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.