Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: What to avoid in life?
64 points by sandwhichmole on Feb 1, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 85 comments
I’ve heard wisdom defined as knowing what to avoid, or knowing what to filter out / not give any attention.

Motivated by that definition, what are some things (behaviors, products, type of people, etc.) that you either think should be avoided or have been rewarded by consciously avoiding?

Student loans.

I understand it’s difficult, especially when you’re conditioned to get one since the conversation about college starts when you’re young, but I took one look at it. Saw it was going to be six figure sums, and said no way. Much to the horror of my siblings, parents, friends etc.

Got a job doing help desk and within a year taught myself programming in spare time and landed a well paying job as a developer. I was paid more than the university graduates they were hiring.

I know that university is largely to force people who don’t have enough discipline to self teach AND make social connections, but is that worth hundreds of thousands in debt? No.

There’s going to be a bunch of hate replies to this by people rationalising their debt, who are largely lying to themselves about its worth because they are in too deep, but this thread is about “things to avoid” and my vote is student loans.

Nullius in Verba - think for yourself, make your own decisions

I loved learning math and physics with motivated peers and experts to guide us. I'm quite sure I would not have been able to learn the things I did on my own. I'm not sure what I would have done if I lived in a country with education as expensive as you describe.

I hope that the US can find a way to help bright and motivated young people have a similar experience without taking on crippling debt.

Some community colleges in the US are $100-300 per course, and they offer most of those same core math & physics courses, without the crippling debt.

>I know that university is largely to force people who don’t have enough discipline to self teach AND make social connections

To be fair, going to school was a lot more than that, at least for me. I know my schooling wasn't exactly typical, but I learned a ridiculous amount in a short time, many topics were things I didn't know existed before I went to school, or things I wouldn't even know where to or would be unable to begin alone.

Our teachers were professional biologists and ecologists with years and years worth experience and knowledge, my math teacher was a literal rocket scientist. I got to travel around my province and even down to Yellowstone. We worked on local, provincial an federal projects, worked with actual field biologists, trapping and tagging. We were in the field regularly.

We learned how to communicate and work with government and private organizations and manage large projects with multiple stakesholders. We learned how to play the 'get grant money' and 'get published' games.

Just the sheer amount of things I did and the people, equipment and honestly the school's vast amount of connections to a huge number of organizations are things I couldn't have done myself.

Through work we did in school, a class mate and I were even able to get grant money to start up a non-profit conservation/research project, that as far as I know, is still somewhat active, though both of us left years ago.

But, to finally get to the point, despite all of this...

>is that worth hundreds of thousands in debt?

To echo you..


Not even the tens of thousands I ended up with. School's not worth it unless you have the money.

I submitted this earlier today. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22211654 Lots of misconceptions about student loans out there. Half of all debt out there is for graduate school, and most of those students don't have too much trouble paying it off.

Yes, you can make a lot of money without a degree, but not for every profession. And not everyone can teach themselves do to the thing they want to do. You're not going to be able to become a veterinarian, or a psychologist, or an economist without going to college and probably incurring some debt.

Edit: I personally never had any student loans, and while I am a developer now, I didn't study that seriously in school (I took one CS course that I did poorly in). I still think college has made me a better engineer.

I was very interested in chemistry, and thought I would study that - because you can’t be an organic chemist without a degree.

Then I saw the loans, and switched interest to computer science and programming.

Nobody is forcing you into a particular career, just switch, the definition of intelligence is general adaptability.

Shouldering yourself with hundreds of thousands in debt when you’ve never even had a job before is stupid. Period.

You might say, “are all doctors stupid?” And I would say they are not stupid, but the action of crippling yourself with debt is stupid.

I have friends who are doctors, who are 30, still laden with debt, living in tiny apartments and working 70 hours a week, and they hate it. If you ask them now “is it worth it” the answer is a resounding no. But they are in too deep now, they are a slave to their debt.

