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Ask HN: What would you tell your 16-year-old self?
29 points by ejsaz on Aug 3, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments
Hi. I turn 16 this month.

I'm not any kind of w√ľnderkind, young entrepreneur, anything like that. I know a few programming languages (but I'm not sure if I know how to program yet, if you know what I mean). There are a lot of questions that one has to ask themselves when they're at this age about their future: where they're going to go for university/college, what to do after education, things like that. I'm currently uncertain of any of the answers. After reading HN for a while, I've become interested in startups and startup culture, though I'm unsure if I want to be an entrepreneur myself, or if I do, what kind.

Being uncertain, it helps if someone who's been through it all could offer even the fewest words of wisdom. Since I find some similarities between myself and the people in the community that I observe here, I figured that I could get something out of answers to the question: if you had a conversation with your 16-year-old self, what'd you say?




Do not compare yourself to others. Life is not a race. Read as much as you can. Learn about finances. Find a mentor. Pick one or two hobbies and seriously pursue them. Your smarts will take you nowhere. Become disciplined. Stop drinking sugary sodas. Steal money from dad and invest in Apple.


Have fun building interesting, useful and problem solving things. Do not have an ego of any problem being too small to solve, you'll have lots of friends in your 20's one day who talk a lot and don't do much.

Ignore everyone, their standards, and set/pursue your own standards and curiosities.

You will meet many people older than you that are full of their own doubts, and think they can't beat their own doubts so they might get you doubting yourself. Run like hell whenever someone shows this.

Read PG's essay geared to students, it sums up a lot of the great mentoring advice I got when I was 16 and doing things I had no business doing at that age:

http://paulgraham.com/startupideas.html

Ps., the above essay isn't just for any startup ideas, but anything you tinker around with and pursue.


I'd say don't sweat it. Make sure to not focus too much on computers. Programming/entrepreneurship is great and interesting, but I know that I spent a lot of my early teens as a loner in front of my computer screen.

Also, I'd say finish. Whatever it is that you do, finish it. Don't let abandoning stuff become a habit.


Thanks. This resonates with me.


I would be more concerned with my 16 year old self developing their technical skills and social network rather than thinking about doing a startup, so my advice reflects that.

-Stay away from python, dynamic typing is a sick joke for anything other than scripts. {controversial}

-Good development tools can increase your productivity by an order of magnitude. I'm looking at you, Resharper.

-You will get banned from world of warcraft for gaming the auction house. This is the best thing that will ever happen to you, so I suggest you expedite it.

-Read "The Mystery Method: How to Get Beautiful Women into Bed". I swear to god you won't figure this shit out in any other way.

-Try to get into a better uni. While the education quality will be identical, you want to get into a good uni because there's a lot of incompetent people who will judge your talent and skills based on the name of the university on your degree.

edit: If you plan on downmodding this post, be sure to reply as to how you think it isn't constructive.


>"Stay away from python, dynamic typing is a sick joke for anything other than scripts. {controversial}"

Going to very strongly disagree with this. Learning Python at 16 was what turned me from a guy interested in computers to a serious developer with a pretty good job.


PUA teaches you to treat women like games. Some will say it's all about giving you confidence, but it isn't. It's entire purpose is to use a handful of gambits to fool women for sex. I've read several of those books as I was briefly interested in that world in undergrad.

Keeping fit, having hobbies, being knowledgeable and aware, being part of an outgoing social circle, will give you the traits and skills you need to establish genuine relationships.

Wanting a physical relationship is fine, but wearing a pink fuzzy hat, telling a girl she's ugly, playing cat and mouse and bullshitting about your Chevy Camaro is dishonest.


I didn't suggest the book for PUA. When I was 16, I was a socially degenerate nerd who had no friends and zero romantic prospects. The interactions and steps that people go through when forming relationships was absolutely alien to me.

I suggested the mystery method because it answers each of those questions in extreme detail. It explains what women find attractive in men, it explains the stages of a relationship, and it explains all things you shouldn't do or say when you're courting a woman.

The "no friends" part of my social problem was fixed by getting banned from world of warcraft, which is why I didn't suggest other reading for how to make friends.


Many 16 year olds are not interested in meaningful, genuine relationships. Perhaps most teenagers who get casual sex are bullshitting their way to it. Some are just naturally confident, attractive and interesting, but I'd wager a bet that the average kid who actually gets laid is bullshitting quite a lot, with or without ridiculous hats.


