I was at a party earlier tonight, talking to a guy who had lived in rural China for a while. The girls there, he told me, were naturally very beautiful, but didn't take care of their hair or skin. All I could think was what a huge opportunity existed for those girls: be the one girl who breaks convention and spends a bit more time on those things, and you could be the prettiest girl in your town.
No, my advice for young people isn't to be the prettiest girl in town. Hang on...
Opportunities often hide behind rocks of convention. Women, traditionally, haven't made up more than a few percentage points of poker players. But when a woman DOES play, she actually has a significant advantage, because the men she's up against will assume she's not very good. Sure, she still has to be a good player and learn the game, but the rewards for her effort are probably higher than a man's.
So what about young people? Young people-- and not to sound crotchety-- but, especially today, don't do that much. They do the schoolwork necessary to plod along, and then they spend their free time playing video games, drinking, watching TV, shopping, and generally avoiding actual producing anything. Think about that-- do you actually expect any 25 year old to have created anything of his own?
There's the opportunity. Get serious while you're young. If I was young today, I'd commit to spending a couple hours every single day on building something. I don't care what-- a business, a book, an impressive skillset, the ability to speak Chinese, anything. The bar is set SO low for young people, that any sort of achievement will get you way ahead. Start running the marathon before anyone else has even thought to put on their shoes and head to the track.
It doesn't really even matter what you build, because the end product is almost irrelevant. It's the process that matters. You'll become disciplined, self-reliant, and confident. When people leave college now, they're largely clueless. Not all of them, but it's not hard to notice that there are masses of reasonably smart young people with no idea what to do. They get jobs they don't like and just start drifting off towards adulthood with no real plan. You can avoid that.
And if you do decide to explore the concept of personal responsibility early, consider saving your money. I used to spend $10k+ every month, just because I had it coming in and I liked designer jeans. I'm doing fine now, but if I had saved that money I'd easily have an extra $100k or so. Despite what anyone says, money is freedom because it can be spent on rent and food, which translates roughly into time. Most people I run into on a regular basis probably don't have an extra $5000 saved in their bank accounts. They have no freedom. If they quit their jobs, they have to find another one immediately so that they can buy food. It's a crazy way to live.
When you're young, you don't notice that your actions are part of a path that you'll be walking down for the rest of your life. Everything you do impacts who you'll be and what your circumstances will look like in the future. I could have done a whole lot better, but a great portion of what I enjoy in my current life is due to decisions I made when I was as young as twenty or so. I started a habit of self improvement, which has evolved to give me a considerable amount of discipline and skill that I now use to enjoy life (and improve it for future-me). When I was in high school I started trading palm pilots online, which has snowballed into me never really having to subject myself to standard employment.
At the same time, it's important to recognize that wasting time isn't entirely useless. It enables you to bond with your friends, absorb culture, and, in some cases, create memories that you'll look back on fondly. Maybe most importantly, having fun as a kid seems to prevent you from feeling like you never had a childhood, as some people feel. So spend a couple hours a day being serious, but enjoy being young, too. Everyone else is doing lots of the latter and none of the former, so even a moderate dose of thoughtful activity will give you a huge advantage and still leave room for a fun time.
Sorry about just barely squeaking in one post at the end of each week. Despite being in Japan, I'm typically programming for about 15 hours a day, which makes it hard to shift into writing mode.
Speaking of Japan, I'll be heading all over the country next week. If you're in Japan and want to show me around your city, let me know and I may be able to stop by! Then in a short ten days, I'm headed to Thailand to play with tigers and elephants.
The photo is courtesy of my grandmother. It's me when I was six. Apparently I insisted on dressing like this every single day, even though no one else did, because it's how the school's headmaster dressed.
I think dividendium has a point here.
"I don't think anybody chooses to stand out. Despite all this cultural brouhaha about being unique and special and individualistic, no one really takes that path voluntarily. It's a lot easier to be like everyone else, and people like easy. I know I would have liked it. All the people who end up with the kind of life experience that makes them worth listening to as adults are where they are because they failed to fit in as kids. If they could have been like everyone else, they would have."
If you feel like you fit in, it's probably harder to look for another path. At least that's what it seems like for other people when I look around...
Similar to a talk I had with one of my sons. He's 20 and recently married, not something most guys his age are ready for, but I think he was. I was trying to show him how, if he remains goal-oriented and works hard, he could be way ahead of the pack by age 30, when most guys are just starting to settle down.We'll see. Imagine his path won't be all forward without any backtracks, but as long as he and his wife are learning and growing, with a positive attitude, it's all good.
I wouldn't recommend his route for everyone, but however one does it, waiting till 30 to become an adult is a terrible waste of some of the best years!
Good post. I agree with every part of it. I did that exactly since my 15s and now 10 years later I"m doing well. Good post.
Not sure if you wrote about this, how'd you learn to concentrate all your efforts on one task? To be more specific, how is it that you are able to program for 15 hour days....I am learning python through LPTHW but can hardly spend an hour on it...let alone 30 minutes. I would slowly like to increase my ability to concentrate on one task. How?
You are young. Your advice, while sound will as usual be lost to your target audience. Never trust or hire anyone under 30.
Wow this is so deep man. I'm 15 and most of the time I feel like your blog is for late 20s and adults.
This is really inspirational. I'm not that kind of person that has a strong opinion on anything, and my goals and opinions are easily moved.
I really enjoy your life how you travel around the world and stuff, however I'm still clueless about what I want to do in the future, but I think I'll just start work towards something now that I've read this article! You said something about trading Palm pilots eh?
Young people like myself today are competing with a lot of other hungry, ambitious young people around the world. Either you provide real value, real wealth or you don't. There are obviously systematic forces in play too, but as an individual the thing I have the most control and responsibility over is myself.
Yes I can relate to that very much. I used to live 6 months in Mexico and worked for a while in China and hence I can basically 4 languages (German, Chinese, Spanish, English). Now that probably wouldnt be super impressive, but since Im only 22 everyone kind of freaks out thanks to the low standard they are used to.
If you can find something, even at a young age, that you love and are passionate about it won't be much work at all. Well, yeah, hours wise you're going to put in some time but if you enjoy it - that's all that matters.
And like you said it's all about the process - it's not about the result. Reminded me of your presentation on risk. Awesome points. Nice work!
Instead of writing a million more posts about Japan, I'm going to finish it off here so that I can start writing other things. When you boil all of my experiences in Japan down, you're left with one common theme - Japan is way better than the US.
In America we're all so proud that we're such a tolerant society. We tolerate each other's differences because that tolerance is passed on to us and we get to do whatever we want.
Japan is different. More than tolerance, they have an overwhelming underlying respect for everyone and everything. It's almost crazy. The best example is the subways. In the subways there are advertisements hanging from the ceiling of every subway car. They aren't plastic, tyvek, or even laminated paper. They're just paper like a poster.
So, I expect this one to be controversial. If you're a very sensitive person that likes to get offended, you might want to skip it. If you're in a hurry, feel free to skim the bold parts.
I didn't come from all that much. My great-grandparents and grandparents were dirt poor. My parents dug out of it a little bit, though I was born when they were young and unestablished. My kids will have more opportunities.
I wish to do much. How much is possible? To know, you have to study history.
So I study history. And looking at the history books, I see a number of differences between people of low birth and high birth.
Now, before I go any further, I recognize this is unfashionable and controversial to talk about in this day and age. But it's definitely a real phenomenon, and I've never shied from the truth even when unfashionable. Also, I think after reading this you'll see that the majority of high born characteristics are superior to low born characteristics, and it's worth learning, training, and becoming better.