32 Thoughts From a 32-Year-Old

Ryan Holiday
Jun 16 · 8 min read

This is the first year I forgot how old I was. Like really forgot and had to do the math, several times, as recently as yesterday morning.

I’m not saying I’m old. That would be a lame joke. It’s just that this is the first year where my age really didn’t matter at all. Because once you have kids, nobody asks anymore. They want to know how old they are. You’re just a firmly established adult now, which after spending almost all of my twenties as the “I can’t believe you’re only _ _” guy, is actually a nice change.

Nevertheless, I think it’s a mistake for people my age to think about how young they are — to think of getting old and dying as something that happens way off in the future. Instead, I prefer Seneca’s observation, the one about how death isn’t this thing that happens once but as something that is happening right now. We are dying everyday, he said, and each second that passes is lost to death. If we can think that way then we can truly live and not take anything for granted.

You can read what I wrote (and what I learned) over the years in the series of posts I’ve done on my birthdays. I think the first one I did was when I turned 20, but here is 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, and 31. As for this year, here are some thoughts I’ve had and lessons that I’ve learned. Maybe they’ll save you some trouble. Or maybe you’ll have to learn them on your own.

-Life is better with less Facebook in it. In January, I changed the password on my personal account and my fan page, handed it over to an assistant and haven’t checked it since. I have one throw away account with no friends, no feed, that belongs to one group I need for work. I don’t think I have missed one thing. I should have done this sooner.

-You work really hard to get money…and then once you have it you spend time worrying whether you’re putting it to work right.

-Marcus Aurelius’s line: To accept it without arrogance, to let it go with indifference. God that’s good. And so hard to do.

-There is something about water, cold fresh water especially. The more time you spend around it, but more importantly, in it, the better. And Texas is very under-rated when it comes to swimming (just check out some of the places on this list)

-I was talking to my sister at Christmas and she told me she’d never called 911 in her life. I’ve probably called 25 times? (and not because I’m crazy, they were all for people who needed help). If you’ve never called 911, it might be a sign you’re not out there doing enough weird or interesting stuff. Or your eyes are just closed.

-The real benefit to wearing the same thing everyday (or having some set clothing rotation) is not actually the time or decision fatigue it saves you. It’s that you never go shopping. I went to maybe five stores in the last year? And one mall?

-Jerry Seinfeld once talked about how ‘quality time’ with your kids is nonsense. Time is time. In fact, he said garbage time — eating cereal together late at night, laying around on the couch — is actually the best time. I think that’s true of life as a whole. Forget chasing experiences. It’s all wonderful, if you so choose.

-I remember at American Apparel we were discussing some project and one of the execs had an opinion that most of the people disagreed with. They were trying to convince him he was wrong and in turn sort of expected him to try to convince them. But he just said, “That’s ok. I’m OK standing alone on this one.” It was an offhand remark but I think about it a lot. The world could use more of that. It’s something I try to model in my own life.

-Something I’ve learned from my own experience giving interviews that’s helped me relax when I read stuff: It’s not good business to underplay how hard you’re working or what your routine is. So of course it’s going to sound like a CEO’s working 90 hour weeks or that every head coach is sleeping in their offices. I’m not saying that being an athlete isn’t a grind, but if what you saw on Instagram or what they told reporters was 100% accurate, you wouldn’t see so many of them get DUIs. The point being: Don’t measure yourself against other people’s posturing. You have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.

-This year I did quite a bit of re-reading (East of Eden, The Odyssey, What Makes Sammy Run? etc). It was really wonderful. Especially when I was able to find the same copy I’d used the first go around and I could see the notes I’d made and the food I’d spilled.

-There is something special about re-reading, but something even better about listening to a song on repeat — like hundreds of times. Especially from an artist that towers and crashes (Bon Iver, Bruce Springstreen, The National). So many of my best insights or creative sessions have come from the state that helps induce.

-Life is too short to have wars raging on multiple fronts. By that I mean conflicts with multiple groups, people, neighbors, whatever. You gotta decide what you’re going to let go and what you’re going to press. Otherwise you’ll end up like Hitler in his bunker with the whole world armed against you.

