I started writing this blog when I was a few months shy of 18 years old. Since I’m now twice as old as I was when I started, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on advice I wish I could have given my younger self.
1. You’ll have more dating success if you strive to be relaxed rather than confident.
Most dating advice for young men is terrible. One of the most misunderstood is the recommendation to “act confident.” Pretending to be confident when you’re not usually makes you look like a jerk or a buffoon. In contrast, genuinely confident people tend to be relaxed.
2. Make friends with the exchange students.
People who deliberately choose to live abroad for a year are more interesting, on average, than those who are closed to such experiences. Exchange students also tend to be looking to make friends. (This also is a good way to get more opportunities to apply lesson #3.)
3. Say yes to invitations to visit a friend in their home country whenever possible.
Being shown around by a local is vastly better than being a tourist. This is doubly true if you make friends with people from non-touristy places.
4. Learn how to cook.
I spent too many years eating terrible food because I didn’t know how to make good meals. The remedy is to find recipes online and follow them to the letter. Eventually you can improvise once you’ve learned the basics.
5. Optimize for experience, not grades, in college.
My biggest mistake in university was choosing to take classes in English, not French, during my year abroad. I was worried I wouldn’t keep up academically, so I chose the easier option. I didn’t realize I was also missing out on the best way to learn the language.
6. Go to more parties, but drink less.
Drinking has strongly diminishing returns for enjoyment, and hangovers are not fun. Thus, if you’re going to partake, pick a strict cutoff and stop when you hit that amount. You’ll enjoy more parties with fewer headaches.
7. Learn to separate challenging situations from toxic ones, and don’t feel guilty abandoning the latter.
You won’t regret sticking to hard challenges, but you’ll regret burning yourself out in situations where your values don’t align with what you’re being asked to work on.
8. Learn to recognize assholes and refuse to deal with them.
Assholes often seem cool, successful or important. In the short term, it often feels like you should just put up with their personalities to further your goals. But in the long-term, you’ll almost always regret not cutting them loose sooner.
9. Never date a person you wouldn’t also be friends with.
It’s easy to overlook personality differences when enthralled by a person’s more superficial characteristics. But those relationships rarely work out. My wife and I, who have now been together for nine years, were just friends for eight years before that.
10. Avoid premature optimization.
When you’re young and broke, a job that pays a lot of money (to you) can be very attractive. Unfortunately, if that job doesn’t help you build skills you’ll care about when you’re middle-aged, you may be better off declining the opportunity for a lower-paying job that does. While you need money to live, resist the temptation to cash in early.
11. It’s okay to be (a little) weirder as an adult.
High school enforces an unusually high degree of conformity. In high school, even “weird” kids tend to conform to a particular clique rather than be genuinely interesting. Outside of high school, however, there are fewer penalties for being a little different, and there is more potential upside as there is a larger pool of potential friends whose interests may overlap with yours.
12. Don’t waste your electives on “easy” classes.
Depending on your major, you may only have a handful of classes that you can choose for yourself. Don’t waste these! Take interesting classes from different departments rather than the easy-A class that teaches you Microsoft Word.
13. Spend less time on your computer and more time at in-person events.
It’s even better if those events have nothing to do with your current friends or interests. Bulk-positive randomness is a powerful force, but it can’t move you if you stay inside your dorm room.
14. Ask yourself what a more extraverted version of you would do, and then do that.
Introversion is great when you’re settled into a job and family life. But when you’re young, exploring the maximum possible options for your future is important, so striving to be a more extraverted version of yourself is generally desirable.
15. Travel as much as you can.
Yes, traveling can be expensive. But you’ll never be able to travel as cheaply, or have as many interesting experiences, as you can when you’re young.
16. Press your clothes, comb your hair and wash your face.
I’ll admit my appearance has never been something I’ve thought a lot about. But getting the basics right is usually not too onerous, and they matter a lot more for how people see you than how much money you spend on your clothes or how much you work out at the gym.
17. Don’t be so dogmatic.
I’ve softened in many ways as I’ve gotten older. While youthful intensity about beliefs, goals or projects can be incredibly valuable, it can also get in the way of having new experiences. It’s better to avoid being too rigid when you don’t yet know which ideas of yours really ought to be inviolable.
18. Call your parents more often.
Since becoming a father, I’ve come to appreciate my own parents in a way that would have been difficult to understand as an eighteen-year-old. While it’s easy to get absorbed in your own new experiences of adulthood, it’s worth taking some time to keep up the relationships that have been with you all your life.
What advice would you give your younger self? Any agreements/disagreements with my list? Share your thoughts in the comments!