25 Years August 2018

As much as they usually read the same (e.g. “spend more time with your family”), I like reading “X things I’ve learned in Y years” lists. I turn 25 tomorrow, so I thought I would journal things I have learned that might not be obvious to people at any age, or that people of any age might disagree with. Consider this counter conventional wisdom. My list of 25 things I have learned in 25 years:

  1. The most useful emotion is the feeling of resentment. It tells you that you are not living in a way that accords with your values. Usually it means you are living in a way that accords with someone else’s values. If you just make it your goal to do the opposite of what makes you resentful, you make progress quickly towards having a good life. So I would advocate for zero tolerance of resentment: figure out why and solve it.

  2. Advice is the difference between you and the person giving the advice. Only take it from people you would trade lives with. Not just in a particular area (e.g. fame or wealth) but in every respect. It betrays values in their most fundamental form, even though most things come down to trade offs and not absolutes.

  3. Almost no one is evil, and almost no one cares deeply about you. When something seems like it was designed to prevent your progress, just assume that no one else cares as deeply about you making that progress to begin with. You should come off as slightly delusional for the intensity with which you attack the problems in your life. If not, you are probably deferring to the people around you or letting interia win.

  4. The things that make people generally respect and like you are the exact same as they have been for thousands of years. Reading about the politics in China, Greece, Rome or any other ancient civilization illustrates the extent to which there has been no progress in what virtue looks like at all over time. Do the things that made people get respect in ancient times – nothing has changed and chances are nothing will.

  5. If people are talking about a technology or cultural issue at a family gathering, it is almost always overvalued. There is an almost 100% chance that the bottleneck problem in your life right now cannot be solved by politicians or blockchain. And if it were, you would already know. You can safely ignore popular things if you want with almost no downside.

  6. If you want to feel better day to day, increase the percentage of vegetables relative to other bodily inputs. If you don’t feel quite good enough, continue to increase the percentage. Even if your life situation isn’t good, high vegetable intake relative to other inputs will make your body function. We are a biological machine, relative to the arbitrary concept of happiness, vegetables make you feel good.

  7. Happiness follows a U curve through your life, and meaning follows an upside down U curve. Happiness and meaning are the opposite. People are happy when young and old but not in the middle. People find the most meaning in their middle ages when their responsibilities peak. Want meaning? Start a business or have kids. You might be unhappy, but the meaning will be significant. If you want happiness, try not to focus on changing the world and minimize your responsibilities. You can have anything you want, but not everything you want.

  8. Most decisions are a choice between the easy/worse option and the hard/better option. It is an existential struggle between exerting less effort and doing the right thing. If it were easy and better you would do it without considering it a decision. If it were hard and worse you would avoid it like everyone. Spend your time on irreversible choices between easy/worse and hard/better options. And force yourself to choose hard/better as much as you can. No one does it every time, but it is worth trying.

  9. Waste is a fundamentally evil form of entropy. Not only is consumption not good, but to consume to excess and waste in addition to the consumption itself is bad. Systems should be designed to be sustainable despite this kind of entropy. Google “Zero-based budgeting” and then apply that concept to all the areas of your life where you invest meaningful resources (relationships, spending, time use, consumption, habits).

  10. The percentage of things happening over email is going down, but the percentage of things that matter happening over email is going up. Add 2-factor authentication to your email account and you will be 10x as secure as people with lots of weird symbols in their passwords. Most critical security tip.

  11. It is unfair and inaccurate to scapegoat people. No one is simple, and you barely understand yourself let alone the reasons behind the decisions and actions that others make. When someone is scapegoated, assume the opposite is closer to the truth. People are complicated, just seek greater understanding of yourself.

  12. Not only is gaining status not worth it, it is actually bad for you. Toiling in obscurity will give you more satisfaction. And the fact that it’s way more productive than an open plan office and constant Instagram use would suggest that it makes you more likely to end up on Wikipedia as opposed to less. So even by ignoring status, you actually end up with more of the good kind of status (respect) and less of the bad kind.

  13. It is more harmful to lower your expectations of the people around you than it is to raise them. I consider it a form of aggression when people try to subjugate other people by “helping them out”. Most of the time what people need is a way to contribute. Despair is not being able to see a path to contributing, and everyone is entitled (and obligated) to contribute in the way that they are able. No one is “beneath”.

