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Ask HN: Advice to your younger self
64 points by tmaly on May 9, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 107 comments
If you could send a single sentence of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Let's assume it could not be a lottery number or investing advice.

For me it I would tell myself to find a successful mentor

Don’t believe your thoughts. The voice in your head sounds like your voice but that doesn’t make it yours.

Trust your inquisitive nature and question things., people and choices, especially if they feel off.

Most people fake it, most of the time.

Remember what your inner compass feels like. Use that feeling.

Remember that you exist.

Anyone who tries to sell you your own divinity is a scammer.

Anyone who tries to define you sees themselves your master.

Anyone who tries to punish or reward you sees themselves your master and wants you to accept that role.

Your parents (and guardians) are often piloted by the blind forces of trauma patterns. What they do at these times is not parenting but seizures of madness, of which you are the audience and often the victim. This is not your fault, not your doing, and is not right. You are good to the core, but happen to be on the receiving end of these seizures.

This is true for every occurrence of unkindness, humiliation, or abusive interaction by a person who has power over you.

Sometimes it’s helpful to see beliefs, stereotypes, even language and habitual ways of thinking as forces that have colonized humanity. There’s space and life beyond these. Follow your curiosity about that dimension. It exists and is vast — infinitely more expansive than the mind’s ability to think.

Humanity/society is multilayered. The shittiest layers get most of the publicity. There are many, many awesome people living in integrity, creating with open hearts and rich imagination. You can be one of them; the easiest way is to join their communities and friendships.

Friendships are sacred, and deserve your utmost integrity, attention and honesty.

You’re good and you are able to recognize the people who have not broken/fallen to the dark side. Trust that.

I don't usually find anything I haven't heard before in this genre of thread, but these are some profound ideas. Thank you!

> There are many, many awesome people living in integrity, creating with open hearts and rich imagination. You can be one of them; the easiest way is to join their communities and friendships.

This is what I struggle with the most. (As do many others in my generation, I think.) How does one discover such communities?

Dwell in this question while noticing the people around you. Approach the ones you truly admire (not the ones you envy).

One in n will be open to a conversation. Feed the relationships that give you the space to be yourself and seem to want from you the contributions you love giving. Being yourself means being vulnerably honest with the aspects of yourself which you don’t yet love. I think that’s most obvious with artists.

And please give it time. Took a decade to have some of my acquaintances get distilled in into friendships.

I think at a much younger age I had more flexibility and time to do this. I still think it is a worthy pursuit.

Look at it this way: it doesn’t take more time to notice the presence of a certain color in your surroundings.

This is why I'm a big believer in generic talk therapy. A good therapist will often do nothing more than prompt a conversation and then let you speak your mind freely for 30-60 minutes. In this time they will poke and prod at your thoughts, not to try and change them necessarily, but to give your thought process feedback it doesn't get in its mostly closed mental loop.

I have come to a handful of important conclusions in my life that resulted from nothing more than hearing myself say out loud the things I believed in silence. Some might argue this is the role of family and friends but I think you're very lucky if you can rely on those people to be a mostly neutral sounding board for your more embarrassing or guarded beliefs.

Remwmber that you exist should be first on the list.

You tend to forget this simple fact and just live your life which is always a problem.

The last two points are also valuable and you tend to forget it even if you are aware of it. This should be a poster, so thank you

If you are able to remember it in your body, too, everything changes. Your sense of presence intensifies, colors become brighter, silence compresses. It’s like a drop into another dimension, always available on the edge of the habitual daydreaming state.

Focusing on the sense of I-amness, of exist-ing, is an old practice. I did not invent it. I am here to remind you that it works.

There are diminishing returns to preparation: focus less on preparation (to include going to prestigious institutions and working for prestigious companies) and more on launching, learning, and iterating. This is true in business and a variety of other fields. As an add on: learn one programming language really well, and resist the urge to spend time learning new ones!

"diminishing returns to preparation" is a great turn of phrase.

I disagree. Jobs want multiple languages nowadays.

Good jobs want you to know at-least one language well.

Why the add on?

