Advice for your children: 2010-2020

Chug asks:

I'm curious what kind of advice you're giving Yana (as the proxy for "college age people") about the next 5 to 10 years regarding debt, investing, jobs, etc.  Not Yana-specific advice, but general young-person advice for the 2009-2019 period.

My first-order response is that my most important advice comes by example and I have little idea what kind of message is actually being received.  Keep in mind that children often respond to your strengths with niche-finding strategies, and thus deviation, rather than copying strategies.

Otherwise, a long time ago I told Yana to take calculus and statistics; even if she hates them she'll know what side of that divide she stands on.  I am encouraging of learning languages, driving modest Japanese cars, and ordering the most unappealing-sounding dish on the menu of a good restaurant.  On investing it's buy and hold all the way.  Use TimeOut guides when you travel and when you are eating in third world countries avoid walls.  I'm not a big fan of debt; debt is worth it only if you're earnings-obsessed and I don't recommend that for most people.  Don't expect to be too happy, that is counterproductive.  I've mentioned that future job descriptions may be quite fluid and unpredictable from today's vantage point.  Being "good with people," combined with smarts and a focus on execution, will never wear out.  The reality is that I hardly have any useful advice.

Do you?


Find things that you truly enjoy doing with other people. The informal connections will play an important, often critical, role in your life.

Luck will play a large role in how "successful" you will be. A few small bad choices can change the trajectory of your life.

Life is short. The people that you will share time with on this earth will be brief. Ask yourself how you want to allocate that time.

The barriers we place in our minds are often the biggest barriers we face.

Try to follow the following bits of advice from the late George Halas.

1) Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.

2) You can achieve only that which you will do.

3) (This is approximate) Find something you love to do and you will never work a day in your life, you will be following a passion.

You ever think that language skills will become worthless in 10-15 years, when we perfect translating software?

Anyway, my advice to college students is to major in either economics or one of the in-demand tech/science fields (biology, computer sciences, and some of the engineering degrees). Then also minor (or have a concentration, or something) in one of the humanities fields, something that involves a lot of reading and writing. I think the reality is that even the non-tech jobs of the future will increasingly require an understanding of tech. We're starting to see that in the legal industry--having a technical background can be a huge plus, even though the actual work that we do (writing contracts and litigating) isn't actual science/tech work.

My last one is related to your "no debt" advice: Don't carry a balance on credit cards.

"when you are eating in third world countries avoid walls"

Very true. If you go to Mexico, look for a street taco stand that has a lot of people and a stray dog. You'll never get sick.

On a more serious note. Try to balance numbers and words. Don't be afraid of numbers if you go into social sciences or humanities and never despise words if you go into other fields.

Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, as someone (Gildor?) once said, but I liked the bit about calculus and statistics. I tend to think that almost any study of how things work is useful.

1) learn to write.

2) learn how to learn and study.
take an honest inventory of your learning process and frequently repeat this.

3) know at least with low precision what makes you passionate.
is it mental stimulation, physical stimulation, music, your position in society, working with kids, religion, etc?

apart from that, no advice besides learn to identify and stay away from losers.

You think you're exceptionally insecure, at your age. What you don't realise is that everybody else is too, and that this never goes away.

Don't listen to Swedo.

Reading the wisdom of our assembled crowd, I'm happy to remember that kids are programmed to ignore most advice.

Remember the saying "The child is father of the man?"

Well, as you grow older, keep thinking of how you will view, later, the things you're inclined to do now. Because the "you" that will be looking back with pride, or regret, later is the "you" that you are growing into now.


I'm curious what your justification is for:

-Do fasting one day every week or so, above 20 years of age.

Always, always, always wear a condom

Make sure you understand present value theory.

Most of all keep reading MR

Tyler, a question for you:

As you have studied the arts world extensively but you work within a social-scientific environment, does your experience support my current hypothesis that those who go into the arts have an unhappier time generally in terms of overall psychic health (I realise this may be self selection, but it is still important for borderline cases in choosing a career path).

Thanks and happy new year

Hmm. As a young person myself, and only a few years out of college, here's the stuff I wish someone told me:

- Find mentors, and don't be shy - prof's and businesspeople are actually quite interesting people. Invite them out for coffee, "informational interviews," or anything really. Our culture, thank god, is one that holds helping young people in high regard. At the same time, learn to take, brush off, and learn from rejection.

- Don't compare yourself with other people; in grades, money, or fashion. Instead, find an area you really like and get really good at it. It's much easier to change marketing and applications later then skill and passion.

- Don't worry about having a strict "life plan," about your future job, spouse, accomplishments, etc. In this economy for our age group, everyone's is breaking. Learning to respond well to disappointment is hard to learn, but very important.

- Focus your friendships on idealistic and good people. Popularity goes away after college, but friends that stick by you in tough times are worth their weight in gold.