  14. People love debt, and it has historically lead to lots of bad things. Debt isn’t bad, but being in a position where you could not immediately pay off your debt if you needed to despite asset prices falling in half? That is definitely bad, and has been for thousands of years. If you have debt, that is your bottleneck problem. Leverage isn’t debt, but most debt isn’t leverage unless you know how to use it for progress.

  15. You will almost definitely be unhappy settling for grandparent success in your career. Grandparent success is when your grandparents can brag about your early career milestones to their friends. You work for a big company in a fancy role? That is grandparent success. It is not even a little satisfying. There is a heuristic here somewhere about how you should do things grandparents couldn’t do at your age.

  16. Invest in learning. By that I do not mean “education”. Education is an overvalued asset. If everyone receives the same product (education), the market value goes down regardless of the intrinsic value. Instead, look to learn lessons that other people haven’t, and then sell what you learned to others so they save time. Sell doesn’t have to mean commerce, it can mean get respect, or donate your skills, but it does mean you have to learn things that allow you to do unusually useful things for other people.

  17. There are many ways to spend money that can reduce your bills in future, life is unfair like that. Buying a house and eventually paying it off is too obvious and not great on ROI, but investing in a faster computer or gadgets for your kitchen and bathroom can have significant financial ROI over your lifetime. If you can find something like this to spend money on, do it. There is much better ROI here than there is in saving money.

  18. As time goes on, the value of synthesizing information will increase relative to knowledge. Knowledge can be shared thanks to the internet. And narrow synthesis (being an expert in a narrow field) is being eaten up by narrow AI. AI is already better as diagnosing skin conditions than the best experts in the world. Pick a problem, make sure it involves people, and focus on synthesizing it with other scientific fields.

  19. There will be way, way more inequality in the future. Thanks to technology, other people having more money doesn’t mean you have less. Opportunity will never be truly evenly distributed, it’s much more fair now than it ever has been. If you are a mediocre North American, this might not be fun, but it is fun for all the people in developing countries who can go to MIT and invent instead of sustenance farming. Inequality is only bad if you steal money or rent seek. Don’t buy investment properties, invest in skills to build technology. Don’t fear inequality, fear slow progress.

  20. The three levels of independence mirror evolution. There is natural selection (survival), sexual selection (reproduction) and a third category that basically means “giving lots of resources back”. The goal should be to progress through the levels as early as you can, so you can get to the part where you control your time on a day to day basis and you contribute as much utility back to humanity as you can. This tree tends to follow the “social classes” as well. Survive yourself (lower), then provide for a family (middle) and finally contribute back to humanity (upper).

  21. If you must argue, consider whether the subject at hand is objective or subjective. And consider whether your counterpart is generally rational or not. Arguing an objective issue with a rational person is easy: agree on the scientific consensus. Arguing the subjective with the rational can devalue lived experiences. Arguing the objective with the irrational comes down to emotional storytelling. Arguing the subjective with the irrational is pointless. 99% of internet arguments can be avoided.

  22. Concussions are a terrible thing. If you get a concussion, take it seriously. Of all the things that can ruin your life, in my experience concussions can cause some of the worst problems. We should really work harder to avoid concussions from happening across the domains they tend to occur in (extreme sports, car accidents, regular sports, professional sports). It isn’t worth it, especially if you’ve already had one.

  23. Most people will rise to the occasion. Most of the time we aren’t putting even 10% of the will power we are capable of. There are lots of often quoted lines from the army about studies on this, how people give up around 40% of their capacity. I’m sure it has a good evolutionary reason, but you would be surprised how well you perform in a crisis if you haven’t had to. Expect more of yourself and others.

  24. No one I know has ever regretted finding their people. It can require years, many countries and cities, moving and moving on from relationships. Once you find your people, you should learn to love and accept them, because it is a hard thing to do and most people never find them. Until you have found your people, don’t give up, they do exist, you are not the only one.

  25. Rapid fire: don’t pay fees for banking, leave big tips, drink more water, eat more vegetables, sleep the right amount in a dark room, ignore diet fads, lift weights a few times a week, go on walks every day, avoid screens first and last thing, delete Facebook, read more books, learn intentionally, write for your future self.