Second this, learning multiple languages is generally seen as a good thing, opening your mind to different ways of solving problems, no?

Any language in the area of discourse is a Turing-complete language. Therefore you can do anything you'd like to in any language.

Besides, I would be highly critical of anyone who claims to know a variety of languages since it probably means they are only familiar with a strict subset of their standard libraries and quirks. Or that knowledge is incredibly outdated.

Learning the syntax is one thing, the more time-consuming for development part is always knowing the quirks and patterns used today.

>Any language in the area of discourse is a Turing-complete language. Therefore you can do anything you'd like to in any language.

Well with that argument, learning brainf*ck in depth should give you all the programming experience you need to solve problems efficiently :P

Learning even the basics of a functional programming language for example (Haskell in my case) lead me to understand why things are the way they are in a few other languages. Sure you can write some solution in a few nested for loops, but why not use a list comprehension if it's more clear and less error prone for the situation? Specializing in one or two languages isn't a bad thing, but I would argue that learning even just the basics of other languages is beneficial. Understanding what tools are out there and what they're best suited to is a good thing if you ask me.

I'll ponder on that. Thanks for the shared wisdom!

It’s helpful to specialize at least. One should at least have a primary that they know in and out.

I'd say for me the way that 'overpreparation' has manifested itself is in trying to learn more languages, at the expense of expertise in one or two.

You aren't busy. You just feel busy. Find time to do interesting things, because once you have kids you'll find out what being busy actually means.

Parents don’t own being busy or stretched for time. Regardless of what commitments you have you can be busy or not and you are in control of that - yes even parents are in control of how busy they are.

There is a qualitative change in when you are busy for the vast majority, though. Most people don't have a job where at any minute you have to drop everything and perform some task. This being HN, a very above-average number of the people who do have a job of that nature are around here, of course, but I'd expect it's still a majority of people of baby-having age around here who are not routinely getting paged at 2am by their job.

As someone who was an infrastructure engineer/sysadmin/it manager for over 16 years (ie various roles that required an on call component), my move to security at the same time as having kids couldn’t have come at a better time.

Being on call 24/7 is not conducive to being available for parenting responsibilities of young children.

> Parents don’t own being busy or stretched for time.

Didn't say that. I was saying something to my past self who thought I was busy at the time which was the point of all this.

And, no, you're not in full control of how busy you are when you're a parent. You have kids? Because no parent I know would ever say that.

As a non-parent I do get this sentiment--certainly there can be many important things beyond children that call our time--however as someone who has dated someone with a kid and seen the kind of time and energy a child demands, OP's statement is spot on.

It's more of a paradigm shift in the way you think about time -- you're suddenly not just responsible for yourself and your accompanying todos, but a whole nother human life, and their accompanying todos (which are manifold greater because they're dependent on you for even the simplest of needs).

Being a parent doesn't mean you're an unequivocal martyr to humanity (such is the caricature) but there are unique demands to being a parent re:time.

Having a kid means caring for an incontinent, schizophrenic, homeless person that cant feed itself.


Drinking and chasing women won't seem as fun when you look back on it. I'm not saying don't do it, in fact, I'm saying the opposite. Drink, chase women and do it hard, but quit much earlier.

Also don't listen to anyone else's idea of what you should do who who you should be. Following your own instincts and succeeding is sweet, following your own instincts and failing, well that just builds better instincts.

You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with - choose them wisely.

I have sort of followed this idea in a different way. I think TF might have said this, but I think he got it from someone else.

Start running, and keep running. Oh, and mine some of that newfangled bitcoin stuff!

On the serious side though - It's a lot harder to get yourself in heathy shape in your 40s than in your 20s, and it's a LOT easier to keep a good habit than it is to make one.

Most companies don't give a shit about you, so don't kill yourself trying to make them happy.

A single phrase?:

Health above all things.