I was going to comment on how ridiculous it was that your first advice to a 16 year old asking about his future was to avoid "dynamic typing", then I finished reading your comment and realized you were trolling.


I'd tell myself to be a lot more aggressive and to tell anybody who says "good things come to those who wait" to go fuck themselves. I'd give my 16 year old self a copy of The Game as well, along with a stack of Ross Jeffries and David DeAngelo material. I'd tell myself to take the entrepreneurial step a LOT sooner, and I'd hammer on myself to get serious about investing a lot sooner.


Here's some meta-advice: most old people are filled with regret, and envy the young. They don't remember what it's really like to be a teenager. They probably don't even know what the real foundations of their successes and failures were. Be very careful following advice.

Instead you should try to find someone worth emulating, in their general attitude towards life.


I remember someone writing something along the lines of (I think I read this from an article I found on HN actually):

When people tell you advice, they tell you some useful bits, but they also include everything they wished they'd done, and everything that their friends told them.

Yeah, I'm pretty careful.


That's very true, you're well prepared. Much better than most teenagers I know.


Learn about health and cooking, be skeptical of any products sold as 'healthy'. There's a lot of good and bad information out there. Learn as you go and make slow progress.

Eat real food and learn to cook from raw ingredients. It's the only way to eat healthy and cheap. Produce is much cheaper if you follow seasonal cycles. Comparison shop everything, explore your city. Think ramen is cheap? Find your local asian import store and buy those noodles in bulk; that's cheap.

Don't go on drastic diets or cleanses, you'll just stress your body out. Eating has a big effect on mood and energy level, pay attention to these things.


Be careful with your eyes. If you spend a lot of time at your computer screen, really figure out good sitting posture, screen distance, screen brightness e.t.c. When you're young, that stuff doesn't really matter, but bit by bit over time it can really start to fuck you up and you won't even realise why.

Not the most profound thing I suppose, but your eyesight is really important so try not to put more strain on them then necessary.


Also, be careful with your ears!


There will never be a Big Day when everything in your life will be aligned and when you'll have all you want and need.

This is both depressing and liberating, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't work on your plans and have a greater purpose. It means you should enjoy the moment, and enjoy your current situation even while you work on things for your future.


1. Read Books. Alot. On life, programming, startups, entrepreneurship, design, health and finance. 2. Get a ton of deliberate exercise as much as you can 3. Time infront of the computer should be for building or learning, not playing games or surfing 4. Try a simple business. Any business 5. Travel 6. Learn a martial art 7. Swim alot 8. Watch the top 30 films in the AFI 100 9. Go to bed on time every night. 10. Do an extreme sport


Speed-reading (applicable to most non-fiction) helps with #1. Yes, it works. The brain can derive meaning faster than we can speak or mechanically move our eyes. Basic SR techniques can be picked up in a few days of practice and self-timing of reading speed. Given increasing advances in mobile sensors, we'll soon realize the value of optimizing how we use our biological sensors.


I tried it. I learned speed reading at a pretty young age, so I can do it, but for now I feel it's not right for me. I'm reading books to contend the points presented, really understand why the author is saying what they're saying and understand how that affects my life and what i need to do to change. While i might able to derive what is being said very quickly, i dont feel i can go through the whole thought process so fast. I need to take my time with each chapter and really absorb it before moving onto the next.


Take risks socially (approaching people). Get out from behind the screen as many here have already noted.

Your body is a temple. Try to work up a proper sweat (intense exercise) every day. Only eat food you cook yourself. Try to get proper sleep always.

Try selling something on the side to teach yourself about business (if that's what you're into). I'm only now investigating selling on Ebay and Amazon (weird to say for someone on HN). I'm only doing this now in my mid-20s, it would've been great discovering this in my mid teens. Dealing with Chinese suppliers & customers is a lot more pleasant than sitting in front of a screen 9-5 in a job you dislike. Plus you can be the best paid 16 year old you know if you're successful! Here's an inspirational post: http://www.reddit.com/r/AMA/comments/1ib1uc/i_run_an_ebay_an...

Don't pay too much attention to the news, blogs, and general information chatter that can consume your day. Read timeless books, get out in the air, and spend time with friends.


Personal connections matter oh, so much more, than you can conceive of at your age. Never permanently alienate anyone.