- Don't worry about making most of the "college lifestyle" while you "still have time." Parties, etc., grow old fast, and besides, it's much more enjoyable when you're doing it off your own income. Never drink because other people think you should, and if you want to, always do it with friends that will get you home.

- Procreative activities (is the comment box censured?) with someone you care about is much better than with someone you don't. Nod and smile when other people talk about their history; everyone is lying.

- Don't focus on grades for grade's sake: if the class is in something you want to do after college, really master the material and ask non-tested questions to the prof at office hours. Only grade-game breadth classes and dumb requirement courses.

- Hang out with grad students; they're smart, and have close experience to any challenges you might be going through.

- Put yourself outside your comfort zone on a regular basis. This can range from joining a different ethnic student club, introducing yourself to strangers at a cafe, or study abroad. In the long run, this will make you much more confident.

- When traveling, ignore the travel guide unless you're bored. Ask locals and fellow backpackers what to do. Avoid being one of those "check list" tourists and you'll have a much better experience.

- Monitor and maintain your health, physically and emotionally. Exercise and diet make a big impact on morale, and morale makes a big difference on how easy things in general are to do.

- Make an effort to include family in your life. This is tough, especially if you're coming from a conservative culture. But if you can talk to family, even about embarrassing topics, you'll have something most people our generation doesn't.

- You'll come across increasingly d-baggy people as you get involved in work and more competitive areas. Avoid them if possible, but never be intimidated. Don't get angry, don't get righteous, just get ahead. (Also, if you mention Ayn Rand and they nod, d-bag alert.)

- Make a budget. is really handy. Use a debit card instead of a credit card. is a great resource.

- Skills I wish I learned while still in college: programming (Python), at least enough to automate repetitive tasks. Maybe some applied statistics (r). Things I'm glad I learned: certain job skills, the ability to analyze things from an incentive basis (thanks, econ,) but most of all, social skills and the ability to relate easily to others.

"If China is still red by 2020"

Is China still "red" now? I mena, they still *call* themselves Communists but there seems to be a whole lotta capitalism going on.

There's no decent studies that show fasting has any benefit for humans.

"when you are eating in third world countries avoid walls."

I hadn't thought about that. Is it to avoid bugs?

Yes, regardless of whatever you do make sure to take calculus by all means. In fact, your doing is not as significant as your ability to show / discus / demonstrate "IT" on the basis of calculus.

Then, use Lucas' sentence but replace "economic theory" by whatever your enterprise happens to be. You see, by using calculus you become unchallengeable. God, if you will.

It will give you a career, renown and even fame.

"I came to the position that mathematical analysis is not one of many ways of doing economic theory: It is the only way. Economic theory is mathematical analysis. Everything else is just pictures and talk.†


I stole these from a lot of people:

Learn to use other people's good ideas.
Know very well a subject you like.
Know of a lot of other subjects.
Know a lot of people that know subjects very well different your own subject knowledge.
Do stuff and not be afraid to experiment.
Pay attention especially to unexpected results.
Know when people are herding.
Know a lot of people and be helpful to them.
Know how to have a good argument.
Understand and use compound interest.
Risk taking means guessing and betting but never second guessing.
Ever fact has a probability attached to it.
Subject matter experts can be way wrong.
Incentives matter.
Understand there is a lot of randomness in life and randomness sometimes does not look very random.
Be curious about subjects that might not interest you;
Know your brain can fool you at times.
Selling is understanding what people care most about.
Eat mostly vegetables.
Sleep a lot.
Walk a lot. Run hard once in a while.
Hug your mom.

I'm not good with people (I'm an introvert, so I'm just not wired that way), so I guess I have to make it up with the other two: smarts and a focus on execution.

Take more risk.

Looking back over my life and the life of most of my friends, *all* instances where someone did something that was risky and potentially dangerous to the longterm straight and narrow career path turned out well - either into memorable experience and great stories, or into new opportunities. Nothing ever backfired, and the opportunity cost turned out to be negligible. On the flip side, you can still hear folks wondering what would have happened if they had pursued the road not taken.

Yes, we're all relatively well-adjusted folks (so binge drinking and racing stolen cars has never been on the list of potentials to start with), but I am guessing this might apply here as well. My 'best story' time was spent on a risky move to a country the language of which I definitely didn't speak into a worse-paying position with lots of potential for failure from a secure and rewarding post in the States. The work permit expired right at the beginning of the economic crisis with my job in the states definitely gone; I had no trouble finding a great position despite rather a lot of adversity. My only regret was that I couldn't have stayed longer.

Also, in the same vein, travel as much as possible. Put off reading/dvds/canned media, they'll wait. That backpacking trip through middle America, though, is something you won't want to do in your sixties.

Read "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.

Don't graduate during a recession because your future earnings will be lowered

Class of 2009

I have to agree with the post from "ms".

I derailed my career and took a significant pay cut to take a job at an unusual institute. No, it did not lead to career nirvana or some deep discovery. Still, happiestm most transformative three years of my life.

Teach yourself how to cook

When you think you'e got trouble, take a good look around and note how bad you haven't got it.

Don't take health advice from Wikipedia.

Don't buy anything that costs more than $100 the day you first see it. No more buyers remorse for impulse purchases.

Having an economist for a father I hope will have drilled some of this into young Jana's head, so my
advice is more for a general audience at her age.

- Get advice from people you might see again, i.e. not blog commenters. That way you can see if they practice what they preach and it worked, plus there are social consequences for them if they gave you dumb advice.

- Always keep in mind that a) all advice you are getting is from ongoing lives, and their information is mostly
pertinent to how they got where they are RIGHT NOW in career, marriage, health, etc. b) Filter it by considering whether they are happy or bitter about that.

- Follow-up, I am a 35 year old nontraditional first-year medical student, healthy, married, happy about all, mostly just annoyed I waited so long to go back to school. But I had a blast as a consultant before this so it wasn't all bad.

- If you think about doing something a lot, stop thinking and do it. There's a reason you can't get it out of your head.

- When you're thinking about doing X, talk to people *at various stages* of doing X. This will force you to clarify and prioritize your values.

- Don't listen to people who give general advice about college finance - look at how successful *happy* people have done it recently. (Very few students have med school paid for all the way through. Does this mean we should have 90% fewer doctors?)

- Always try enjoy yourself but remember you're in preparation for a whole life. Think long-term about why you're
doing what you're doing every hour.

- Problem for young people: post-college (or post-grad school) depression. Realize that you've been around age-peers your whole life and not had to work hard to form relationships. You will certainly soon be in situations where this is not the case (this, and not money, is the most important aspect of the "real world" you may have been warned about). Make a point of putting yourself in situations where you're forced to make new connections (a bar
in a strange city, parties where you know at most one person).

- Avoid losers. Even though it's intimidating, spend time formally and informally with people who are your superiors in the things that are important to you, but not to the extent that it makes you doubt yourself or gives you an inferiority complex. Do not waste time comparing yourself to people physically. There's very little you can do and it's a sure ticket to melancholy. This used to be something only women had to worry about but history has caught up with men.

- The secret to happiness in terms of non-fiction lies in personal finance, biographies, psychology, and evolutionary biology, in that order. Forget philosophy or religion.

- Accept that your major flaws are things that will be with you for your whole life. These are life-long struggles. Look around: everyone around you has these unbeatable flaws too, and when you're feeling outclassed by your neighbor, remember that. When you're feeling contempt for them, remember that. When they've just screwed you, remember that. Also when you think you have a bad day, rank it relative to your life as a whole. Even if it really is #1, strangely, you'll still feel better.

- Specific to technically-oriented people: do not dismiss soft skills. They're at least as important as technical ones. As time goes on, your economy will be more, not less, dependent on the humans around you. Focus on people skills and relationships; they get easier and more obviously valuable the more you do it. Take jobs based on relationships wherever possible - it's a lot more fun getting up early for a meeting with people you like and respect. To the extent possible, identify blind spots by talking to people in different stations of life.
Cultivate different social circles, it diminishes stress - when your wife/boss/college drinking buddies/running club/birdwatching group is mad at you, you can focus on your wife/boss/college drinking buddies/running club/birdwatching group instead.

If you're looking for a potential spouse, join a co-ed volleyball team. Really. I play v-ball, and have seen 9 couples meet and marry in volleyball.

Not sure why it's such a successful venue, but it's a lot cheaper and more healthy than eHarmony!

* Don't buy new cars. It's throwing money away: even including the reasonable repairs that may come along, I've still spent less money. I've had two used cars in the last 20 years. (The first one became too small, but was still running fine.) My wife's had one for the last 13 years.

* Buy used clothes. Find the thrift stores that serve the high-income zip code areas' cast-aways. My 16 year old daughter and friends have become discriminating and stylish thrift shop enthusiasts; setting a style in (Berkeley) high school that is leading away for the $150 Nikes, etc. of the recent 'Gilded Age'. In fact, just bought a stylish Italian cut light wool suit for $30.

You should never have to brag. If you're actually good at something, people will tell you.

wear sunscreen

1) Learn to ask good questions.
2)It's okay if you're not the smartest person in the room, especially if you can do 1 well.
3) Avoid self-centered jerks and assholes.

I would say not to go for anything in terms of profit, but rather do what you love and try to make money out of that. I myself being a software engineer left my IT job and started my own printing business and am loving it both in terms of profitability and joy.
Savs from Personalized Gifts

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