Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian's note to his younger self: "Trust your instincts"

Note to Self: Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian

In our series, Note to Self, we hear from tech entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian. He co-founded Reddit, which is now ranked the sixth most popular website in America. Ohanian was dubbed "the mayor of the internet."

Now he's investing in other entrepreneurs and companies, as co-founder of the venture capital firm, Initialized Capital. In the last couple years, he also became a first-time parent when his wife, tennis superstar Serena Williams, gave birth to their daughter, Olympia. In a letter to his childhood self, Ohanian looks back on his life.


Alexis, 

You're still a child and have no idea how much you'll enjoy laughing at that photo of you in the lederhosen when you're older. Don't throw a fit. Your mother and Oma, they really like it. You know how much you love mangos? Well, you're surrounded by a small family with a simple life who loves you more than you love mangos. They will give you confidence.

Your dad won't recognize the Brooklyn neighborhood you grew up in when you take him back to Fort Greene decades later. To fulfill your parents' dream of being able to afford to live in Brooklyn Heights, you'll buy an apartment there, though you'll end up living in Florida (and no, not Disney World).

You'll hate leaving NYC for the suburbs of Baltimore, but know that your parents are just doing what they think is best for you and your education with their limited means. Turns out they are right; you'll be bored, but you'll channel that boredom into video games, and then computers, and eventually programming which is going to be really helpful for later in life. You'll have to correct people who don't believe your name is "Alexis" all of your life — and you'll learn to love it.

You're making the right choice when you walk into the history department first semester of your first year at the University of Virginia to declare your major, shocking the department head at how early you commit. Trust your instincts. When you walk out of the LSAT without finishing it in order to go to the Waffle House, you're making the right choice. The decision is going to change your life. Because there, between those syrupy bites of waffles, you're gonna realize that you're meant to be an entrepreneur, not a lawyer.

All those jobs you had growing up, from CompUSA sales guy to Pizza Hut cook, are going to help you tremendously when you co-found Reddit. But nothing could prepare you for your mom getting diagnosed with terminal brain cancer just a few months after graduating from college and starting your company.

You're going to wish you could remember all the little details: her accented voice, her breathless laughter, the intensity of her hugs, and the charm of her high fives. She'll show you what it means to be truly courageous and selfless. And you'll spend the rest of your life working to make her sacrifices worth it. Let her hug and kiss you in public. It doesn't make you any less tough and it means everything to her. You'll understand when you're a father and you've got your own little Schatz.

Speaking of dad, he'll show you what it means to be a man. He spent most of your childhood working late nights in order to provide for the family. And he'll support his wife throughout it all. He'll be an advocate through every chemo treatment and rock for her amidst all the uncertainty, until the end. The whole ordeal gives you a wisdom at a young age — to realize what matters in life are the people and experiences (not things) one acquires along the way.

You'll have success in business, but there will be plenty of setbacks and surprises. Trust your instincts when it comes to people. Purge toxic relationships and spend time with the people who inspire you to be better. Start now. In fact, you'll be meeting some of your lifelong friends in elementary school very soon.

This is random but bear with me. You'll do a class assignment in the 4th grade where you'll share just how much you hate tennis. That's fine for now, but promise me you'll keep an open mind later in life. You'll eventually get married, have a daughter, and even your own mango tree. You'll spend your whole life creating: websites, companies, even logos that millions of people love, but none of those compare to how proud of you are of your most important creation: your family.