And do stuff. Otherwise, unless you are a publicist or salesperson, the knowing people thing creates opportunities but you have no way to capitalize on those opportunities or create your own identity.

Unusual successes is built on emphasizing strengths, not trying to eliminate weakness. People who achieve real success generally do so by being extremely good at at least one thing. If you are truly world class at something useful, you can achieve tremendous success.

The upper limit of a person's success, however, is almost always set by a weakness. This is inevitable, as it is extremely hard to see your true weaknesses, so don't obsess over your failings, therein lies the road to despair. But do keep an eye out for stuff you avoid or are afraid of, and if you get a chance, address it.


I would tell him to take a close look at his friends and figure out which ones are not good influences. You don't want any "idiots in your boat". I once heard a guy say this and it's so true: "Show me your friends and I'll show you your future."


"The game is rigged. Don't work till you drop, it doesn't matter. Enjoy your short and pitiful life while you can."


You are a black box. Your brain and body take in the world as input and produce thoughts, feelings, and actions as output.

Some of the most valuable knowledge you'll ever acquire is knowledge of how that black box works.

Are you feeling distracted studying french? Is it because you hate french or because you skipped breakfast?

Once you're able to link up cause and effect, you can take action to minimize things you want less of, and maximize things your want more of.

How do you know what you want? It takes time, and you have to fumble around. I've found that a lot of people who take a super-narrow path in and after college tend to look up one day and find that they're in a place they never wanted to go.

BTW, I would personally suggest that you ignore anybody here who's giving you answers about investing or going to elite schools, etc. Those are means to an end. And it may not be the end you want.

The only important life goals for you are the ones you come up with. And you get to change your mind. :)

ps. Who am I? I'm in my mid 30's. Co-founder of a successful software business (not a funded startup). And I've fumbled around a lot. The one thing that's saved me time and time again has been a modicum of self-knowledge and a willingness to jump in and learn new things, many times outside my comfort zone.

pps. Don't forget to enjoy your life. Be kind to yourself.


Wow, that's exactly what I was about to say - are you my double from the future ?


I'd tell my 16y old self to immediately change to a different school with elite courses and less fascism and mobbing. To inform myself more about Electrical Engineering and how it's not IT (a job agency I went to inform myself convinced me that it's including IT, but it didn't). Then either decide to start and finish it, or to do Computer Science from the beginning. I would also tell myself to not cheat doing the homework using UML reverse-engineering, but do the Java homework myself. The last thing is that I would tell myself is to not build the Chess MMOG my former Boss asked me to do, but convince him to build that Social Network I planned to do in 2004.

@ejsaz is there something you really like doing, or have already a talent for? It doesn't need to be related to programming, but if you do what you like and you're doing it with your heart, then you have much better chances to turn that into a successfull startup than with other ideas. Don't tell yourself that you'll do it tomorrow, always think about this habit as a sickness. Do things you want to do when earlier than you think it needs to be done and don't do a lot of stuff in parallel. Try reducing or stopping to watch TV and all the Media and focus on your own ideas and feelings.


Let's list some practical things:

Eat more bacon. I was a skinny teenager. After I was 22 I gained a lot of weight. I'm 33 and finally discovered keto/low carb eating and it's working wonders. I recognize that I never really had the interest in doing sports growing up, so if 16 year old me kept to a low carb diet we'd have maintained a low weight through the years.

Finish college. It's a real popular idea to drop out and "do the startup". If you have a side project that gets traction AND MAKES MONEY then that's probably ok. In my case, I did a bit of school and have self-taught myself a lot. I'm really good at what I do (web development), but there are holes in my knowledge. More importantly, I'm regretting now not being exposed to other potential fields of interest like astronomy, solar power, etc. I'll never have that experience unless I show up on campus like those guys in the movie Interns. Kinda akward and I'm not that funny.

Last thing would be to seize opportunities when they come. Always say yes. I don't do that enough. Go to that party, attend that meetup. If you have an opportunity to travel, do it.


It's the increased protein and reduced kcal intake (greater satiety by protein + less choice by excluding vast amounts of food groups) that works. No need to go very low carb/keto.


Watch all episodes of the first three seasons of Fringe and La Femme Nikita (old version). Read Carroll Quigley, Olaf Stapledon and Jon Rappaport. Question all symbolic media including this message.

