Several years ago, somebody asked on a hacking forum "What advice would you give yourself in your 20s?"
For some reason, my answer was popular. I have received several emails about how it changed peoples' lives. Somebody even brought it up again a couple of days ago. I am copying both the question and answer here in case you find it of use.
QUESTION: I'd like to cheat in life and instead of learning my life lessons the hard way, I'd like to skip ahead and read the ending of the current chapter that I'm currently on.
When I was in middle school, my biggest worry was getting the latest Abercrombie & Fitch cargo pants to fit in on the school hallway, whether this girl on my school bus liked me, and if the size of my gentalia was on par with my peers back then.
When I was in high school, my biggest worry was doing well in school so that I could get into an ivy league school; tacking on a bunch of AP courses and extracurricular activities, not necessarily because I enjoyed AP Chemistry or the track team, but I had to, to get into a ivy league school; and trying to look "cool," "edgy," & "artsy" while caring to stay within the boundaries of MTV's and my high school's social conventions.
When I was in college, my biggest worry was doing well in school so I could go onto a top graduate/medical school or grab a six-figure salary at an i-bank upon graduation. Befriended certain people, chased certain girls (and botched things up royally after the chasing phase is over), got involved in some unsavory debauchery not necessarily because I wanted to live out the lives that "burn, burn, burn" but rather out of my fear of missing out on the "college experience."
Of course, it didn't all seem that way when I was in the moment - and certainly I don't regret the things I did in the past (because I can't change the past) and I'll be certain to make lots of mistakes in the future too. And even if an older version of me, traveled back in time to my middle school, told me how stupid of me it was to spend $70 of my parents' money on a pair of Abercrombie & Fitch cargo pants, I know that my middle school self would respond, "are you crazy, I need to get these pants to impress this chick on my school bus!"
I only beseech your wisdom about what mistakes/naivetes I'll incur in my twenties, oh elders, so that when I realize later how right you were after my twenties, I could slap myself silly and say to myself, in the place of your absence, "see? I told you so!"
- Shiny things are nowhere as much fun after you get them as before, even if they have some value. So yes, that Kindle or iPad or whatever will have a real use, and you will be marginally happier with it than without, but not as much as you think
- You can talk yourself into (or out of) anything. The only difference between smart people and other people is that smart people do this with bigger words and more complex arguments. Be confident, but also assume that you are broken in ways you can never spot. Find some ways to get a checksum on life decisions every now and then.
- You don't need very much at all. Maybe a laptop computer and a couple changes of clothes. Pictures and videos of your life. That's about it.
- Nothing will ever replace experiences. No matter how big the car, nice the house, or professional-looking the suit, it's never going to be as much fun or mean as much later as the experiences you have in life. And it's not just having the experience, it's looking forward to them, and planning them, and making pictures, movies, and blogs out of them. The best part, oddly, may be the planning. So planning a 200-dollar trip to the beach in the Fall with people you love may give you many hours of happiness this summer -- along with the fun of the trip itself.
- Learn to keep picking topics and immersing yourself in them. Most everybody will say to drop out and become part of the system -- 9-5 job and TV/games/internet in the evening. If you want a life you could sleep through, that's fine. But if you want a life you can tell stories about, keep reinventing yourself. And that means constantly learning.
- Lots of shit in life that once looked dumb or stupid opens up into this huge panorama of beauty once you learn the rules. In so many things you are like the guy who never saw a baseball game going to the world series. You kind of get it, but it all seems silly. You don't know the rules. Decide to learn how to appreciate music, for instance. Get a few college lectures on tape, get some good music to listen to, hang out with folks who are music connoisseurs. The more you know about various art forms, the richer your life is.
- Forget philosophy and meaning-of-life shit. You're too young. For now, you are what you do. Go do something worthwhile
- Stick to a daily exercise routine at all costs
- If you are changing and getting better, that means you are changing friends too. This was very difficult for me, but you can't hang out with the same folks and expect to become a better person. There are exceptions, of course, but to a large degree your life is controlled by whom you choose to be friends and hang out with. Be aware that you don't want to be the same person at 30 as you were at 20. I'm not saying be an asshole -- keep being friendly by all means -- but be very careful who you hold yourself up against as "normal"
- Dating is a numbers game, like a lot of other things. Learn the skills of dating and don't sweat picking up chicks (or guys)
- Concentrate on your weaknesses. Make them stronger. When you get to your 30s you can work from your strengths, but there has to be some time in your life to work on shit you suck at, and for me it was when I had the most motivation, my 20s.
- Speaking of which, you have to learn management. No matter what you do, there will be a manager. Even if you don't want to be one, you have to understand what the job is like to help out your manager. Being a good leader means being a good servant. This concept sounded easy (or facile) to me in my 20s, but proved hard to apply in practice.
- You are never ready for kids. Have them early while you have energy. Read all the books about kids if you must, but realize that creating a replacement is about the most biologically easy thing you could do. After all, evolution has been working on making you a great gene transferral and primate-raising machine, so don't get paranoid and neurotic about all the latest parenting fashion. Use some sense.
- Everybody wants to be a rock star and win the lottery. Nobody ever does, and the ones that do end up destroying their life. Realize slow success is a million times better than overnight success.
- Much of the stuff in life that normal people do is geared around killing time by distracting you with shiny things of no value. You may never be able to fight this completely, but you should at least deeply understand it and how it affects your goals
- Create. With a passion. There are two major kinds of people in this world, consumers and creators. The herd will push you to consume, life will push you to consume, consumption is the easy and default path, but true joy and a full life come from creating. It does not matter one bit how many people like what you create, just create. Write. Blog. Make videos. Make a movie. Write a program. The longer the format and the more creativity involved, the more you are going to turn on and exercise key parts of your brain. Nobody wants to be 80 and only have stories of being at the office, but fuck, if you were at the office creating something at least you tried to make a difference. I'd rather be that guy than the one who watched Sumo wrestling everyday (or played 20,000 hours of WoW during his 20s) The only thing you're going to have at the end of your life are the decisions you made, the things you created, and memories. Learn to maximize these things.