OK, don't take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. Very few people will ever be forced to consider doing that because 1) they can choose to go to a cheaper school or 2) even very "expensive" private schools offer generous financial aid packages that should make debt manageable.

If you choices are 1) take $30K in student loans to pursue a career you're interested in/go to a school that will set you up for a promising future, or 2) teach yourself how to become a software engineer even if you're not interested in it or well suited for it, then I'd advise people to go for #1 every time.


it is not the debt itself but the size of it and expected payoffs.

If you were coming from an average financial background in America then

a 30K student loan to go to an excellent school that sets you up for life would be most certainly worth it, 300K would most likely not

A big student loan is a terrible consequence for someone who’s looking to figure out what they want to do in life. There are better, less expensive, ways.

On the other hand, if you know what you want to do in life, and you can’t stand not pursuing it, don’t let a student loan stand in your way.

As always the problem is not so much the debt but the size of the debt.

Don't take on debts that you cannot readily pay back.

Per Michael Pollan:

Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can't pronounce, ask yourself, "What are those things doing there?".

Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.

Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.

Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. There are exceptions -- honey -- but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren't food.

Always leave the table a little hungry. Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, 'Tie off the sack before it's full.'

Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It's a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?

Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.

In summation:

Eat real food, probably less, mostly plants, with friends/family.

Bad managers.

A bad manager will make or break your experience at a company. Doesn’t matter how great the project is, or the people you’re working with. Do your due diligence, ask around, and if you get even a hint of shenanigans run for the hills.

Similarly if you find yourself with one plan an exit asap.

The priority order when you find a team is: 1- manager, 2- team and 3- how closely the project as is aligns with your interests and expertise. 2- changes over time and 3- is often within your control once you join, but 1- is an awful lot of work to extricate yourself from after.

I had a manager at Microsoft -- I called him a "practice manager" because he had little experience managing and was just given a handful of people to wrangle -- and it was absolutely miserable. He interfered with my technical decisions, undermined me in meetings, and did a really shitty job defending me in stack rankings. At one point, after he refused to supply me with a workstation that would work ("That's the computer we gave you, you'll just have to deal with it"), I spent a bunch of my own money on my own hardware so that I could do my job [in retrospect, I should have gone up the management chain long before that].

A few years later he tried to use me as a reference for a certain other large software company. Let's just say they got an earful.

Fifteen years and I'm still angry at that jerk. If you have a bad manager, fire them.

Let it go. He is a different person now, and so are you. Look back on this as an experience, not as something that eats on you for decades. It is corrosive to the soul to hold on to bad feelings this long.

You gave him a bad reference?

That’s one of the more hurtful things you can do to someone. They were looking forward to the job, and companies have all the power.

I sure hope he deserved it.

After thinking it over, I think what’s happening is that you’ve never been in a position where you need a reference to get hired. I mean need, as in “I literally don’t have anyone available except them.” Being in that position just to make end’s meet is awful, and people go through ups and downs in their lives.

Fifteen years...

Some folks are actively harmful to an organization, and you certainly don’t owe one of them a positive review. Without knowing more, I mean, it sounds like the manager was digging pretty deep for references, meaning they were probably bad at their subsequent jobs too.

Finding a reference involves finding a single solitary human at your old job who didn’t outright hate you. If it’s that hard I mean...

To take this a step further, you really want to find great managers and avoid average ones. Managers who take the time to get to know you, know what motivates you, run teams that are collaborative, shield you from nonsense but provide visibility for you, believe in work/life balance, are fair and challenge you and your team.

Without this you may do okay but you won’t grow as quickly as you might otherwise and may find that you are spinning in place.

To me, 90% of a managers job is to act as a shit shield from above.

That's probably true, unless you are the kind of person who has trouble finding motivation. I had a great manager who worked with me to overcome motivation and procrastination problems early on in my career, and it's had a very positive effect on my life.

"people don't leave jobs, they leave managers"


There is no way around it more often than not. Even worse if they have befriended a mutual higher-up in which you both either now or used to report to.

