The only advice I’d give to my younger self

Oh, unbridled youth. Photo by Lucas Pimenta

Growing up as a millennial meant growing up with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake (N’SYNC). They were the couple to watch. To this day, die hard fans still fantasize about the two getting back together.

When asked what advice she’d give to her younger self, Britney said:

“Never get married is number one. That’s probably the best advice I could give myself.”

Contrast that with Justin Timberlake, who said:

“If you only make bad decisions — for the rest of your life, (and) you made one really good decision…marry your best friend.”

As reality would have it, one has been divorced three times, the other is happily married.

*This article is about how most advice for young people is unreliable. And of course I have some magic solution to this (keep reading), because I’m an ultra spiritual guru.*

The scenario: my friend was collecting advice from “older” folks (me) to give to her cousin. Young blood’s about to graduate high school. This is the prompt I was challenged to answer:

What is the ONE piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

This exercise made me realize how hard it is to give fair advice with as little personal bias as possible.

I wanted to give advice that…

  • has the maximum positive impact
  • is the fairest for younger, more impressionable youth
  • doesn’t seem obvious and cliche

After much deliberation, this is what I landed on:

Diversify your experiences.

That’s it.

Not only is this the only advice that my overconfident 18 year old self would believe, but diversifying one’s experiences also acts as a catch-all advice that affects everything else.

What might diversifying one’s experience look like?

  • Meet & date different people.
  • Work a variety of jobs.
  • Pick up weird skills & hobbies.
  • Get involved in projects and ventures
  • Travel the world.

Basically, my advice boils down to try lots of things.

Yes Tracy. Now put on your pants.
Yes Tracy. Now put on your pants.

All this sound great and agreeable to most people. But why is this diversity of experiences especially important, the younger you are?

Maximizing the advantage of reckless youth

On a trip to Costa Rica, I met two Dutch travelers. They’ve been on the road for 3 months and were only halfway through their Latin America trip. They were broke, and couldn’t be happier.

Oh yeah, and they were seventeen.

Compare that to many well-to-do, even affluent twenty & thirty-somethings I know back home. We would share our bucket list items, and invariably, they’d fantasize about world travel or some kind of sabbatical. But they could never pull the trigger.

Maybe next year,” they’d say.

When you’re young, you have less experiences, resources and responsibilities than adults.

And it can be the ultimate hidden advantage.

When you don’t have as much to lose, you have the freedom to take bigger risks…

A 100% Scientific Graph Made by Oz
A 100% Scientific Graph Made by Oz

If you have a well paying career, house with a mortgage, or spouse w/kids, those are all things you can lose. There’s higher risk involved, and your circle of concern often extends beyond your own life.

Those of you reading this with soul-crushing-jobs-but-cushy-paychecks know all too well the term “golden handcuffs.”

It’s an illusion that things will get easier as life goes on. You and I both know that life looks more like the game Katamari Damacy — we tend to pick up more responsibility over the span of our lives:

This is my life.
This is my life.

Because the effects of sunk cost fallacy and loss aversion become stronger the older we get, I believe this is the easiest time of your life to take risks:

Another 100% Scientifically Verifiable Graph by Oz
Another 100% Scientifically Verifiable Graph by Oz

You might be young and poor, but you have the luxury of being untethered by responsibilities other than to expand the self.

And if you fuck up? You can start over again. Many times.

Maximize your naïveté. Maximize the advantage of reckless youth.

Experiences over things.

I chose to give the advice diversify your experiences in hopes of being as unbiased as possible.

If this were science, I’m advising you to conduct many experiments, not which experiment to do. (Unlike Britney, I’m not telling you that marriage is a mistake.)

But to be honest, I do have an agenda…

Promote the idea that experiences are not only what makes life worth living, but that they are more important than material things.

Prioritizing experiences over things, influenced by The Minimalists

Instead of buying the nicest clothes, spend time with people who don’t care what clothes you wear.

Instead of saving for an overpriced car, use that money to travel the world. Cars break down, but memories are forever.

If you’re about to graduate high school, or you’re in your twenties (heck, this is a good reminder at any age)…

The best and fairest thing I can recommend is diversify your experiences, and make lots of memories. What is life, but what we remember?

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