How about 11 good ideas?:

1. Dance More

2. Women are attracted to confidence, nothing else (I'm heterosexual, hence women. Probably works for any romantic partner to be)

3. Stay with your dog when they put her down, she deserves that at least that

4. Wear good clothes that fit well

5. Life is harder if you are dumb

6. So get smart, define 'smart' as you go

7. Take care of your health

8. Take care of your friends and family

9. The world is only getting crazier, so learn to surf

10. Really, I'm serious, dance more

11. Go Giants!

I made a whole book with 1001 other little pithy bits as a gift for a friend's newborn. Let me know if you want a copy and I can send it to you.

Big life changes (like marriage, having kids) will change your life, and it's OK that your priorities won't be the same as they were before.

You know, I think about this and it's kinda sad that my priorities will have to change and have changed. My younger self won't be happy with my current priorities.

Would you be happy with your younger self's priorities now?

I am not “old” yet but I am seeing change of priorities. So yes, I would be happy.

Don't eat so much, jesus fucking christ!

Get a therapist and deal with your childhood issues as soon as possible, they will only grow with time.

You can play the 'work towards the next prestigious thing' game as long as you want but you will be happier the earlier you quit it.

Work much harder in high school and college, and spend 10 more years being single.

Why spend more years being single? I'm in my twenties and hate being single.

I was about to give the exact opposite advice

- Stop worrying. - You will live many lives, and will follow your own path leading to many places, rarely to the destination you intended to when you started. - You will never be completely content, but will start to enjoy the journey more as you age. - The path to being materially rich is long and may not necessarily bring you happiness you thought it would. Also that rich is a relative word, its meaning changes as you get more. - Your real earning would be people you meet and stories you have to tell of your journey. - Empathy will be your best gift to the world. - You will die living, with still a passion left to live 100 more lives in your heart :)


Remote work will be a thing someday. Choose a specialty that's better suited for it (not embedded or instrument control).

People matter. Learn to deal with them better. Treat them kindly even when you have to tell them that they're wrong. (Even how you dress matters. Really! You think it shouldn't, but it still does.)

Working 70 hours a week does not have the positive return you think it does.

Your body needs maintenance just like any other machine; eat fewer carbs.

Stop measuring yourself against your father's and his father's accomplishments. Those shoes are too big to fill - concentrate on being happy and don't beat yourself up too much.

Stick with programming; you're better at that than anything else you'll choose to do.

Do not fixate on particular goals, but practice broadly scanning for brief opportunities.

Do your own thing. Don't try to please others. Be kind. Put money in the bank every paycheck. Exercise. Tell those that you love that you do.

Really torn between "sleep more" and "just start writing, but take a deep breath before hitting send/submit/post."

You will feel pressure to go to get married, have kids, buy a house, etc. Think long and hard about what you actually WANT before doing any of those things. Decide if the opportunity cost is worth it for you.

You're locking into that decision effectively permanently. Don't just jump in blindly and hope your good luck will give you a good outcome.

Don't be afraid to be more bold with some of life's decisions; often the risk is well worth the potential outcome.

Live your own life, not someone else’s life.

Enjoy the time when you get to pick your children's clothes.

You will have a bunch of expectations placed on you by your family, your friends, and society at large. Telling you explicitly or implicitly what you should do, what's acceptable, and how you should live your life. It's not their life to live, it's your life, do what you want.

Actually: nothing.

I would want my younger self to struggle, experience, learn and grow just the way I did. With my current knowledge I would create a rich MoFo who would be clueless but "respected" for no other reason then being rich.

So to the younger me: go fuck yourself thinking this is going to be easy.

Think, plan and execute long term goals with more sense of urgency because 5 years can go by like it's nothing. Love more, don't shut yourself off into your own arrogance. Listen more, there's wisdom all around you and you definitely do not know it all.

Work harder. I relied too much on pedigree and not enough on hard work. Also take an algorithms and compilers class. I'd be a much better developer sooner if I just grinded on some hard classes, and I probably would have landed that job at Facebook back in 2008.

To grow and advance, involve yourself in an essential role on a project’s critical path. That way you make yourself important without having to self-promote, encouraging others to depend on you, so in later projects they’ll come back to you for more.

Do everything in college that you continuously said you were going to do but never did.

You are going to produce more as you get older and more efficient, not less!

Make fewer posts on social media about how you’re feeling at that moment in time

Don't be afraid to quit.