Social media.

Obviously not all of it is equal, but there’s certain low-hanging fruit culprits (Facebook and Instagram immediately come to mind). I see far too many people endlessly scrolling IG loops, and apparently many spend an hour+ daily doing so. These applications hijack the brain’s reward pathways and are inherently addicting by design.

Facebook is a trash advertising company with no regard whatsoever for privacy and I’m absolutely stunned that they haven’t imploded yet.

It's quite difficult to function avoiding all social media, people communicate via Facebook, developers talk on Twitter, it's just important to be in the space.

But it sure can take over. I've been blocking it at the router level at certain times of the day. Seems like an ok compromise for now.

Toxic relationships. Also: looking for love instead of a partner that you can love. Nothing holds people more from goals in life than having a partner that is not similar in what you want from life. In the grand total, you should both want the same. You might have individual side hobbies (but try to share the main hobbies, too!), sometimes fight over the way to go next, that is all ok. But to make it big, two people can handle more than one person.

I see many people wanting "love". If I had chosen my wife the same way I had chosen girlfriends before, probably we would have been divorced by now. While I undoubtedly love my wife a lot, I was really careful to primarily find a partner in her, a person with similar goals in life, a person that I might still want to be with and be able to talk to at the age of 99, sitting next to her in a wheelchair. So absolutely avoid not being very, very, honest to yourself and letting alone love and pure attractiveness govern your search for a partner for life. Turn your brain on.

Avoid toxic people and drama.

There are people who want to focus on everything wrong around them, and tend to amplify it and create drama. If you find yourself around people like this try to create some distance or cut them out of the picture entirely. If you find that you’re always surrounded by people like this take some time to try to figure out how and why that is happening.

Bad company. Not (necessarily) meaning where you work but more generally the people you surround yourself with.

You'll find yourself much happier in life spending energy to find good company (of people you enjoy being with) instead of trying to make things work with the people you just happen to be around with. It takes active effort to meet new people but on the long run it's worth the effort many times over.

Cults. Learn to see what they are early on, learn what groups are considered to be cults, read Lifton's "Thought Reform and the Ideology of Totalism" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_Reform_and_the_Psychol...), stay away.

Agreed, another good work on the subject is The True Believer (https://www.harpercollins.com/9780060505912/the-true-believe...).

Is it still a cult if they pay me above market?

That's one of the worst ones. You get used to the paychecks.

Anyone who is vulnerable to cults is likely vulnerable for reasons other than lacking a warning.

knowing about cults is therefore essential to those times when someone is vulnerable (which includes virtually everyone at some point), so that they have context for what is actually happening and retain enough wisdom to stay away.

Avoid taking "advice" from anonymous people on the internet. For example, let's say someone told you that coronavirus can survive for extended periods outside of a living body, and therefore, any packages you receive from China could be a health risk. Should you filter out this "advice"? Well, if it is just "advice", then you should look for substantiation. Without proof, it has little or no value. Now can someone tell me what to do with the package sitting on my front porch (please provide references).

Don't take advice from this anonymous person on the internet. SARS virus could last 6 days on surfaces. No one knows how long coronavirus lasts yet.


Add "Ask HN:" to the submission title to make clear that your submission is asking a question and is open for discussion instead of linking to an article that tries to answer it.

Avoid increasing your expenses in line with increases of your income. It’s an easy to fall into the trap on the way up, and a difficult one to escape.

Any fly "premium" economy to Europe? The horror.

Premium economy between Western Europe & the States is short enough that it isn't really worth it to me, but the States to Asia Pacific is generally worth it. 14-28 hour travel is much more awful.


As an engineer by training (and vocation), exposure to a cesspool of over-excited sales teams with overinflated egos, impossible targets, zero alignment with reality and the “always be closing” mentality nearly drove me insane, especially when I was called in to bring “technical credibility” to stuff that defied logic or when I was told I was “a negative influence” by pointing out (internally) that the sales pitch had the solidity of warm, brown fudge.