Know that time will only provide additional reasons why you must or cannot do XYZ. Thus your task is to safely and soon go beyond claimed boundaries, before you become convinced that they are non-negotiable.

Read "how to code a secure system": http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/27.25.html#subj16 . Life offers the challenge of coding a secure self-modifying mind. As the piece above quotes Seneca, "There is a great deal of difference between a person who chooses not to sin and one who doesn't know how".

One answer to your question is another question. What do you want to say now to your 15-year old self? What if all of your possible future selves were each trying to convince you to bring them into existence? How would you choose between their justifications for existence? Do you consider this to be a security, optimization or spiritual question?

As much historical "hardware" becomes software, historical constraints will disappear. What will be the basis of the new software constraints that we (you) will choose for our shared worlds? Should it be the future worlds/startups with the best team, best marketing or largest cluster of peers?

It is harder than it seems to identify when choices lead to divergent futures, or when all official choices lead to equally undesirable futures. Thus the obligation of every startup and teenager is use their imagination to grow the pool of possible choices, future selves and future worlds.


Don't be afraid to make a decision on choosing a specific path in life. The sooner you make a decision, the sooner you start learning and finding out things about the path. If you find yourself having a life where you are not happy for a really long period of time, re-assess things and make another decision. You have the rest of your life to figure out what you want to do, many people who are much older than you are still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up and you know - that is totally ok. Grow your network of friends and mentors and never be afraid to ask for help - you are doing good so far :) Get involved in things that you wouldn't normally do, these opportunities lead to other opportunities and also help you grow your network - many organizations with great causes out there. Always have something that you care about and is personal to you on the side, no matter what happens in life, you always have that one thing that matters to you and no one can take away. Hope you have a fun and great 16th bday!


Next weeks euromillions numbers. And don't go to uni unless you really really want to. Learn to fly , travel the world or something.


You know about compound interest. Time works the same way. You don't have the time you think you do. Every year you screw around will penalize you heavily 10 years from now.

High school matters, to the extent that your performance determines which university you get slotted into. Develop an attitude (as I did) and that guarantees you won't go to MIT. Were I to do it over again, I'd swallow the BS they lavished on us in high school for a shot at Tech. So start working now. All-in. Don't get in the habit of coasting - that's a very hard habit to break.

You have the luxury now of being able to think high risk / high reward. The worst thing you can do is to start a family before you are ready. Security becomes Job One then, which means low risk / low reward.

Surround yourself with the smartest people you can find. Don't be an eagle in a cube farm of turkeys. That's the shortest route to stagnation I can think of (though you'll be well paid).


People lie. People project onto others what they wish they had themselves. Advice not followed. Choices they wish they'd made. Past circumstances as opposed to current circumstances.

There's no getting around making your own decisions. And living with them.

TANSTAAFL. Google (Wikipedia) it. Maybe read some Heinlein. Realize that while Heinlein may have some interesting things to say, he too was writing fiction.

Physical health is the foundation of everything else. Don't compromise it lightly.

From Frank Herbert's "Dune": "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

My qualification: Fear is useful, in the short term. As are anger, and other "negative" emotions. Pay attention, and work to solve/resolve those situations. Left unresolved, they become poison.

There's a lot of good in the world, too. Nurture and trust your instincts. Don't put up with crap. Make it a priority to be in a position where you are not forced to do so.

Don't put other people in the position where they are forced to do so.

A good part of your strength and resilience come from your community (whatever that is -- not necessarily geographically defined). Take care of it, and it will take care of you.

People learn by example. Whether face to face, or in text -- the example has to ring true. Or rather, the example will ring true, whether what that ends up being is what you intended to convey, or not.

This is some random guy's advice. TANSTAAFL.


I haven't read the comments so there might be duplication.

1) Try out new things on a regular basis. I don't mean technology. Try out running, jogging, swimming, pottery, origami, kickboxing, anything new you haven't tried before (You can do most of this without spending any money). But do this on a regular basis. A new thing every month, and you must spend 2 hour per week.

2) If you want to get good in programming, code for an hour every day.

3) Maintain a journal/diary. It doesn't have to be extensive or good prose. Just a rough outline of your day and a couple of lines on how you feel. I assure you, it will be fun to read it years later.

4) Read books. Learn how to read books. I have a habit of reading fiction and forgetting all about them or starting technical books and never finishing them. I am trying out a new method in which I write a small summary of fiction and a plan to work out all exercises of technical books in second pass.