-Try to think less about results. Just try to make contact with the ball. Give your best effort, make contact with the ball. The rest takes care of itself.

-I used to not check my phone in the morning until I’d done one thing (shower, eat, whatever). Then I moved it to I don’t check my phone for the first thirty minutes after I wake up. Now I’m moving towards an hour. Mornings have dramatically improved. The days have too.

-More young people should at least try hunting. It gets you outside. You can’t use your phone. It teaches you how guns work and how dangerous they are. It forces you to look at the circle of life up close and personally. It’s healthier than just about anything else you can eat.

-Political correctness is dangerous, but so is being cruel and insensitive. People’s feelings do matter and the kinder we are, the better we all feel.

-You gotta know what you want your day to look like. That’s how you build a life.

-One of the things that happens when you get a big enough audience is that you start to pretty regularly get really nasty emails from people. Often about really little things like spelling errors or presumed disagreements about politics. A while back I started replying, “Thank you for this really nice note. I hope it made you feel better.” Almost invariably they reply back that they don’t even know why they sent it or why they were so angry. Which is a good thing to remember: Even when you see people do something cruel or hurtful, they probably don’t actually see it that way. It might be worth talking to them first before completely writing them off.

-“Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.”

-It’s not just that the media exaggerates and sensationalize. It’s actually worse: Most of the time they don’t even know what they’re talking about. Check out the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect and take a minute to really look at some reporting about an area you’re an actual expert or insider to. Notice how bad it is? These outlets don’t have magically higher standards when it comes to Donald Trump or sports or breaking news. In fact, the coverage is probably worse because the events are more opaque and the rush to be first is higher. So seriously, the less you watch the better. Are there good reporters out there? Of course. But let that filter up to you — don’t mainline disinformation for the occasional hit of truth.

-Peter Thiel talked about optimizing your life for things that don’t get old or have diminishing returns. Living somewhere with a great view was one he mentioned. I’ve been thinking about that a lot.

-Don’t let the mob convince you otherwise: Almost everything is complicated and nothing is simple. People are complicated. The scandals they find themselves in or the wrongs they’ve done are complicated. Politics are complicated. Issues — abortion, death penalty, the Middle East — are all complicated. Race is complicated. History is complicated. I know that doesn’t sound like much of a statement, but social media and our ever increasing polarization has led to a kind of massive simplification of everything. Nuance doesn’t fit in a tweet. Saying, “I’m not sure” or “That makes me uncomfortable” doesn’t go viral. Black and white certainty does. Roasting someone for a mistake or a flaw does.

-Related to that: The mob doesn’t need more people. If you don’t join, someone else will likely replace you. But if you don’t ask the tough questions, if you don’t reach out and check on the person they are piling on, if you don’t think about the picture, will anyone?

-Don’t read people’s long captions on Instagram. They are almost universally inane bullshit.

-You’re never proud that you lost your temper.

-You need a philosophy and you need to write it down. And re-write it and go over it regularly. Life is too hard (and too complicated) to try to wing it and expect to do the right thing.

-The world breaks all of us, Hemingway said, and those who won’t break, it kills. Be willing to give up. To fail. To admit you blew it. To try it a different way in the future. That’s the only way to survive…and to get better.

-I can think of a couple things I thought I didn’t like, but now that I am older, I do: pineapple, guacamole, sushi. But for the most part, the things I don’t like, I don’t like. So I don’t do acquired tastes. This has served me well, with alcohol being the best example.

-It’s not fun to be Donald Trump. Or LaVar Ball. Or any of these people. Remember this. Forget about karma catching up with them. It sucks right now. Even if you can’t see it.

-But if I am content with what I have, won’t I stop getting better? No. We play better with house money. Feel better too.

-It’s always worth thinking about the things you believed very strongly and were now quite obviously wrong about. Because only an idiot would not see that that’s going to happen again and again.

-Stillness is the key…to just about everything.

Anyway, that’s me at 32. I hope to be better next year, if I am lucky enough to be around for it. If I am, I’ll see you here with some more thoughts.

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Ryan Holiday

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Bestselling author of ‘Conspiracy,’ ‘Ego is the Enemy’ & ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ http://amzn.to/24qKRWR

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