell me this: what do you know about your family?
Me: My parents are from Pittsburgh and they decided to flee the cold and move to Florida in the 1960s. Their grandparents are from Eastern Europe—Poland and Belorussia on my dad’s side, Czechoslovakia on my mom’s. They came over to America 80 or 90 years ago, I’m not sure when exactly.
Turtle man: When was the last time you asked your parents about their parents or grandparents? How about your grandparents — have you ever asked them about their parents or grandparents?
Me: No, I guess I haven’t.
Turtle man: I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but hard as it is to accept, they won’t be around forever. So ask now and find out where your family came from, and what their story is, because it has had a huge influence on who you are now, whether you are conscious of it or not.
Get to know your extended family—you’ll be surprised by how many amazing people you’re related to. You’ll feel more connected to your family, and you’ll learn to be proud of your heritage.
Turtle man: Learn from your failures.
And you will fail from time to time, so get used to it.
Me: Yeah, failure kind of sucks.
Turtle man: It’ll hurt at the time, but it’s also a great chance to learn and to grow. And you’ll realize more often than not, that failures are the nudges — or kicks in the butt — that help you change how you think about things, and influence the decisions you make and the actions you take in your life.
Turtle man: Give back.
Volunteer your expertise and time. Donate money to causes you care about.
Me: I was a volunteer English tutor in college. I helped several international students who were struggling with their English.
Turtle man: Not enough. Give more of your time and skills, and, once you’ve got some money saved up, share some of that as well. You can have a much bigger impact on the world if you share your resources, and don’t just hoard what you have.
Me: Got it.
Turtle man: Be grateful for what you have.
Stop comparing yourself to others and appreciate what you’ve accomplished so far, and acknowledge the talents and skills that you possess. Recognize your potential and the power you have to shape your future.
Me: I suppose you’re right about that.
Turtle man: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
Me: Yeah, I can remember my father telling me something along those lines. He once told me “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” It’s been pretty useful advice.
Turtle man: Well, it’s true.
Me: Sound advice. But Jagger? I’m more of a Morrissey and David Sylvian fan, sorry. Maybe I’ll check that song out the next time I’m at Tower Records looking for some CDs.
Turtle man: I would tell you to download it on your computer if you could, but my instinct tells me that probably won’t be possible for another decade and a half. Wouldn’t it be great if you could though?
Me: Heck yeah!
Turtle man: Hey, did you see that egg just crack over there? Looks like the turtles are hatching. Let’s check it out!
What kind of advice would you tell your 22-year-old self if you had the chance to turn back the clock?