The advice I give to my son…and to myself
My son is a difficult teenager, no surprises there.
He is making all the mistakes in the book — one by one — dangerous behavior, wasting time, failing at school and knowing it all.
We’ve all been there
If only we knew then what we know now.
It’s impossible to know at that young age that things are not black and white, that things won’t stay the same forever, and the fact that we change as we age.
Even most adults haven’t realized this yet.
Not only the teenage mind isn’t equipped with the necessary wiring (the prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25), nor they have sufficient perspective in life, but more importantly, the message they get, from the adults in the room, is totally wrong.
Most people live shitty lives and yet they have the nerve to pontificate to their kids. What for? To end up like a middle manager at Costco? No, thank you.
Most of the mistakes I’ve made in my life come from listening to conventional wisdom.
Go to college, get good grades, find a job, buy a house, save for retirement.
All that is BS.
I wish I have done the opposite.
So, this is what I tell my son to do, he won’t listen, I know, but maybe he’ll read this article one day and think: mmm, maybe the old man was right after all.
Things to avoid
Don’t go to college (but keep learning for life)
College is the first stop in the rat race. Pick up a major, nothing too fancy -economics or law- go through the motions, be obedient, pay a fortune in tuition fees, and in return you’ll get a piece of paper that proves you can follow simple instructions. Big deal.
I’m not totally against college, but I don’t think anybody should choose a career until they are matured enough to know what they want, which at 18 very few do.
Doing so at that age is a recipe for disaster. You start climbing a ladder and when you get to the top you realize it was the wrong ladder.
But even if you chose right, the system doesn’t allow you to develop the skills that are most important in life — creativity, risk-taking, communication, networking — you are just fed some material, you regurgitate it, and then, spit it out in a test, only to forget everything a few days later.
Nowadays, there are many alternatives to academia. You need to be disciplined and self-motivated, but after a few false starts you’ll be ready to find your path.
Try something out, see if you like it, pivot, see what sticks, learn online, dabble, be a dilettante. Experiment.
A few years traveling while supporting yourself will give you more experience and wisdom than any university could ever teach.
The years 18–25 are the time to experiment, to make mistakes, to try things out, to take risks, to read (but not textbooks), to learn economics from real life (not from a teacher that’s never left the classroom), to learn from life (not from theories)
“To become a philosopher king, start with being a king, not being a philosopher.”
There is plenty of time to learn, in fact you should always be learning. At that early age your mind is not ready for all that theoretical knowledge. Most of it is wasted on you.
Go and live your life. You can always learn but you can’t always live.
Don’t be afraid. Feel the fear and do it anyway
Apart from your life, you have nothing to lose. This is the perfect time to risk it all and make mistakes. Don’t take stupid risks that put your life in danger but be adventurous, take risks, travel, hustle, tinker. You’ll never have this freedom again, use it to the max.
This is the perfect time to travel, to start a business, to learn any skill. Don’t be afraid of failure, don’t be shy and don’t try to protect your reputation. Be fair, be honest but be brave.
Don’t waste time (but have fun)
This is tricky. It seems almost contradictory.
The difference between wasting time and having fun is learning.
When you play games, watch Netflix, hang out with the same people, play with your phone, etc, you are neither having fun nor learning.
When you find your passion, learn a new skill, experiment, travel, meet new people, take new challenges, you are learning, and having fun. Aim for that.
Don’t search for the meaning of life. Let it find you
It’s good to think, to debate, to search but don’t force it, life will show you your place when you are ready.
When the student is ready the teacher will appear
At your age, you can either be too practical or too philosophical, both are mistakes.
Just be action bias, don’t spend too much time on your head. The world is much more interesting.
Don’t get comfy. Stay hungry
Comfort is the killer of all dreams. Nothing worthwhile was ever achieved through comfort.
Society makes us believe comfort is the be-all and end-all of life but it’s only a trap for which you’ll pay a high price.
A Lyon in the zoo is comfortable but is also very unhappy
Don’t fuck up
Ruin means death, chronic disease, paralysis, prison, or psychological damage.
Testosterone encourages dangerous behavior. Just be careful, you can’t have fun when you are dead.
Take drugs (but don’t be a junkie)
I know you will, in fact, you probably have already. It’s normal to experiment, to change your state of consciousness. Nothing wrong with that.
Avoid highly addictive drugs like heroin, cocaine and the like. Go easy with weed. Definitively try psychedelics, they’ll expand your mind. Don’t abuse alcohol and don’t become a smoker.
Psychedelics are particularly interesting. Allegedly, they break some barriers in your mind and let you experiment with different states of consciousness. Sam Harris swears by them, according to him, they are a gateway to meditation. Just don’t overdo it
Don’t follow the herd, carve your own niche
It pays to be a contrarian.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
Very few things in life come from crowded places. People follow the herd because they’ve been condition to do so. You don’t have to.
The world is big enough and the opportunities ample; no need to compete for a Pool bed when you can have the mountain for yourself.
Society, the media and the government will cajole you into group-think, don’t fall for it.
When everybody goes on vacation, stay, and work.
When everybody is searching for a job, become an entrepreneur.
When everybody is buying stocks, you sell.
When everybody is selling, you buy.
Don’t just do it for the sake of being a contrarian, do it because it makes sense. Who wants to go to a crowded place anyway?
Don’t get a job, create one
Don’t elbow your way into a cubicle. Not only the place is crowded, the job soul-destroying and the job security nonexistent. Jobs are also disappearing.
The only job security is to be your own boss, to be flexible, to pivot, to spot opportunities, to tinker, and to learn from mistakes.
You won’t be able to do that in a corporation. It’s just too rigid. Be creative and invent your own job.
Don’t get trapped by dogma
All dogmas are temporary truths. Everything is changing very fast nowadays and the old dogmas are crumbling.
Whether is a religious, economic, political or scientific dogma, question it and find out how true it is.
Dogma is a truth that can’t be questioned. How convenient, right?
In fact, currently, the word dogma has become synonym with “false truth that is being imposed on us”
When somebody speaks dogmatically be suspicious.
Don’t buy a house, rent
As the old mantra goes:” safe as houses”. but, are they?
Renting is not throwing money away and property is not the safe investment we’ve been led to believe. I speak about this in another article but basically, the 1% rule applies: If a house sells for 100.000 and you can rent it for less than 1000 a month you are better off renting.
Being an owner has many hidden costs — tax, insurance, capital, maintenance — the asset is not liquid which means it is very risky when the economy takes a hit. You won’t be able to sell and you might lose everything is you don’t keep up the payments.
Life is too unpredictable now to bet on such a long term asset. Not worth it. I’m an owner but I’ll sell it as soon as I can.
Don’t settle, find your mission in life
Most people follow the mantra they’ve been brainwashed with. Play safe, don’t take risks, and follow the crow. This line of thinking will make you have a mediocre life. You will settle for a job you hate because you think it’s safe, then you will settle for everything else. Such is life.
You shouldn’t settle for a mediocre existence. You should think big, find your mission in life, and go at it full blast.
You only have one life, don’t waste it playing safe, be outrageous. Besides playing it safe it’s actually very risky.
Don’t listen to the propaganda, do your thing, live your life.
This is the advice I give to my son who is 17, but it is also for myself, I try to follow it every day.
Like everything in life, the sooner you start, the better, but it’s never too late.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is now.