Friends of Ben Weigh In On My 18th Birthday

18 years ago today I popped out of my Mom, aspirated meconium, went on 100% oxygen, and had a 50/50 chance of living. Oh the suspense….Well, I lived! I recently asked many friends over age 18 to tell me what they did that they most regret or what they *didn’t* do that they most regret. I gave them gold stars if they could answer in haiku. It was a lot of fun reading. Thanks to Ian Ybarra for the idea.

A bunch of people responded saying "No regrets!" (One person added to her response: "People who say they have no regrets live an unexamined and superficial life.") A big trend was traveling overseas, something I plan to do this summer.

Here are some samples. Feel free to add your own to the comments and thanks again to those who responded.

Chris Yeh, Director of Marketing Symphoniq and co-founder of Silicon Valley Junto

What I most regret–
Not studying overseas.
That world is gone now.

Bud Ovrom, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development to Mayor Villaraigosa, City of L.A.

I turned 18 in june, 1963…

Three months later, on November 22, 1963, my new exhilirating world was turned totally upside down. I was 18 and the best year of my life had just turned into the worst day of my life. If I have any regret from that day it is  that I did not immediately start driving to washington for the funeral. Instead, my closest friends and I stayed glued to the tv in the student lounge (back in those days no one had a tv in their room and the communal grieving was probably good).

I was not then, and am not now, a religious person, but I remember knelling beside my bed that night and promising that I would use my life to try to  make a difference…For the remainder of those college years we were all very active in the civil rights and anti war movements. After graduation I joined the peace corps and then returned to pursue a career in local government. 

The defining moment of my life was when I was 18.

I hope you will also find that moment, but hopefully not at such a young
age and not by such a generationally tragic event. …I still get up every morning excited to go to work, because I still believe I am keeping that promise, doing something I believe in and feel that I am making a difference.

Ajay Juneja, entrepreneur

When I was eighteen
I helped others way too much
Ignoring the self

Brad Feld, Managing Director, Mobius Venture Capital

Always working hard
Not enough travel world wide
Too few girls in bed

Steve Silberman, Contributing Editor, Wired Magazine

18, thought I was
different than others, but I’m
one passing too, see

never kissed those lips
nor put my head on his chest –
love still new then, sharp

Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures

I don’t regret anything about that year of my life.  I left home, never to return for more than a visit, I went to MIT, the greatest school in the world, I spent the winter skiing in the Alps and learned to ski moguls, and spent the summer in Boston and had the time of my life.

Wayne McVicker, author of Starting Something: An Entrepreneur’s Tale of Control, Confrontation, and Corporate Culture

Regret that I did… Went to local junior college and worked to save money for architecture school, rather than investigating other ways to get money for school. I lost substantial momentum that took many years to make up.
Regret that I didn’t… Invest the time to learn to dance better.

Terry Duryea, former CFO Network Associates, serial entrepreneur

I was a college freshman at UC and because I rowed crew, I did not drink nor had I ever really drank.  But at my fraternity Christmas party (with the crew season over), I got so drunk I did a lot of stupid things (all in fun, nothing serious), ultimately leading to being ill.  The next day I felt horrible and was embarrassed by my actions.  I wasted my precious Sunday with the hangover and took a lot of ribbing from my fraternity brothers.

I regret losing self control and the waste of a Sunday BUT I am glad I did it, because it was a valuable lesson with little cost.  I’ve never been drunk like that since…and have enjoyed just as many parties without wasting the next day.

Heidi Roizen, Managing Director, Mobius Venture Capital

I can’t really say that I thoroughly regret anything I did at 18 –because even the stuff that seemed really horrible back then (like the night I went out with the Harlem Globetrotters and got myself stuck alone with no wallet at 2am in downtown San Francisco) ended up being learning experiences — and in the case of that particular episode and a few like it — rather funny stories to tell my kids.