Toxicity usually escalates very quickly from then on.

Proper consulting (which also involves _pre_-sales, but which has to be grounded in reality because you’re gauging commitment and risks to all parties) is much saner in comparison - the rule of thumb here is to never work in a customer-facing position with people who will vanish from sight the moment a deal is signed.


The older I become, the more I’ve come to terms that one day I’m going to die. I’ve watched both my parents pass and I’m fairly young (36). Since my mother’s death, I’ve focused on my own demise in a productive way: I always ask if my actions can lead to regret. Not the nonsense regret of not picking the correct job, stock, or purchase but real regret.

Is this release getting in the way of me being a better husband? Is my work trip causing me to miss family time?

Everyone is driven and I’m no exception but what can I do to minimize my regret?

In other words, on your death bed, will I regret not having X more money or will I regret not seeing my kids first steps? Rephrase that question to suit your situation and that should be your driver.

And if you will regret not making more money or doing X product, that’s fine too; that should be your focus. Just figure out what you want, regardless if it changes year to year and pursue it.

P.S. Also avoid caring what others think. They’re not going to die instead of you. Their opinion is worthless. (This includes me if you disagree)

Things. Stuff. Collections of ... whatever, really. Don't get too attached to things and widgets and thingamabobs and artefacts and all the other man-made objects which supposedly are there to serve you but which end up needing service in some way or another, from simple storage service - where are you going to put it all - to actual upkeep. Just keep the minimal required to live your life in a way you find worthwhile and decide that anything more is optional. That doesn't mean you need to go out and actively get rid of stuff to lead some ascetic life of frugality, it just means you might want to dump it the next time you move without bothering to bring or replace it. Make sure whatever you have and keep around you is there to serve you and don't fall for all those gadgets which are being pushed upon you.

High risk (as in life-changing) situations that can be avoided: driving drunk, unsafe sex etc. Most other bad stuff can be handled with money and/or time.

Even beyond that, do not get in someone else's car if you suspect they may be drunk!

- Avoid borrowing money, be it in the form of credit cards or even worse, mortgage. I know this is not something you want to hear if you are on a mortgage deal already. But borrowing can limit your freedom in ways that are not immediately obvious. You trade your freedom for illusory prosperity. That said, a business loan for your business may not be such a bad idea.

- If your plan is to become an entrepreneur, start building your network early. Build slowly but surely, there is no rush, but one of the worst things that can happen to an entrepreneur is to be alone with your ideas and visions.

- People change as they age or when they get rich. You don't have to.

Not borrowing money is bad advice. The best way to become rich is leveraged investment. A mortgage is simply a 5X leveraged investment in real estate. With interest rates around 3% on a 30-year fixed, tax deductible, you’re actually winding up borrowing at below inflation. Then you’re building principal too, yours and not your landlords. I wish I’d realized this sooner.

When you’re young you could even consider borrowing money to invest in the stock markets. Imagine if you’d borrowed $100K in 2010 and dropped it all into the S&P. You’d have $333K right now. If you’d done it in 1995 you’d have $650K. When you’re young it matters far less if you get wiped out, you’ve got years to recover.

If these investments of yours were as much of a sure bet (or adequately sure bet) as you're suggesting, banks would simply cut out the middle-person (i.e. the borrower) and invest in these things directly.

I think banks make their money not on interest rates but on various fees and overheads: each person getting a mortgage pays 10K (or more) to the bank right away. That is huge upfront money in addition to the interest rate.

Same with late fees etc. Huge business.

also folks on average refinance or sell their property every 10 years meaning folks on a 30 year restart, paying new origination fees and once more the bulk of their payments are interest.

Why would they? For the longest time retail banks weren’t allowed to, and investment banks get risk free money via management and brokerage fees. All investing returns involve risk, it depends on your time horizon.

Like I said borrowing for business is a bit different, so yes you can borrow to invest.