Remember where your loyalty lies. Difficult to revisit the hidden work you did for the man, easy to revisit work done in the open. Favor authoring for transparency and posterity over opacity and money.

You are going to die. You have nothing to lose. Follow your heart.

Message 1: Write shit down! My memory is starting to suck..

Message 2: Thanks.

Involve other people in your major life decisions. Ask them for advice even if you don't feel you need it. At the very least it will bring you closer.

Everything ends eventually, so get as much as you can out of it and stop focusing so much on whats next. And don't get hung up on things that do end!

Pursue employment as young as possible and establish a work life balance.

Say 'Yes' to anything you would have said 'maybe' to, and follow through.

Having more or bigger 'things' will not make you happier. Focus more on relationships and family, and less on the means to consume more.

Do it here and now! Take all the risks in the world and don't listen to the system. Don't get a 9-5 job right away. Location doesn't matter, failure is a good thing.

In other words, I should have taken the entrepreneurial route right away. My environment wasn't promoting that at all back in the days so it's easy to say today...

Should have done anything, by any means, and relocated to San Francisco in my early 20s.

P.S: I'm an Indian, working in Bangalore.

There's plenty of time because what you do is far more important than how (or how quickly) you do something.

Dear me, 1986: Learn C, it will solve your money problems!

(That's the youngest self I think would have taken any advice.)

I love you very much.

The time window to have children is pretty small (life is short), and while men don't have a 'bio-clock' like women, if the man waits too long he might have to find a woman a decade or more younger (which is not how you dream about it growing up)

> The time window to have children is pretty small (life is short)

You've got roughly from your mid 20s to your late 40s to have kids 'responsibly', is that really a small window? Or are you perhaps (incorrectly imho) simply feeling that you've missed out on parenthood even though you're still fully capable of being a great parent?

Our youngest of 3 is 19 months old, and we're in our early to late 40s (i'm not saying which of us is which), and yes - certain things were harder this time vs 10 years ago (100% sleep related things).

On the other hand, there are a ton of things that were way easier this time around - we're both more patient, have more realistic expectations of each other, and we've found a much greater capacity to enjoy her 'baby-ness'.

And finally, don't under any circumstances rule out adoption. I cried more at the final adoption hearing than I did at the births of either of the first two. It's a slightly different bond, but by God it's no less strong...

Some self-promo: I run a weekly newsletter with lessons from HN: https://lessonsofhn.com

It's a collection of mostly life lessons I find interesting similar to comments from here.

1 - Don't be afraid to follow your passion

2 - Never too early or late to start a fitness regime

3 - Don't Over-plan

Adults are mostly grown children, and you are at least as capable.

Work is important, but it's not more important than relationships: you can always find another job, but you may never find a comparable partner.

Do some daily mobility work to compensate for desk job with limited movement.

Also, get a height adjustable desk.

Maybe invent a practical way to code whilst walking/jogging.

Everything should be excellent—start making small changes once a month so they normalize and wake up a decade later formidable and attractive.

be happy. it beats all the other alternatives.

Ah yes, just pick some happiness off of the happy tree!

I've tried both, country and western.

You don't need to wait for permission.

Fucking uninstall SETI/BOINC and install Bitcoin miners and delegate all computational power to just mining.

Go deeper, opt for just in time rather than just in case, & treat your body with more respect.

It's okay to change your mind.

relax and release

be patient and go with the flow of life

you are on a speck of dirt spinning in a vast space of nothingness

Don't give up trying to learn skateboarding, you might regret it 20 years later :)

Kissing ass at work is more important that anything else regarding advancement.

That's only true for some companies (to be fair, most of them).

If you're on companies that are actually creating value, in a position where you're creating value, this is not that stark.

You can be more charitable and use stuff outlined on How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie rather than actual ass-kissing.

Study math for real and get rid of H.Pylori. Would've been sweet.

choose your parents genes, like your advice, wisely.

Better ask for forgiveness than for permission

Do not start a company on your own in germany.

Chill bro. There's no need to hurry

The map is not the territory.

Don't stop writing.


“The sentence sending time machine works.”

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