What I most regret I didn’t do at 18, is take advantage of ALL the opportunites a place like Stanford afforded an undergrad.  I was so busy working to pay my way  through school, I didn’t get to do much extracurricular stuff.  In particular, I never took advantage of the study overseas programs, which were defining experiences for my friends. So my advice to you Ben is, realize that you have opportunities at 18 that you won’t have when you are older, recognize when one presents itself, and if you can, do it!

Julie Down, GVA Whitney Cressman

My biggest regret was that when I had an opportunity to study abroad during my freshman year in college that I take advantage of it.  I didn’t even talk to my mom about it.  I was concerned with some family stuff that was going on, the outcome of which wouldn’t have changed whether I was in the country or not.  I should have at least asked!  It would have been good for me to go but also to express what I wanted.

Deborah Streeter, Bruce F. Failing, Sr. Professor of Personal Enterprise and Small Business Management, Cornell University

When I was 18, I hosted a student from Brazil for a year.  It changed my life quite a bit.  I fell in love with Brazilian music, went to Brazil in my junior year of college and majored in Portuguese. Although I now teach entrepreneurship, the Brazilian connection continues to enrich my life by connecting me to wonderful people and opening up unusual opportunities.

Dick Costolo, CEO, FeedBurner

The thing I did *not* do that I most regret was not spending a year somewhere outside the US before going to college. I generally believe  that spending a year abroad, anywhere abroad, offers you a much greater perspective on the world when you enter college.

I didn’t do anything that i regr et….i wish i’d done more of everything
that i did do! :)

Dave Jilk, eCortex and Entrepreneur

On the happy side, very easy – I decided to apply to, and after being accepted, to attend MIT.

On the regrets side, I can do a haiku:

regrets at eighteen?
not the right time to decide
anything that big

Trevor Traina, serial entrepreneur and investor

Eighteen meant some drinks
Being with friends for hijinx
Not mature methinks.

Renee Blodgett, PR maven and blogger

Most happy about would have to be "doing a scholarship program abroad – in other words, getting ‘out of this country’ to gain a different perspective on the states and the world around us."

Les Vadasz, former CEO Intel Capital, director emeritus/executive VP Intel Corporatoin

I was almost 18 when I graduated from High School. I remember that a bunch of us had a great time after graduation ceremony, and we all ended up in our small apartment at late night. Including one of the 2 girls in my class. And we just sit there in the dark, doing nothing but talking… and I know she liked me…

You will remember more what you didn’t do than what you did.

David Cowan, Bessemer Venture Partners

For the first time I fell in love, which answers BOTH your questions.

Mark Pincus, founder Tribe, serial entrepreneur

I broke free of my dad’s influence!

Tyler Willis, Project New Orleans

When I was 18 I walked away from someone who loved me with all her heart to travel the world and discover what was important. What was important was what I already had. It doesn’t belittle what I learned in my travels, but it was the most foolish thing I’ve ever done.

Warren Katz, CEO Mak Technologies

I regret not living in a foreign country for at least 6 months or a year while in college.

Vida Tolman, Chief Deputy City Clerk, City of Arcadia, CA

I was 16 when applying to university and entered when I was 17. I most regret choosing a university that kept me closer to my high school friends (with whom I had nothing in common intellectually) rather than choosing a university that would have stimulated and challenged my brain. I could have easily been admitted to any school of my choice. I just "dumbed" myself down to keep friendships.  What I realize now is that the friendships I would/could have made at a more challenging university may have been a better fit for me and all it would have taken to get there was a little leap of faith.  Case in point: I pretty much left those high school friends in the dust after a few years of school anyway.

Here’s your birthday haiku, written in the abreviated English style, sans "season word":

New info
keeps brain running;
must gas up!

Bo Brustkern, SVP Corporate Development, Subfocal Solutions

wisdom like autumn
paucity, voyage; teacher
is the world at large

Olivier Marchand, Client Services Associate, Comcate, Inc.

I turned 18 in 1993. I wish I had invented Google, or at least Yahoo.

Richard Kassissieh, educational technologist

Always stop at four-way intersections.
Spend a year abroad during college.