However, a personal 30-year loan if you have nothing else but a mediocre salary may not be such a great idea. Essentially you will be tied to one place for up to 30 years or less if you are lucky.

Not really, for 3-4 years maybe, at that point you’d break even on a resale taking into account broker fees. At that point you could always rent it out, too, yielding potentially free cash flow.

I would strongly caution against this sort of mindset.

Renting is not nearly as pain-free and simple experience as you make it sound. All it takes one bad tenant, longer vacancy, or an expensive home repair to you set back for a decade.

Nor is home appreciation a sure thing. Selling a home costs 6% + closing fees which run at least another 2%. Home taxes are often quite a burden typically add another 1% cost per year and say 3% paid as interest. Factor in all the costs, selling 3-4 years later you are barely breaking even, do the math, you'd have to sell for 6% + 4% + 6% + 3% you would need a 18% appreciation just to break even!!! Of course, most people are bad at keeping track of all their costs and will only tell you about the awesome deal they made: Look Ma, I sold three years later for 15% more - yet overall they lost money on it.

Have you heard of the rule of 1%? It is widely considered the benchmark to renting, you got to rent for least at 1% of the total cost you are paying. And you're real income, that you can assign to the mortgage will be more like 0.5% of the rental. Very few homes in America are even close to that. Then being a landlord is a job as well. You're not just sitting back having money coming as "free cashflow", there are always things that need to be dealt with - many times with expenses.

Hoping to break even after 3-4 years is incredibly naive. Yes there are people that luck out, but then so is playing the lottery, there are many more that don't. More likely 10 years when you get to see a real return if all goes well. had you invested that, you would be far ahead.

Are you advising people to take out a loan and dump it in the stock market?

I mean I’m not saying you should go get a high interest loan that would force you into bankruptcy and drop it into SPY and hope for the best, but sure, if you have access to cheap capital and a huge runway to recover.

For instance you can take out a mortgage and then instead of paying it off as fast as you can, investing your free cash flow. That’s the same thing, but when presented that way it seems far less offensive.

You can margin trade for pretty cheap.

2.55% at InteractiveBrokers

> With interest rates around 3% on a 30-year fixed,

3.51% this week, and that's a recent low, so “around 3%” is a stretch.

> tax deductible, you’re actually winding up borrowing at below inflation.

If you assume inflation will soon return to 1990s or earlier levels, maybe; US inflation has been under 2.5% for all but 5 years since 2000, and averaging even lower; you have to be in a pretty high tax bracket for even 3% to get close to breaking even with inflation at those rates, and actual rates are above 3%.

Fair but let’s be very conservative and say 2% inflation and no tax deduction. You’re paying a net of 1.5% for that loan. That’s practically free money no matter how you slice it. You could basically offset it by keeping the cash in a savings account. If you can’t manage to beat 1% ARR you probably should just pay that mortgage off lol

Avoid credit card and other interest debt yes. But a blanket ban on mortgage debt is foolish. Sometimes it makes more sense to buy and sometimes to rent; there are multiple factors to consider to determine which is better. But there's nothing wrong with a mortgage when buying within one's means and when buying makes sense. (IE reasonable price to rent ratio, no plans to move for say 5+ years, etc.)

Don’t get tricked into playing zero sum games.

Status, prestige, being the “best” are relative, not absolute measurements. Someone else’s gain is your loss.

Health, love, education (to build a skill) are absolute. Someone else’s gain can benefit and inspire you.

Don't argue on the Internet. Information transfer is a gift. Use it on people who appreciate it. Know that the people who do not appreciate it are not eager to receive it and will not alter their behaviour.

Following social conventions. The more I grow up, the more I have the feeling this lead people to the wrong path to happiness. Having the ability to be and act different is harder than it seems to. But when you know deep inside how you should do something, do no let society tell you how to do it.

Recently I found out that some people are truly happy being single. They're not acting. The only problem for them, is how people treat them in a condescending way: "Don't worry, love is coming for you, you'll be lucky too".