How I wish I could give this advice to my younger self!


Do NOT do things because they may make you rich. When people say that kind of thing, I always imagined doing jobs I would hate, but that wasn't the case. Building machine learning models to play poker, doing quant work for a hedge fund, and co-founding startups were all a ton of fun and really interesting. That allowed me to rationalize the decisions.

I'm just now coming out of that 10-year streak. I knew when I was 16 that I wanted to do AI for medicine. At 28, I'm finally doing it.

Also, start rock climbing. You'll be such a bad ass at 28 with 12 years of experience. :)


You're gay, whether you want it or not, so stop shooting drugs up your brains, and stop flirting with girls... things will get better. Stop hanging out with the cool guys, they are full of shit, and you'll be gone in a year. You're living in china, so please make some efforts to learn more Chinese! Both your parents are software engineers, and you're not even taking advantage of them! Lazy piece of #$%^@! You won't regret what you did, however, you will regret a lot what you haven't done.


Get away from the computer screen.


Hah! I've certainly been doing that more often, particularly this summer.


Expect to underestimate the amount of time you'll be working, so plan accordingly. If you build something that puts more zeroes in your bank account than you've ever seen before, that doesn't make you invincible. An overnight success can't be replicated 5x. Save a large portion of your earnings. When you're older, you'll thank your younger self for helping you bootstrap your newest venture.


My advice to you is whoever you take advice from, make sure they share your values or have a personality similar to yours. I personally don't regret anything in my life (mostly) but I know many people who would probably be miserable in my position. Likewise, I would be miserable in the position of many people who consider themselves happy and successful.


Please don't worry about whether or not you are going to go to college, or be an entrepreneur; don't waste time trying to optimize your technology chops; you are 16 and you have acres and acres of time. Be 16 -- do dumb stuff, have fun, learn how people work.

What I'd tell myself at 16: Self, when, in 1993 you get to 22, take that job in California.


I'd be just as interested in what my 16-year-old self says to me now. It would be an interesting conversation.


Yes, I've often read through old notes not recognising who that person is. It would be great to see their point of view on many things.


You probably overestimate the things that don't matter and underestimate the things that do.


When offered a chance to go to a school abroad don't be afraid and just go. You will end up at a university abroad anyway,but you will always regard those last three years at a shitty school to be lost because you were too afraid to go.


Find out what you love to do. You can't do that just by reading, but only by doing.

Find your community.

Apprentice somewhere.

Take advantage of youth as a time to do and try a lot of things. Get outside your comfort zone.

What you know how to do is much more important than what degrees you have.


I just came back from a long walk, and wow! Didn't expect to get this many replies. Thanks a bunch to everyone.

Time to go rock climbing, try new stuff every day, and finally get around to finishing my project and starting a new one.


Stop playing computer games, look to HS sports like bb/soccer/baseball/track as a way to learn social interactions instead of playing Diablo 2 and Starcraft.


Get a good idea of the world of work before you pick a university degree. If university feels aimless and the other students are not interesting, drop the course.


If you can't hold yourself to an extremely high standard and others to an even higher one than you'll only have moderate success as an entrepreneur.


Have fun. It's easy to work constantly and lose sight of why you're doing it but remember why you're doing it and take time to enjoy it.


Don't work so hard and burn yourself out so young.


Be yourself, everyone else is taken - Oscar Wilde

IMO no truer words have been spoken. Much unpleasantness would have been avoided had I known . HTH.


Don't listen to your parents. Get a job; the sooner you learn the value of a dollar, the better. Talk to girls. Go to paulgraham.com.


Do not afraid to be failed. It is one of the ways to win by learning to your failure. One more thing.. make (appropriate) jokes.


I would say: "Don't play world of warcraft and other MMORPGs, noobass, read books".


Listen to music. Make it a habit. Go see live music especially. It's important.


Seek out mentors ASAP. Don't be shy to ask the best & brightest you know.


Think and decide. Look far. Overwrite instinctive programming. Have goals.


Stop eating gluten. Go rock climbing. Find a summer job. Keep studying.


Say yes to adventure, maybe to danger, no to complacency


Do stuff you like. The rest works itself out.


It's different for everybody.


don't spend your money on anything except apple stock for the next 4 years.


Study harder.




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