Ryan Martens, President, Rally Development

Create a personal discipline for taking care of myself (mental, physical, emotional) – too easy to sacrifice myself for various other pressures (work, friends, school, fun)

Ramit Sethi, I Will Teach You to Be Rich

I wish I had started keeping a journal (whether public or not) to remember what I was thinking. Imagine being able to look back in 50 years and see what you thought when major events happened–and even cooler, just on a day-to-day basis. It’s never too late!

Dorrian Porter, CEO Mozes

I never knew how to listen very well or hold back negative criticism without taking the time to make it constructive or just letting things go altogether.  Both are something I still work on every day 15 years later.  In haiku, that might be:

He’s dumb. Who is that?
As my beard grew, I would shave.
I saw who it was.

Jon Swartz, USA Today Technology Reporter

I regret not traveling to L.A. with a high school friend to watch Pink Floyd perform The Wall in concert. Little did we know it would be only one in a handful of concerts before the band broke up for good. To add salt to the wounds, Rolling Stone magazine and others consider it one of the most memorable concerts ever.

Kevin Pasquinelli, CRM consultant, JD candidate, former Comcate consultant

Never say never!"

- When I was 18, and entering college, I said that I would dedicate my life
to science and never become an engineer. I graduated with a BSEE.
- As I became immersed in electrical engineering I said that I would never
concentrate in software. I went on to obtain a MSCS.
- Upon graduation, I said I would work only on applications and never on
compilers and software development tools (aka software that generated more
software was a "ridiculous use of my time"). Soon thereafter, I became
product manager for compilers and software development tools at Hewlett
Packard.
- During this entire time, my family encouraged me to become an attorney and
I responded; "What a dull and boring job." I am due to receive my J.D. in
May 2006.

Life is an adventure. Live it. Never count any vocational path out.

Jamis MacNiven, owner of Buck’s of Woodside

This is easy. I most regret not being more forward with women. Lacking perspective I didn’t know that women were interested in me or even in men. I had no father figure around to clue me in but let it be heard,  "Young women are interested"

Dale Edmondson, O’Melveny & Myers, LLP

Those with boring pasts
Rarely take issue with things
That they in fact did

My regrets involve not doing things — taking social pressures too seriously (and in particular, declining to ask out certain girls out of rejection-phobia).  I don’t think I really appreciated how little any of those pressures would matter in the long term.  If I had relaxed a bit more, taken things less seriously, and taken some risks, the years around that time probably would have been a lot more fun.

Auren Hoffman, Stonebrick group, Silicon Valley 100

happy 18th birthday Ben!   now you can vote, legally sign contracts,
join the military, drink in a couple of states, and officially take
over the world.

Charles Hudson, Manager, Business Development at Google Inc.

The thing that I most regret not doing is exploring the world outside of my own backyard. It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I really started to travel and see the rest of the world and meet people who were different. I would encourage all 18 year olds to become world travelers at an early age — it really broadens one’s horizons.

Will Pate, entrepreneur:

- Made a list of the top 25 people in something I wanted to be great 
at and reached out to form relationships with them.
- Been more like Ben Casnocha
- Believed in myself more
- Been more organized
- Do more favors for people I meet
- Have a plan

Ben Cathers, young entrepreneur and CEO of Search Rate Technologies

My biggest regret is not enjoying the life of a student. I was too focused on building my first business and not spending enough time realizing that being a high school student only happens once. I don’t regret building the business (as it paid for my college, housing and made me financially independent) but I do regret looking back at many of the memories I missed. Thankfully, college allowed me to re-deem yourself, and even though I didn’t want to go to college (and straight to business), as I reflect upon
everything (I graduate this semester) I just wish I could do it all over again. I tell my younger cousin who is a freshman "you are the luckiest person in the world". When one of my professors told us "I’d cut off my right arm to be in your seats" I couldn’t believe him, but now I do. Make sure you enjoy it all and remember business will always be there… but college and high school won’t be.

Josh Kaufman, marketing at Proctor & Gamble

Regret Doing When I Was 18:
Taking so many classes during my freshman year of college instead of working on my own projects and meeting more people.  (This goes for the remainder of college as well.)

