Seven things I wish I knew when I was young

When growing up in the 1980s, the ideals of upbringing were different than they are today. Among other things, there were much fewer elements of guiding young people to what direction they should take, both professionally and in relation to hobbies and interests. The attitude was laissez—faire, in other words, to let the youth go where they wanted to, without much control or a guiding hand. Today, I have the impression that parents act purely as managers of their children; they run shuttles between soccer training and cello practice. It has given rise to the expression curling parents; parents who smooth the way for their children and sweep away any obstacles and make life easier.

I’m not going to go into which of these two extremes is the best, but I reckon that here too there is some sort of intermediate position; a golden midway that is ideal.

For my own part, the free floating was reinforced by the fact that I lost my father when I was 14. In your teens you have a need for a good role model, and often from your own gender. I’ve always wanted a wise mentor who could tell me how the world really works; what is important and what is not.

Because I have missed this myself, I thought I could at least share some of my own experiences; writing from the position of being in the middle of my life:

1. The ability to learn is the most important thing you learn in school

This just gets more and more true. In a world that changes rapidly, and with technology development accelerating, the ability to keep up with and acquire new knowledge is very important. Anyone who is unable to keep up with the development will not make it. To spearhead it; what’s the point of crunching years in history when Wikipedia is two keystrokes away?

So, stay tuned when the teacher talks about study techniques. And if she doesn’t, learn it on your own; that’s what you have to do for the rest of your life.

2. Although raw intelligence is important, it is possible to develop intelligence. Besides, hard work is more important than intelligence.

You may previously have believed that intelligence is something you are born with and not something you can change. This is not the case. Intelligence can be learned and that there are many different types of intelligence (musical intelligence, emotional intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence etc). Too many teachers in the 80s divided students into “the smart” and “the less smart/clever,” students, where the dividing lines usually facilitated your strength in math. If you really want to be smart: stop looking at intelligence as something static and view the human being as someone who can evolve limitlessly in any direction. This is becoming increasingly true as humans expand their potential by involving themselves more or less directly with new technology; such as the internet and artificial intelligence.

Furthermore, intelligence is not the main factor that determines how far you come in life; hard work is much more important. Are you ambitious: Set clear goals for yourself, work hard and systematically until you reach them? Create a personal productivity system and follow it. Here is a key question: What is the most important thing you can do today to make the other activities on your list easier, or even unnecessary?

3. Social skills are important in almost all professions

I have hired a few dozen people, and in every hiring process there are social skills that ultimately determine who is selected. Whether the candidate has the right formal qualities, and the right experience is determined when reading the resumes. When sitting in the final round of interviews, most people who are hiring, considers the following: Will I actually want to work with this person? Will I see this person every single day and will I be able to work hundreds of hours with this person? If you don’t seem to be an interesting and pleasant person, you fall through.

Because of this, you can prioritize friends, travel, and fun activities for a valid reason. Live a little! Get some good stories to tell. We choose people and not work machines.

4. You have more influence on feelings and thoughts than you think

We have no influence over some things in life; like weather and wind, luck and accidents and it is best to learn to relax to anything related to these things. The man who tries to control every aspect of life becomes a stressed and run-down human being.

But we have more influence over other things than we ever think is possible. Thoughts and feelings count among these. When you’re a teenager, your body goes through a rapid development, and there are major hormonal variations throughout the day. Feelings are thus often out of proportion. And it is tiring having to deal with emotional reactions that do not necessarily match that what you experience. But just relax, the emotion stabilizes. One can use the teenage years to familiarize yourself with emotional feelings, and get used to the fluctuating emotions, and still have a relatively balanced mind. Learn the different thought errors, as described in Rise from Darkness, and take the knowledge with you further into your life.

5. Life consists of both amazing peaks, cruel undercurrents, and everything in between

Some people grow up in orderly circumstances with good parents and friends, while others are less fortunate and grow up with abuse, violence, intoxication, and bad surroundings. You do not choose your own parents, so you are simply lucky while others are not.

Even with a good upbringing, all people will sooner or later end up in their first life crisis. A relationship ends, someone dies, or you get injured in an accident. Those with a background involving some kind of struggle are often better equipped to deal with the adversity, as they have experienced it before. For those who experience their very first setback, it might be a brutal experience. If you grew up in an environment where difficult things were swept under the rug, you do not have the language or techniques to deal with it.

But don’t despair. Adversity is inevitable and universal. Everyone experiences tough moments in life. Remember, without the setbacks in life you can’t compare the blessings in life. The ups define the downs and vice versa. Everything in life is relative.

The best way to deal with this is to deal with the tough moments with a dose of humor. Take life less seriously. Learn to relate to the beauty you have in life with radical gratitude. Then you will get through the tough times much easier.

6. Take advantage of exponential growth

This advice is advice from another perspective, but I take it anyway because it is so important and as almost no one is aware of it. With only 10 $ monthly saved in a global index mutual fund, you will be left with almost 40 000 $ after 50 years. But almost no one does this, because most people believe that equity savings are risky. Investments in individual stocks are indeed risky, but not broad, low-cost mutual funds. Bank savings, on the other hand, are risky over time–with the current interest rate level you are almost guaranteed to lose money every single year (due to inflation). The point of exponential growth is that almost all growth comes at the end of the time period. Therefore, it is important to start saving as early as possible.

To illustrate how powerful exponential growth is: Imagine you have a petri dish with bacteria with the number of bacteria doubling every day. You put one bacterium in the bowl on day 1 and after 30 days the petri dish is full. When is the bowl half full? Answer: On day 29.

So, do yourself a favor today: Open an account with someone who offers global index funds. Then get help setting up a fixed monthly savings, such as 10 $. Ask for this money to be invested in a global index fund. Then you do nothing except to enjoy the money many, many years from now. And if you have children, do this on their behalf.

7. Time goes much faster than you think

When you are young you are immortal. Getting old, sick, or dying is not something you care about. And it’s a good thing too in many ways. But if you spend your teens and 20s on gaming, if you postpone your dreams because you have an ocean of time, you may regret it later. Even young people can get sick or end up in an accident that reduces the amount of years you get, or the quality of those years.

Memento Mori means “Remember, you will die” in Latin. To me, this slogan does not mean you have to think about death all the time. Rather the opposite; to me it means living life intensely every day—to borrow from another Latin expression: Carpe Diem – Seize the day!

For some reason, time seems to accelerate with age. I remember one year felt like an eternity when I was a kid. This is no longer the case. The days fly into weeks, weeks suddenly becomes months, and presto, if you open your eyes the year is gone. We only have this one life–use it, live it, enjoy it!