Okay, I know that's not possible for everything. Renting a home is virtually a must in places with high housing prices, and a mortgsge is often needed when buying a house.

But in 95% of cases, renting something is a worse deal than buying it outright, and will leave you worse off as a result.

1. It's more expensive, especially in the long run. There's a reason so many companies have gone with the whole 'SaaS' model, and that's because it costs the customer a lot more to keep shelling out cash month on month.

2. It's a liability if you run into financial difficulties, since you have to either stop using said thing, or keep paying money you might not have/might need for more important things. Actual property can be sold instead.

3. And it's a security risk/livelihood risk that can be targeted by your enemies. The only reason stuff like cancel culture even 'works' is because so many companies would rather save their own reputation than stand by their csutomers, and because that can be exploited against others.

This advice is not universally valid.

There are plenty of situations where renting is greatly advantageous.

Being dogmatic is what everyone needs to avoid. Being preconditioned to the idea that buying is automatically a good decision is to be avoided as well - when you take out huge loans with little equity you end up paying twice or more for the property - not to mention the massive costs of owning a home: from taxes to crippingly expensive home repairs. You can easily end up paying three or four times more than renting. Had you invested just the difference, in thirty years you'd be a million dollars ahead.

As always weigh the options and choose the one where the long-term math checks out.

A seemingly pithy statement would be: Avoid Avoidance.

Most spiritual texts talk of the dangers of following desires, and avoiding something is almost the same as following one's desires. The degree of difference is in how you look, either toward what you want, or away from what you don't want.

Unfortunately, as I go thru life I realise the spiritual texts are probably right and that giving into desires leads to more selfishness, which leads to giving into more desires... a never-ending cycle.

So I would dispute the wisdom in 'filtering' out undesirables, and realise that we're all on this rock, and being selfish leads nowhere but different peoples being unable to communicate and relate.

It's better to learn acceptance, and if something comes your way that you don't like, then try and learn why it is so & why you react so. Asking "why?" Is a far more powerful concept than 'filtering'.

Learning acceptance is the same as avoiding your, to this point, natural response :)

Some spiritual texts (stoic philosophy) place an emphasis on guarding your impressions to external events (e.g., deciding I have a flat tire, this is bad, my day is ruined) because if you solely restrict your judgement of good/bad to things in your control then you'll never fail to avoid what you want to avoid.

Personally, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle: in general you should seek to embody Marcus Aurelius' "This doesn't _have_ to affect you" quote but there are also times where being affected by things is a natural and healthy human emotion and at those times you should not avoid feeling them and instead practice sitting with them, understanding them, and learning from them.

People or programs that claim they can teach you complex things quickly, easily, or painlessly. Learning hard things worth knowing is painful and excruciating. People who try to avoid that end up not learning.*

*thats not to say there aren’t more effective ways to learn hard things. But that’s just optimizing in return per minute of pain :)

I feel that you should find something you like and avoid everything else.

Toxic personalities and flakes.

The former are easier to spot, the latter much harder especially if they are extroverts and radiate a sheen of confidence or capability.

Addictive drugs

Ya I'm currently ready Beautiful Boy. The movie was amazing. The book is pretty different in my opinion but also very good. Anyway, it's all about the toll that drugs, and specifically meth, takes on their family's lives. Really heartbreaking and touching at the same time.

I would argue that drugs are habit-forming in general due to the cause of why people want them -- pain relief.

Keeping all your money in cash. On the long term anything else is better, and some cash is necessary for short term expenses.

There are many great HN threads of investing, and the earlier you start, the earlier you can retire if you want.


Scams. Some are getting a lot more sophisticated, but I really mean the "if it's too good to be true..." scams.

Comparing yourself with others.

Advice, especially the unsolicited kind


To consciously avoid, is to avoid conscience.

Avoid marriage until you have an income that can support a family. Make that a passive income.

The internet. Too late.

Internet forums



I understand this.

Don't do drugs - it's retarded.

Applications are open for YC Winter 2022

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact