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Things I Should Have Known at 20 (inoveryourhead.net)
418 points by pkapur86 on June 1, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 156 comments

The list is all phrased as commands. I can't stand that. There is no one way through life, and I wish people didn't act like just because it worked for them it will work for everyone.

Find people that are cooler than you and try to be even cooler than them seems like a particularly terrible command to give in general. So many of the people I admire the most just don't care so much about image. And I've met too many people who've exposed their own shallow foolishness trying too hard to be cool.

If it worked for the author, fine. And I'm sure there exist people for whom that is actually all right advice. But life is full of edge cases and exceptions, and no one should act like their life should be the prototype for everyone else's.

Agreed. I find myself increasingly annoyed by the tone of people who have discovered that the Great Secret of Life is having kids/getting up at 5AM/exercising for hours every day/eating nothing but meat and vegetables, and if you don't do that you're a pathetic specimen who will never amount to anything.

I'm curious to know if anyone who doesn't feel like they might be successful doing something someone else points out as a good practice has actually TRIED doing it.

If you've tried something and it didn't work out, write up a rebuttal and post it! Personally I'm a little dismayed at the negativity surrounding these posts when it's obvious that everyone is armchair quarterbacking here.

But posts like this are armchair quarterbacking everybody else's lives. If the guy phrased these purely as personal lessons and talked some about how he learned them, he would be much less grating.

What really kills me is his bio. "Hi, I’m Julien Smith.I help people lead more productive, awesome lives— one day at a time. This is my blog. If you like it, please subscribe below."

For me that might as well read: "Hi! I'm an overconfident asshole who gets off on telling people I've never met how they should be awesome exactly like me. And I get paid for it! Please let me manipulate you into buying my stuff."

So you kept reading it why?

You're armchair quarterbacking -- the OP isn't.

You're commenting on his actual web site, telling everybody how it should be. That is armchair quarterbacking.

He wrote a blog post for a general audience. It wasn't about you. It didn't describe specifics of your life. It didn't question your judgment.

I'm not telling him what to do. He's welcome to carry on being a huckster. But I'm allowed to critique his writing and his business model, just like everybody else.

Or you could look at it with a more positive outlook:

I don't think they're trying to prove that they're better than you, they could be genuinely trying to help you by telling you what worked for them.

Life is easier if you learn to trust by default.

they could be genuinely trying to help you by telling you what worked for them

Sure, that's often the case. And then there's ridiculous arrogance like "All your accomplishments are pointless without your child next to you", from a recent parenting thread. (And that's a case where "trying" it to see if it works would be an exceptionally bad idea).

Just give it a couple of decades. You'll get used to everyone around you spouting off about a Meaning Of Life that you think is total bullshit... eventually.

The list is all phrased as commands. I can't stand that. There is no one way through life, and I wish people didn't act like just because it worked for them it will work for everyone.

I've heard this sentiment before and I don't get it. If it makes you feel better to have authors qualify every sentence with "In my opinion ...," you ought to simply imagine it there, not force that kind of timid writing on everyone else.

Relevant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVoQ5jde1yQ

When I was taught about conflict resolution in secondary (yes, we have classes on that in Norway) the main theme was to separate fact from personal opinion.

The best way to do that (according to my teachers) was to ground your argument in a fact and apply your opinion in an obvious way. Ie. I think the goverment is .... because they .....; Rather than: The goverment is ....

Any scientific paper knows this, which is why they cite a dozen other papers. So then you can say "I think B because this person found out A".

'In my opinion' isn't the only alternative to blank statements. One can explain one's ideas or provide some evidence.

It would not have improved the piece. Short & punchy would become long and meandering, with all sorts of little details and things to nitpick at and complain about.

(Indeed, the cynic in me can't help but read this as a complaint that the essay isn't full of such small things to nitpick about and use to casually dismiss it, as is our mental habit... but perhaps that's too cynical.)

Besides, all attempts at wisdom transfer like this have the problem that if you understood the explanation, you almost certainly didn't need it in the first place. You're better off just spending some time in thought about these sorts of essays, asking yourself how and why someone saw fit to write these things, wondering what experiences they had that led them to these conclusions...

... or, more likely, not, until about 15 years later.

This comment is all negative. I can't stand that. There is no one way to interpret a piece of writing, and I wish people didn't act like just because they were curmudgeonly in their reading, other people were as well.

I feel a no true scotsman coming on, but are those people actually cool? Or are they just posers?

I read the advice not as "spend time with people who have a well engineered social image" but "spend time with people who are genuinely more interesting, knowledgeable, capable, effective than you are".

Sounds like he's talking to his younger self, not commanding a gang of people on the the internet whom he doesn't even know.

This is just another one of the endless lists of N things posts that proliferate on the intarwebs. Take it if it benefits you or leave it if it doesn't.

... oops, was that a command? ;)

Given the "I" in the title I'm pretty sure he's trying to speak to his past self.

But since it is not in his private diary it seems obvious that he is speaking to others.

Sharing on the Internet on the off-chance that someone else might derive some benefit from it.

Or putting yourself and ideas out there to let people take them apart and see what holds or what you can improve.

I get easily annoyed by arrogant style, but this seems okay to me.

He's really just trying to share what he's learned and it seems very honest.

It's not like "you should follow me on Twitter" at all.

Can you even read? It is entitled "...things I should have known", not "things you must do" or "things I am commanding you to do".

And for the record I am much older than him and his suggestions are pretty good ones.

A positive person extracts what he or she finds useful and dumps the rest. It's pretty obvious these "commands" worked for him, and you should take them with your own judgement. Getting annoyed by this is a waste of time, look at point 20. and see if it makes your life easier.

look at point 20

That's a fully general counterargument.

You know why they are called edge cases and exceptions? Because they are (sometimes) uncommon or (usually) rare. Statistically speaking, you are not at all special. You probably will never have a thought no one has thunk, and your opinion of what is great and awesome about how you are different will turn out to be nothing special in retrospect (like most people who ever live discover). Try taking some advice and actually be the outlier you are trying to be, not "rebelliously" rejecting it like every young person ever has done in some fucked up attempt to be unique the same way everyone else who ever lived has done.

You are not special, get over yourself (oh no! command... best rebel and complain, its lazier and easier than learning or thinking about it).

Think of "cooler" as "more like what you aspire to be." For some people, that might be dressing a certain way or acting tough. For others, it might be acting more confident or being more productive.

Cool is different things to different people.

Obviously, it did not work even for the author - he has learned these wisdoms while being on his way through life. Learning is achieved by doing, and not by reading through commandment lists. Try to follow more than 3 points at once - you won't manage. For most people, doing so would also go against their current state of mind (their nature). I don't get why this link has been upvoted so high.

You'd be surprised how alike people's life can be...

Why don't you just accept that the blog post isn't for you, instead of wasting your time trying to tear it down? Nobody made you read it. He's not actually ordering YOU to do anything. He wrote in a way that reaches his actual audience, which obviously isn't you.

Your comment's about as useful as the reviews I saw recently on Amazon for a Reader's Digest book on travel -- the angry reviewers complained, essentially, that it's Reader's Digest style for a Reader's Digest audience.

If you don't like it, don't read it.

Number two is flat out wrong. The majority of knowledge that you need to know is not bleeding edge and does not become outdated by the time a curriculum is formed. In fact, you can't even understand the bleeding edge research without first understanding what came before it.

If by institutions, we are talking about universities, then they are one of the best places to access vast amounts of information and experts on different domains that you'll ever find. Most of us are just too young to realize it and don't care enough about learning to make use of those resources.

Hell, we see article after article here on hacker news about how horrible it is that science papers are so often paywalled. Yet nearly everyone went through university during which time they probably had free access to nearly every single relevant english science article on earth.

Perhaps if people bothered to learn a fraction of what is available in just the computer science or engineering departments of their university we wouldn't see the same old 50 year old technologies being reinvented again and again. Hey look! It's event driven frameworks again! The next greatest thing that's 50 years old!

The only part of point two I like is to not have faith. Never have faith in anything. Always observe, reason, and experiment.

See, I read it differently. I think his point there is about being passive, as in, "I don't have to go out and get knowledge, because it is my school's job to install knowledge into me." He didn't explicitly use the word "passive", but he mentions "faith", and relying on the institution "to educate you."

Right on the money -- even if you're in forced schooling, you need to go out and get knowledge.

Plus, think about all the programming curricula out there. How many are just mediocre Java certification programs? If you want really outstanding programming skills, you're going to have to go get them ... possibly using a university along the way (possibly not).

So his point # 2 resonated strongly with me.

"Perhaps if people bothered to learn a fraction of what is available in just the computer science or engineering departments of their university we wouldn't see the same old 50 year old technologies being reinvented again and again."

The problem is that for most people (be it salaryman or enterpreneur) knowing a lot of computer science (and other academic stuff) is irrelevant. I mean knowing the basics is good, but learning a lot of it is irrelevant compared to other things (connections, social skills, dealing with pressure, dealing with boredom, capacity to see through complex systems, luck, experience, talent (in fact different kinds of talents)). Even the companies which seem to prefer academic kind of knowledge in fact prefer (and test for) raw talent of some kind.

Of course if your goal is to do research, academy is extremely important. Otherwise (for example if your goal is financial independence) not that much (beyond the basics, but talented people learn the basics pretty quickly).

The only part of point two I like is to not have faith. Never have faith in anything. Always observe, reason, and experiment.

That seems wrong. Without believing in both yourself and in something beyond yourself (it doesn't necessarily have to be physically real), there's little point in observing, reasoning, or experimenting.

Expertise in epistemology doesn't help much if you've got no normative philosophies for applying it.

What do you mean by "believing in yourself"? I'm pretty sure I exist, indeed it would be a logical conundrum to think otherwise. Belief doesn't figure here.

What else should I believe in?

I don't believe that gravity is real, I just operate my life on the assumption that it exists and is predictable. It's working great so far.

I don't believe climate change is real, but I accept the evidence provided, and will continue to do so until such time as I'm provided with further evidence to consider.

I don't believe my mother loves me, I'm quite satisfied that she does. I have enough evidence.

Ah, so you define the word "to believe" as "to have blind faith in", rather than "to estimate a very large probability with high confidence that a proposition is true."

#21: Floating navbars are an abomination and make your site incredibly frustrating to read on a mobile device -- especially in landscape mode. At least put an X button on that thing.

They are still annoying even on a 27" iMac. ARGH! Don't make your site so non-standard in a bad, pointless way.

Your content is or should be the most important part. The rest of your blog should be subservient to the content.

#21(b) X buttons will not save a floating navbar with a "digital clock font."

Fun fact: the technical term is "seven-segment display character representations."

Even when there are clearly more than seven segments?

You're right, this one has nine, I didn't look very closely. I guess you could still call them SSD-like...

The Subscribe by Email floater is what drove me batty, on a laptop. Stuff floating to the left not apparently docked to anything should move when I scroll!

Edit: it's a good list, though. Content > presentation, when it comes to actual reading material.

Also, if you're going to make a gimmicky website like that, at least have the decency to have something happen when I click on the door or the fan or whatever.

What door / fan?

#22 Write a responsive design website

#22 B: Use skeleton (getskeleton.com). It will save you time. This will give you more time for 1-20.

This speaks to me.

Sent from my iPhone. (Note: really android but iPhone for dramatic effect)

I thought this was going to be BS, as I do all numbered lists [1], but it's actually pretty good. Here's a TLDR, but the elaborations on each point are worth reading:

1. The world is trying to keep you stupid.

2. Do not have faith in institutions to educate you.

3. Read as much as you can. Learn to speed read with high retention.

4. Connect with everyone, all the time.

5. Don’t waste time being shy.

6. If you feel weird about something during a relationship, that’s usually what you end up breaking up over.

7. Have as much contact as possible with older people.

8. Find people that are cooler than you and hang out with them too.

9. You will become more conservative over time. For this reason, you need to do your craziest stuff NOW.

10. Reduce all expenses as much as possible.

11. Instead of getting status through objects (which provide only temporary boosts), do it through experiences.

12. While you are living on the cheap, solve the money problem.

13. Learn to program.

14. Get a six-pack (or get thin, whatever your goal is) while you are young.

15. Learn to cook

16. Sleep well

17. Get a reminder app for everything

18. Choose something huge to do

19. Get known for one thing.

20. Don’t try to “fix” anyone.

[1] Change the title to "Things I Should Have Known at 20" http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

  > 1. The world is trying to keep you stupid.
No it doesn't. Quite the opposite. While the idea that less educated are easier to manipulate is true the item on the list says expresses a different idea.

  > 2. Do not have faith in institutions to educate you.
You can only educate yourself. However institutions can help a lot. As for outdated curriculum: guess how old Newtonian physics and calculus is. Now think how many still have problem grasping these.

  > 3. Read as much as you can. Learn to speed read with high retention.
Agree with the first part. The second part is oxymoron.

  > 4. Connect with everyone, all the time.

  > 5. Don’t waste time being shy.

  > 6. If you feel weird about something during a relationship, that’s usually what you end up breaking up over.

  > 7. Have as much contact as possible with older people.

  > 8. Find people that are cooler than you and hang out with them too.

  > 9. You will become more conservative over time. For this reason, you need to do your craziest stuff NOW.
Why? Do I need to do the crazy stuff at all? Also, not sure about the whole getting more conservative thing.

  > 10. Reduce all expenses as much as possible.

  > 11. Instead of getting status through objects (which provide only temporary boosts), do it through experiences.

  > 12. While you are living on the cheap, solve the money problem.

  > 13. Learn to program.
Why? Why program, not plumbing? I think people to often conflate programming and reasoning skill.

  > 14. Get a six-pack (or get thin, whatever your goal is) while you are young.
How about not getting fat?

  >15. Learn to cook

  > 16. Sleep well

  > 17. Get a reminder app for everything

  > 18. Choose something huge to do

  > 19. Get known for one thing.

  > 20. Don’t try to “fix” anyone.
Mostly true. But you can be a good help for someone who really tries to change.

My addition: don't make shallow lists like this.

> 1. The world is trying to keep you stupid.

No it doesn't. Quite the opposite. While the idea that less educated are easier to manipulate is true the item on the list says expresses a different idea.

He is actually right, in several ways. For example, how do you find the average joke posted by a friend on Facebook? Also TV is called the idiot box for a reason. And its not easy to break the addictive traps. And this is just one way.

Similarly if one _thinks_ there is a lot of weight in other points as well. But of course one has to interpret them in one's own context.

I just started watching CCTV (Chinese State TV in English - Broadcasting locally from 'Cornroe' Texas), and the contrast with ABC/NBC/CBS etc., is amazing.

Actually foreign news, not just US forces adventures, and human interest.

Do yourself a favor and watch at least source of foreign news, such as the BBC, CCTV, CNN Intl, Al Jazeera etc.

Most of your why? can be answered by reading the actual post.

Concerning your conservative remark: hands down the best high school class I took was my US government class. It taught one all the shit about the political process...practical stuff (as opposed to the literary significance of Hamlet) every adult should know in order to make informed voting decisions. Stuff that one most likely will not learn anywhere else unless they put effort into doing so (and we all know how motivated the general public is to do that).

One of the things they touched upon in the early chapters was how people, in general, are more liberal in their youth and, as they acquire wealth and other serious assets (mortgage, family, 20 foot boat, etc), they become more set in their ways and thus, conservative. Makes sense when you think about it...

Conservative is an overloaded word. If you read the blurb following conservative it seems like he's using it in the sense of risk-aversion not in the sense of political spectrum. Both tend to be true facts of life, but the idea of trying to accomplish big things when you can take more risks is the more important one.

Why not? What makes it bullshit?


Thanks for that. Updated title.

Any book worth reading is worth reading slowly.

That was one of the things I always thought was weird about me. All my friends always showed off how quickly they read books. And it took me ages - I would keep re-reading lines and paragraphs that I liked.

Now, I can just say, "Did you know PG does that too?".

There are dozens of us!

(We need a name for it.)


Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested" ~Francis Bacon.

And more than once.

What's the slowest book you've read?

There are several different types of reading slowly.

Math is slow because you have to work things out as you read it.

Books written very long ago are slow because I read them like a detective, looking not just at what the author means to say, but also at what he's saying implicitly about how things were at the time.

Other books I read slowly because they're so good I don't want them to end. I used to have to make a conscious effort to make Patrick O'Brian novels last, and I stopped reading them at about number 12, to save the rest for later. (I worry though that I wouldn't like them so much now.)

If I could do it over, I'd read O'Brian's novels with several months to a year between each one (perhaps one every winter and summer solstice). There's really something to be said about savoring such an authentically detailed, nuanced, and intellectual universe.

As it is, I find my recollections of the Aubrey-Maturin adventures muddled and vague, since I burned through the first 20 at an addict's pace. Not recommended.

They keep going with the same level of quality until the very end. Even the three draft chapters of the unfinished 21st volume left me wanting more.

Agreed. I read them as slowly as I could manage over the course of about five years. Even 21 was a great read. I was blown away that I was still maintaining the same enjoyment 15, 16 books in. I just assumed the quality would have had to deteriorate. Although O'Brian does get a lot of reuse out of Stephen's joke about the dog watch being cur-tailed.

I wish I still had eight and a half more to go!

There has to be a distinction between technical and non-technical books here. Otherwise (excluding purely academic books), I'd say 'On Lisp' - even though that's probably because I was not ready for it yet. In fact, I've had to read it multiple times. Same goes for SICP.


So true. For certain books that I found insightful, I have found myself re-reading some parts later and discover nuances that I missed the first time.

I read a lot, but only on internet, blogs, tech docs, passionate ideas. It has been like this way for years, It seems that I do not have time for big books that worth reading slowly. I am not sure if this is healthy.

When I was younger, I read a little Confucius with a lot of time, that's very different life.

Out of interest, what are you favourite books? I will read them slowly.

Why? If you're reading for leisure, sure, but if you're reading for information or experience, it makes sense you'd want to read as many books as possible, hence as quickly as possible.

If you're trying to gain information and experience then it is silly to try to optimise for "How many pages have I looked at?"

You need to come to terms with what the author is claiming, critically evaluate the argument used to support those claims, and then decide the relevance of this new perspective on the world (eg, how will you implement it in your life?)

This all takes time.


I'm not a fan of speed reading.

In my experience, "gulping down" a book instead of "savouring" it leads to a rough comprehension of what the book is trying to tell you, so if someone asks you'll be able to give a brief summary.

But if you take your time (with a pencil) you'll be able to actually follow the person's trail of thought that went into writing what you're reading, ultimately helping you in making similar conclusions in differing areas, which is at least why I read: To broaden my own horizon, not to parrot-like mimic what other people think.

Also: >Don’t try to “fix” anyone. Instead, look for someone who isn’t broken.

Not sure about this one either - having had a few relationships from that department I know that I learned a lot about people in general and had amazing experiences, something which I couldn't have learned from a relationship with a person who's "normal". Of course ultimately, it's not worth it in the long run.

On "fixing": ultimately, people don't get fixed. My experience is that they tend to become more of who they are with age. Looking back over people I've known for three and going on four decades, it's amazing how early the fundamentals of personality are laid down, though there can be substantial changes especially during adolescence and early adulthood. Past that, traumatic experiences (war, violence, drugs, abuse) can literally leave brain (and emotional) scars.

There's a huge difference between enjoying the eccentricities of someone, and trying to change/fix them. There's a large class of eccentrics who are very interesting/entertaining if you keep them at a modest distance, though they can be explosive or toxic/harmful if you get them too close.

The corollary is, of course, you're broken too to many people. The key is finding someone who's no more or less broken than you.

speed reading is fun. it ends up generating people who just tell you a few key sentences or words they have read, genuinely thinking they're saying something smart/that make sense etc.

While they generally don't grasp the meaning, subject, of what they're saying. It's this must-have-read-everything syndrome, but you don't actually gain anything from it. Just like the hundred of news items on HN tbh.

These lists always miss the point.

For example, the list is most likely right about sleep. However, if you're not sleeping enough you'll most likely say "It's ok man, it's under control".

Only when experiencing personally the damages of sleep deprivation you'll say "I should sleep more". Not because you read it on a list or your friend tells you.

As for six packs, yes, it's important, because it will insulate you from 95% of back pain. But who's going to do stomach crunches after reading such list?

Céline said it better than me: Experience is a lantern that lights only the carrier (L'expérience est une lanterne qui n'éclaire que celui qui la porte).

Back pain can often be prevented/improved by having a strong back and abs, true. However a "6-pack" is a function of low body fat for the most part. Crunches(especially unweighted) are a terrible way to make your abs stronger.

Good ways to make your back and abs stronger include squats, deadlifts and progressively loaded ab work.

crunches have nothing to do with a six pack. follow the link he provided.

It's a bit OOT, but, allow me to retort.

I'm not a big fan of intermittent fasting or any 'program' for that matter.

What I'd like to say, from personal experience, is that nothing beats a balanced diet and regular exercise. No program, no "method". Just an old fashioned healthy life.

And sorry, but if you want a six packs, at some point, you'll have to sweat for it.

Nobody said you don't have to sweat for it. I'm currently in the process of getting one, and I do no crunches (although I'm sure they help). Also, a sixpack has nothing to do with fitness (other than that you incidentally get fit). It's purely for aesthetic reasons.

Me, I was working out anyway, so I figured I'd lose the fat to look lean as well.

programs help people transition to healthier habits. I don't "follow" leangains in the sense that I don't check calories and workouts against some set in stone plan, but my lifestyle looks pretty similar to a leangains program.

It is a pretty solid list.

I am 25 and these are things that would have helped me at 20.

I am trying to accomplish some of these now.

3. I used to read a book per week. I stopped and now I need to get back.

9. I never thought I would be a conservative person. I see the difference between my younger cousins and I.

10. I am jobless. I definitely am trying to eliminate costs.

13. I started taking Udacity classes. I have a business degree. It has been harder than I imagined. I still am motivated to learn more languages besides python.

14. I go to the gym six days per week. I ride my bike everywhere I go.

20. A very simple statement. That is very true.

I think when he mentions conservatism, it's more in the context of reducing the presence of risk in your activities as you age.

13) A word of advice based on what I perceive your experience level to be: focus more on really learning Python than amassing a list of languages with whose syntax you are familiar. Once you master Python, then Java, Ruby, etc. will be easy to learn. Employers understand this. The ones you want to work for, at least.


Too many people who are new to programming assume they need to learn all the languages. What you really need to learn is the theory behind each lesson. When learning loops don't think "so this is how you do a loop", rather think about why you are looping, when, and what types of loops there are.

All the languages (listed above) have looping mechanisms, and you will use them for the same reasons you did in python. You will know when to use loops, and then you can just look up the syntax for the language you are currently in.

Stay motivated, but keep in mind that your body gains strength/endurance/etc during your rest periods, not while exercising and breaking down muscle. Unless you're seeing good results, I'd consider more full rest days.

I think #8 is silly at best. I'm not even sure I know what is meant by "cooler," but whatever the definition the statement does not seem like sage advice from an elder. I am 32 now; I got over thinking about who was cool and who was not when I was 15.

I would add something about not burning bridges.

I read that point more as: "You end up being like the people you hang out with". So if you want to be a successful programmer, hang out with other successful programmers. If you want to be a successful businessperson hang out with other successful businesspeople.

It's just a different way of saying: Your network matters and is way more important than most geeks would like to think.

Far from silly. The characteristics he mentioned on this one: (by doing cooler things, being more laid back, accepting, ambitious, etc.)

Those are mostly about developing the characteristics of a leader -- someone others admire and want to follow.

How many adults talk about Alice being cooler than Bob? Furthermore ambitious and laid back?

  am·bi·tious (adjective)
    1. Having or showing a strong desire and determination to succeed.
    2. Intended to satisfy high aspirations and therefore difficult to achieve.

  laid back (adjective)
    1. Relaxed or unhurried.
    2. Free from stress; easygoing; carefree.

That apparent contradiction is really what makes cool so hard. It's not just about being amped up at 10 or being a bump on the log at 0. It's about being a 10 at where you're going while you make it look like you're at 0. You kick ass, but you make it look like it's easy and you're not trying.

One of the best entrepreneurs I've ever worked with had that quality. The guy was focused like a laser on where he was going, but I never saw him get upset or look like he wasn't in control of himself and the given situation. He exuded "cool" and he attracted people like a magnet.

"Cool" is undefinable and you also need to consider one thing. Look a the number of cool people you've known who are unsuccessful because they view being cool as a priority rather than other things in their lives. A lot of people I went to school with 20 years ago are in basically the same jobs they got when they left school. They earned money at that time which seemed amazing to people with no income, got to do more fun stuff because they had the money etc.

Fast forward 20 years and they're in the same place. Just the "uncool" kids have overtaken them by a long way.

It's about finding the RIGHT people to hang out with not just ones who seem cool. If you're 20, your idea of cool is different to when you're 35.

MY advice would be to hang around with people that challenge you because that is really what people need.


The image I carry is of a special forces soldier in movies/tv: "the situation is not what we prepared for. crap. okay, let's move forward with our skillset."

Trying to emulate this in bad situations seems to always work out to my benefit, even though I'm not being shot at. Accept your situation, and start problem solving from it, not from what you expected. This is an amazingly important skill and gives what results in the air of relaxed and unflappable. That is what I think the author is labeling as cool.

Good point, crusso.

It's not about "cool" in terms of having the right sneakers or knowing the best band on the cusp of fame that only a couple hundred people listen to ("I listened to them before they were big, man ..."). That's hipster cool, teenager cool, and it's ephemeral and ultimately has almost nothing real at stake.

Instead, it's "cool" in terms of "cool under fire" - having self-assurance and confidence to know whatever happens, no matter what that is, I'll handle it. Or I'll handle the consequences of not handling it.

That latter kind of cool is what you need to lead men into combat, win an Olympic medal, or start a meaningful and profitable company. It's coolness dedicated to a mission, a purpose.

I guess one of the reasons that being a "cool kid" does not appeal to me is that I'm not as interested in appearances/image.

Can't one be cool without being concerned about appearance?

I think coolness is about how one responds to situations, esp those unexpected.

Think about how people talk to gate agents when their flight gets cancelled. Those that are reasonable and rational are cool (as in cool headed). Those that yell are not. They also tend to get more of what they desire while not making enemies.

The definition of cool should not be stuck in a 15 year old's perspective of jocks vs. nerds.

Regardless of who talks about them, I think these are both desirable qualities in a human.

It probably has something to do with the "don't waste time being shy" one. Spending time with outgoing ("cool") people could help with that.

I think it has to do with not being average/mediocre. Basically hang out with people that are pushing the envelope (for various definitions of envelope), and hopefully you will be lifted up too.

This article is obviously written by someone (at least mentally) under the age of 35. Always try to be cooler and more accepting than others? WTF. I gave that up years ago. There too much to deal with in life without worrying about what is cool.

I started to write a similar list out for my son to read later on in life. It was mostly bullshit. I like his comment about relationships however.

My parents indoctrinated me with Kipling's "If." It's certainly as good a list as this one, for better or worse.

The thing I knew when I was 20 is to take everything with a grain of salt and think it through yourself and refit the lesson in your life. What's true in someone else's life often isn't true in your life. I knew it but I just didn't believe it.

As an adult, I know that's more true than ever and I'm able to believe it, yet only partially. I'm working on it.

When you think things yourself then you're not bound by the limits that other people before you have set. You don't need to be bound by "what's true and what's right": you can rediscover your own life in a very different setting. But it's a courageous path and I'm not always so courageous. I'm working on it.

Interesting list, but the presentation and layout is terrible.

Limiting the size of the page horizontally improves readability.

Limiting the size of the page vertically is just annoying.

If I could go back to when I was 20, i'd have myself memorize this:


Would have saved me 3 agonizing years.

At a tender age of 20, were you sir a Johns Hopkins Biology student faced with an essay question in a final exam about the types of reproduction in the Cnidaria phylum?

But after the exam and with nothing further to lose, you tried to get to The Block to escape the nonsensical world of jellyfish sex for something more practical; however, lacking directions ended up in a even sketchier part of town and during some ensuing endeavors, caught the claps? And finally experiencing natural selection yourself.

Only way one'd memorize those three things.

This isn’t a permalink, and it took me forever to find one (neither title nor date are permalinks? conventions mean nothing?)

Submission URL should be changed to: http://inoveryourhead.net/20-things-i-should-have-known-at-2...

This list highlights the one lesson I see repeated in almost all advice about life: "Be an Extrovert, and if you aren't, act like one."

Exactly. Fake it till you make it.

The only way to succeed in life is to fail. This article reads like it is a definite list of commands and rules to abide by for a great life forgoing the fact that no two lives are the same. There are a few good tid-bits of info in this article, but if there is one thing in life you should know it's you will fail and thinking that learning from the mistakes of others will safeguard you from failure is a sure fire way of being doomed to a life of failure.

That is true advice and you can actually accomplish a lot by adjusting your attitude about failure. I personally try to consider something a success as long as I attempt it - regardless of the actual outcome. If I don't even try, that is failure to me. If I try and it doesn't work - that's still a success because I made an attempt and most likely learned something along the way.

An old man once told me I shouldn't follow anyone's advice and just figure shit out for myself in life. I wasn't sure what to do...

"Shyness is the belief that your emotions should be the arbitrators of your decision making process when the opposite is actually true."

This is the very opposite of how I've been trying to live my life. I do not know what to think of that.

That's interesting. What do you mean? How have you been trying to live your life?

Well, I've always considered emotional decisions to be poorer than decisions made with logic.

Say if you're considering buying a new thing, is it just an impulsion to get the endorphin rush, or logically do you need that item?

Or maybe it's a moral question. You're 20. A friend's cute sister wants to have a beer with you. Logically you can see where it could lead and the negative impact it will have on your friend and yours relationship. On the other hand, you're getting all sorts of cues from your emotions to go for it. That's evolution for you, we're wired that way. So these two things are at two very opposite ends of the spectrum.

I've considered logical decision making to be a superior route for some time, and I thought that was somewhat well accepted. To hear the opposite just kind of threw me.

Personally, I agree with you, here, and that has always been my policy.

It seems to me like the author of the article agrees, too, though. I think he's saying that shyness comes from putting your emotions first, and I assume he thinks shyness is a bad thing.

You know, I think I read the quote wrong. As I read it back I think I agree. Whoops!

Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance (Dave Barry)

The thing is also, if you never get up, you'll never learn.

I think it's a pretty decent list. Can't understand all the negativity.

This is a fantastic list, though I have to nitpick on this one:

>2. Do not have faith in institutions to educate you

Except if you learn the fundamentals, instead of the specifics. Learn paradigms and methodologies, instead of individual systems and practices. This way as time goes on you've always got something to fall back on.

I think he was referring to the general idea of fully trusting something to educate you. People make mistakes, including those who are teaching you. I think what he meant is that we also need to do our homework and do our own research from time to time.

I upvoted this post. however the author would do well in further explaining or expanding his pieces of advice. a lot of them are true in a specific setting, or for special occasions - they are to my understanding - not generalizable directions for your life.

> eg. in my opinion: Read as much as you can and The world is trying to keep you stupid really go together. Read as much as necessary to overcome common misconceptions and educate yourself. don't spend weeks speed reading thru the twilight series.

> Find people that are cooler than you is a poorly worded advice / way to become less socially inept. Eg if you want to stop wasting [your] time being shy, you need to learn from people who are more comfortable in all the social interactions you go thru every day.

Liked it, but he kind of goes against himself:

"Otherwise known as morons on the internet telling me about the world like they know better. God, these people are unbelievable"



After item 2, I wanted to upvote, but I forced myself to be patient. By item 16, I had to stop and come upvote it. It's about a 90% match for what I wish I could go back and tell my 20 year old self. At least I'm doing most of it now.

It's great that you took the opportunity to reflect on your life. I would have enjoyed seeing more context to some of the points though. Given the HN community, "Learn to program" might be a consensus, but I would love to get more of your thoughts on it. Why? Any stories? I pick this point as just an example, but I felt there were more than a few places where some anecdotes would have worked very well.

Be superman!

Or you know, you can also just

1/ live

2/ think, learn, try on your own instead of reading blogs that are telling you to be superman (cause of course you've the will power for that right?)

works rather well.

> Get a reminder app for everything

While I agree with the thrust of this suggestion (that if you leave everything up to memory, you'll miss out on some important opportunities), I've found I'm most productive if I let my subconscious pick what to work on next (with a little artificial bias towards working on long-term projects to counter the inevitable fatigue).

What if I already saw Fight Club?

Another MLM wonder. Check out the totally egregious 'contest' designed to spam the tweet-o-sphere.

Perfect use for a time machine, check-out these know-it-alls later in life, when life has thrown them a few curve balls, and their bodies are falling apart in their 80s.

The OP link now leads to a different blog post. This seems to be the listed post:


#51 Sometimes it doesn't matter what you do, you still screw up ~ http://seldomlogical.com/2012/03/24/rules-and-resolutions

And don't forget sunscreen.

From my experience, these are things I wish I had known, not should have known, at 20. As Rod Stewart said, "I wish that I knew what I know now... when I was younger."

How do I learn to read with high retention? I'd love to do that. Currently I feel like the words I read are falling out of the back of my head :-(

For me, #5, being shy, is more about the reinforced belief -- after a life time of observation -- that no one wants my opinion regarding any topic.

If I look at my surface-level emotions, that's what I see. If I scrape deeper, I realize it is more related to me not connecting, so my opinions don't seem to resonate. If I dig even deeper, I realize it is often me projecting how I expect somebody will respond, thereby circumventing the need for them to actually respond.

But knowing that doesn't make it easier for me to ignore it.

(FWIW, I appreciated your opinion on this. This point struck e, too, but it wasn't until I saw your comment that so closely echoed my own feelings that I stopped to put more thought into it.)

I am 36 and admit that 19 out of 20 of this suits me. Disagree with #4. I think it leads to waste of time.

I assume the author is in dire need of a list of things he should have known at age 30+.

"8. Find people that are cooler than you and hang out with them too"

Oh dear, I don't think so.

I really enjoyed this post, a couple of things touched a note. Thanks.

Learn to ignore good advice, it's the same skill used to ignore bad :)

According to this, I'm actually doing pretty good for being 21.

(Bias Alert: I'm 20)

Forgive me, but this strongly reads like the thoughts of a man who was once twenty many years ago :)

I am always very interested in the advice of my elders, but I have difficulty swallowing your advice. (Secondary Bias Alert: I've already got a preexisting set of rules to follow)

These articles on what I'm missing out on at 20 both seem to carry some deeply held beliefs that emerge as a result of some societal preconceptions about the origin of success and happiness. You stress breadth but you don' seem to put much stock in depth. It is safe to say I have learned everything I know from studying computers very intently. In this century especially, it is entirely possible (perhaps preferable) to understand the many human disciplines by examining them in that context of your own discipline. Very disparate fields coexist in any sufficiently complex system. The intersection between computer science and literature, finance, anthropology, semiotics and a slew of other fine arts, social and hard sciences seems especially apparent to me. I don't think I could fully appreciate (whatever that designation implies) Postmodernism or Bell's Inequalities through any other context. Nontechnical books tell us more about the current cultural climate than any sort of great human truth.

As far as steadfastness on goals - I started working on a NoSQL database for high speed transactions when I was 19, I now make a considerable portion of my living doing support through this open source, entirely altruistic and ultimately exploratory process. I wasn't "sticking to" anything, I was hanging out and having fun and not really thinking about solving any kind of money problem (perhaps this betrays my own naivete). Regardless, I don't think I could have learned Erlang, Mathematics or anything about databases without a very considerable amount of "wandering". I personally can't fathom the idea of sinking 5 years of your life into something that leaves you with some sense of inescapable dread. I can't help but think you've framed 'youth' in a cliched middle-life tone - crossing nostalgic sentiments about bygones days and entirely present-day concerns (kids these days!).

As far as negotiation: I am always very blunt (sometimes to a fault), but pithy negotiation has always struck me as nothing more than an intentional disregard for another human being's dignity. I once worked at a Del Taco when I was 15 and absolutely hated the many people who tried to nickel and dime the drive-through. Negotiation as a sales process is entirely different than dealing with people who work very hard, and whom you choose o pay to provide you with a service.

I don't care much for reminder apps or pomodoro or any of these 'productivity enhancing' apps, not to say you can't benefit from them. I can, however, speak anecdotally to the efficacy of hard physical work and deliberate focus on improving productivity. We let ourselves get away with too much, too often.

I think you don't emphasize compassion for other people enough. It is far too easy to become so enraptured in your own schemes that you forget how valuable it is to be in good accord with others and to have a good name. If we cultivate ourselves with an awareness that's rooted in 'reminders' and success and not human welfare, we won't get far.

~~~ Side Note

I wrote these out many months ago to codify some internal dialog spanning many years on what sort of system of action is the most profitable use of my time. I have imposed these on myself for a very long time with varying (but monotonically increasing!) degrees of success over time. I consider having rules like these to have been a considerable source of permanent, lasting change on myself. Maybe they will be useful to some other young people.

- Stop "collecting" programming languages beyond what is pragmatically useful or is genuinely spiritually/intellectually enlightening.

- Don't hold onto things I no longer need, try to think critically about if buying something will make me happier.

- Don't take yourself so seriously, but think seriously about the world.

- Never commit myself to action with only partial confidence.

- Do something to detach myself from desire every day

- Try not to prefer anything over another thing

- Never complain

- Don't let myself be guided by either love or lust

- Try hard to judge people only by their skill in their craft and how they treat others, not by their charisma or attractiveness.

Point 20 is wrong.

You'll find that everybody is 'broken' in their own special ways. There really isn't any such thing as someone that isn't broken (unless you're talking about serious mental trauma as the definition of "broken"). We all accumulate baggage over a lifetime, and from each relationship; we all have weird quirks and strange behaviors and eccentricities of varying degrees, and weird reactions to things we do or don't like, and so on.

Find someone whose 'broken' qualities are acceptable to you (not a deal breaker), or even adorable if you're so lucky.

Point 20 isn't totally wrong. You shouldn't try to “fix” anyone.

That's definitely true.

It's called figurative writing, dude... That's exactly what he means.

#792: ideas are not that valuable

#793: a modest product today, is better than a perfect product next year

#794: incorporating, lawyers, accountants, are not that important, build something and then worry about that

#795: find a pin, and knock it down; if you never knock down that first pin, you're never going to knock the rest down

#796: force yourself to get very good at selling; selling yourself, selling your vision, selling your product, etc.

None of these are bad things, but they are not universal truths or musts.

"You will become more conservative over time"

Could not agree more with this. When I was 20, man I was crazy. Now, everything scares me. I am only 30.

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