At Nineteen

Overnight, I got an interesting email from a young fellow overseas in response to an interview I did a few years back. That nod by itself was humbling enough, but he followed up with a few questions that knocked me into a really introspective state of mind. The general theme of the questions was “what would you tell yourself at nineteen?” This sort of thing is on my mind quite a bit and doing an advice dump felt like a fun change of pace from my usual writing. So, without further ado, here is what I’d tell myself at nineteen:

Caveat: I’m still learning how to do a lot of these properly.

  • Cultivate an attitude. All of the people you look up to have gotten really good at saying “fuck you”. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t be a pushover.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat reasonably well, get some exercise, and make sure to get ample sleep. For me, at least, waking up early and working is far better than pulling an all-nighter.
  • M-O-D-E-R-A-T-I-O-N
  • Accept that things and people change. Always remember the people who come and go in your life at their best, not their worst.
  • If you know something, speak up. If you don’t, shut up and listen.
  • Don’t lie.
  • Be willing to lose it all in exchange for being who you really are. Hiding your true nature will kill you slowly.
  • Don’t fight your body. This came from Jerry Seinfeld. If you’re tired, take a nap. If you’re hungry, eat.
  • Get over yourself. Everyone and everything doesn’t have to be “cool.” You’re going to be slow and potentially incontinent one day. Think about that.
  • Be patient. You’ll be surprised how small steps add up over time. What you think is going to happen isn’t going to happen when you think it’s going to happen.
  • Realize there are two sides to every person: the “character” you see in public and the real person. Always try to find the real person.
  • Be fearless. You’re going to die so you may as well have a meaningful life flash in front of your eyes.
  • Have fun and don’t be too serious. All of this stuff is make believe.
  • Be kind and listen to everyone. Everyone. Treat the millionaire, the janitor, and the homeless person with the exact same level of respect. The person right in front of you is the most important person in your life.
  • Do your art, don’t just talk about it. Be willing to stay in all weekend working on something because it makes you happy. People will look at you askew; ignore them.
  • Drink water, lots of it. Have a bottle next to you all day.
  • Meditate. Sitting quietly with your eyes closed for 20 minutes can resolve a lot of problems.
  • Keep up with your friends. Pick up the phone and say “what are you up to?” every so often. It means a lot to both of you.
  • Don’t take advice (like this) blindly. Look at the results that advice has achieved. Is that what you want? If not, use caution. Winston Churchill nailed it on this: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
  • Accept that at some point, life will kick your ass and you’ll have to do things you don’t want to do. Take it in stride and learn from it.
  • Realize that you are not important in the “hey look at me” sense. You’re one of a few billion specks (humans) on another speck (earth) that’s a part of another few billion specks (galaxies in the universe).
  • Be content with whatever you’re doing right now. Don’t always be looking to the next thing. Be here in this moment. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve, but enjoy now for what it is.
  • Learn how to make a home and don’t live like a slob.
  • Read. You don’t have to be a maniac about it and read ten books a week (I finish about 1-2 books a month). Read outside of your competency. You can learn a lot about business from philosophy books.
  • Pay attention and listen closely. Pick out things like books, films, and other potential influences from conversations and the things you watch. I learned about a great book from a movie about singing nuns.
  • You are not your business. Your business is not you. Learn to separate your personal identity from how you make money.
  • Don’t give people what they expect.
  • Go to the dentist.

Hope this is/was helpful.