Regret Not Doing When I Was 18:
Having a steady relationship / not dating more people during high school and the early years of college.  Relationships aren’t things to trifle with, but having a girlfriend of 3 years when you’re 18 is going a little overboard, when I look back.

Dave Richmond, President, Comcate, Inc.

I wish I had gone abroad during college and done a semester in D.C. I also wish I would have done more things in college that better prepared me for my career like networking, participating in groups on campus, etc.

Tim Hurley, Partner, Porter Novelli/Boston

I lost my dad to cancer when I was 20. And my biggest regret when I was about 18 was not telling him that I loved him.

25 Responses to Friends of Ben Weigh In On My 18th Birthday

  1. Zoli Erdos says:

    Wow. Isn’t it amazing to find one underlying theme in all these answers?
    I have not tallied it up, but I think the absolute “winner” is seeing the world / living abroad / hosting foreign student ..etc – in other words the International Experience. I traveled and later worked in several countries in Europe, Asia and America… more or less took it for granted, never really looked backed and thought about it, but I am sure it has a lot to do with who I am today.

    Happy Birthday Ben! You taught us something today :-)

  2. Chris Yeh says:

    A fascinating set of comments. The interesting thing is how much they converge. Maybe there is something to this wisdom of ages nonsense after all!

  3. Sam Kaufman says:

    You beat me to the punch by four months! Well, congratulations. Only you would think to give us something so fascinating to read on your 18th birthday.

  4. Kenny says:

    I’ve recently turned 18 as well. AS Zoli said, the comment that seems to appear the most is visting a foreign country/studying abroad. I’m going to college this fall, and as of now, I don’t have any plans for this summer..

  5. Dan Grossman says:

    Great post! I completely agree with the travel idea. That said, I think it’s best if people actually live overseas for some meaningful amount of time (as opposed to just visiting for a week or two). Anyway, happy birthday.

  6. Another theme is romantic/sexual involvement, and not letting shyness or self-consciousness get in the way of that (but also that, like any other worthwhile human experience, acting on those feelings can hurt too.) Worth noticing.

  7. The main thing is, Happy Birthday Ben! You seem blessed with an extraordinary number of interesting/smart/wise/accomplished friends.

  8. Carol Rutlen says:

    When I turned 18 I was in college in Montana. I had always lived in a small rural area. Experiencing a college town of 35,000 was terribly exciting. In retrospect I wished I would have explored the wide range of experiences that college offers. I settled into a routine pretty quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed college and my lifestyle, but I didn’t try writing for the school
    paper or photography or classes outside my major or a variety of other things. I was very focused and accomplished a lot. But life is a journey, not a destination. It’s important to look outside ourselves. Stop the train and take a walk around. Don’t wander away from the train station, but the goal is not to reach the end of the line. It is about who you touch and what you see along the way.

  9. Tim Taylor says:

    Happy birthday brother. Interesting thought to ask that question.

    Ben, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Thinking about living life with no regrets will almost certainly lead you to a life with regrets.

    Just be.

  10. Dan Esparza says:

    Spending too much dough
    Fast rising credit card debt
    Rumbling trouble looms

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  12. Gabe says:

    That first creative writing class in college, when my work was first critiqued by my peers. Small fish, big pond. Couldn’t take it. Too thin-skinned. Didn’t realize then that the world is all about being able to handle rejection. “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire,” as Bukowski said. So I stopped writing creatively.

    And now I’m 33.

    It will happen again (trust me!), but it takes much more effort these days (like most other things)

    To sum up: never lose momentum in what you love to do.

    Momentum ain’t cheap, and it gets more expensive as you get Older.

  13. Happy birthday to Ben!

    My happiest event at 18 was leaving my small town in Alaska and going to Wellesley (had my 18th birthday there). One of the best and biggest decisions of my life.

    Regret Haiku:
    Afraid of failure
    Did not trust myself enough
    Too much studying

    If I had to do it over, like many other of your friends, I’d take junior year abroad. I graduated in 7 semesters so couldn’t do the Wellesley-in-Aix program — I’m making up for it by spending a month in Paris again this year!

    Big birthday wishes to Ben!

  14. AaronWoodin says:

    Not starting my business sooner, not being more social in high school and college.
    Not being more assertive about things I wanted from people, employers and vendors.

  15. Happy Birthday Ben!

    My 18th year was mostly terrific – but it’s funny that you ask this because I saw one of my greatest regrets on TV last week.

    I did a Bode (yes, really). I had qualified for the Eastern regional ski championships (1 step from Nationals – i.e. Olympic trials).

    Since I was from NJ there was pretty much no chance I was going to go anywhere against racers from VT, NH, ME, etc… – so I took the easy way out. Rather than focusing on the race(s), I instead had a great time and partied.

    I also crashed – twice.

    Would I have made it to the next level? Extremely doubtful. But I’ve nonetheless regretted not giving it my best – ever since.

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  17. I regret not having found a way to slow down time or eliminate the human body’s need for sleep. There’s just not enough time to do everything!

    On a serious level, one of the comments above had good advice: don’t spend too much time trying to live a life with no regrets. Just do it. Super motivated people are sometimes super efficient, and they see things in the past they could have done slightly better.

    A belated Happy Birthday.

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  19. steve says:

    I regret that i didnt take more risks and chances when i was in high school and college. All i did was hate everything thats around me, even myself and didnt accomplish anything.
    Now, im in mid 20′s and trying to figure what i want in life. I’m still living with my parents, no car, no g/f, no career and broke.

  20. I personally think that the word “regret” as it’s used throughout this post is used too loosely.

    That being that it was stated that “People who say they have no regrets live an unexamined and superficial life.” The thing is that by no means do I live an unexamined and superficial life, but at the same time, I don’t have regrets.

    I don’t even regret some of the worst things that I have done. Just imagine the risk of eliminating those regrets… as of now, I consider myself very well developed and on the verge of doing amazing, great things. Ok, now take one of those situations that I could “regret.” If it’s significant enough for me to remember, it obviously played a factor in who I am today. I love who I am today. Take my regrets away (make it so that some things never happened), and you take away a part of what has made me, and theoretically I could not be the same individual as I am now. And I cannot imagine being a “better” individual.

    Therefore, I examine, yet have absolutely no regrets.

    Hopefully I’m not off-track here.

  21. Ryan says:

    I regret not listening to my frinds when I was 18. I was in a relationship that I thought was serious. But I was blinded by her good looks. She was mentally and physically abuseive. And I had an opertunity to date one of the most attractive girls in High School. And I stayed with the crazy girlfriend. for almost 2 years. Even with my friends telling me she was crazy and abusive. I was dumb. But I think that since I did stay with her, I did get all these amazing opertunities. Now I am happy with my current girlfriend and I think we will be happy togather. And as for my ex, I talked to her reciently. She is still cranky and synical… Something’s never change.

  22. Ryan says:

    I regret not listening to my frinds when I was 18. I was in a relationship that I thought was serious. But I was blinded by her good looks. She was mentally and physically abuseive. And I had an opertunity to date one of the most attractive girls in High School. And I stayed with the crazy girlfriend. for almost 2 years. Even with my friends telling me she was crazy and abusive. I was dumb. But I think that since I did stay with her, I did get all these amazing opertunities. Now I am happy with my current girlfriend and I think we will be happy togather. And as for my ex, I talked to her reciently. She is still cranky and synical… Something’s never change.

  23. Dan Hill says:

    I’d say the biggest mistake you could make is to try to avoid making mistakes. Of course you should avoid the really big one’s that could end or ruin your life permanently. But embrace the others, because those are what will turn you into a more resiliant and interesting person.

  24. Genevieve Hulley says:

    Wow,
    Ok, so i know i said i was not into blogging, btu I really enjoyed this birthday post. Although I am now 19, hearing all the things people wish that had done makes me think about all my opportunities.

    Thanks for putting this one up

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