Before you start reading let's get something straight: This blog isn't just about paleo cookies or desserts. It's an exploration into all things I (Nik) find interesting. If you want to buy paleo desserts, go for it. If you want to radically change your life with a new belief system, read on. Sparked by an idea from the Tim Ferriss Podcast.
What advice would you give your 20 year old self? If you're in your late 30s (like me), your initial reaction might be, "Hey bub, look for the following companies and when they come along, buy their stock: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Uber. Oh, and Bitcoin. Buy as much Bitcoin as you can afford."
Of course, that would just make you rich by the time you hit the point you are now, but the problem would be you didn't know how you got there, and you couldn't do it again if you had to.
If I could go back in time and give my younger self some advice, it wouldn't be financial, because then I'd be a rich idiot...
The more you think about it, or at least, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered what the intention of the question is, and really, what's the purpose of the answer? Is it to make me, Nik Hawks, rich? That seems like a pretty easy task (given time travel), but if I actually could go back in time and give my younger self some advice, it wouldn't be financial, because then I'd be a rich idiot, and who wants to be that? Not me.
So what advice would I give? Before we talk about it (and it's worth paying attention to the answer because it'll change your life), let's talk about what the point of the answer is. If you're ever asked for advice, or anyone ever asks you for advice, it's a safe bet they want to improve their lot in life. Doesn't have to be financial, it could be their relationship, or physical ability, or even their outlook.
If the purpose of giving or taking advice is to improve a life, then the only advice that is worth giving consistently, that applies to every situation and will always give you (at least intellectual) peace is this:
First, you, and only you are in control of the thoughts you think and the behaviors you demonstrate. No one can make you do otherwise. Sure, they can put you on the rack and stretch you out 'til you rip apart, but that doesn't change your mind, just your body and your pain level. You and only you can decide how to think and behave throughout that (or any) experience.
Second, you, and only you are responsible for the thoughts you think and the behaviors you demonstrate. Nobody else, no matter how much you may wish it to be so. If you are happy, or sad, or joyful, or sorrowful, those are all states you have decided to put yourself in through your own actions and behaviors.
I'll probably get some hate mail from folks reading this regarding mental illness, especially those who have experienced it, but I'm not talking about the mentally ill. I'm talking about the majority of us who are mostly too goddamn afraid of our own shadow to realize that we are our own source of light. Having been as far down as I care to go in Sir R.F. Burton's "black dog nights", I know that deep depression is a pit that most of us dig our way into, and laboriously, out of.
Is that new advice? My friend, it's as old as the Stoics. Is it still as good today as it was 2,500 years ago? Absolutely!
Why is that so important, and why is it the only advice you can always rely on to be good and to help someone improve their lot?
It's important because it addresses the only thing we have control over and are simultaneously responsible for. Nothing else in your life, not your work status, your citizenship, your lovers, your pets, your children, your house; nothing is under your complete control. Sure, you can bust your ass and create goodness in all of those arenas, but you only have to look at some really good people who never got any breaks to realize that luck has a factor in the success of any of those outcomes.
Conversely, there are plenty of dumb luck idiots out there who nailed it. Some of them realize their luck, and we call them humble. Others believe in their skill to maintain their success and we call that hubris. Either way, luck isn't sustainable, and to pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.
Just as luck isn't sustainable, good advice is. In fact, it's a super-renewable resource, and what I've just shared with you is advice you can rely on to help someone improve their lot because it will always re-orient the lost, and being lost is the main reason we look for advice.
Now, after reading that, you might think to yourself, "OK, I'll give that advice, but I'll also make sure to tell me that I'll be OK, that I love you, and life is going to get even better." Those are all great thoughts, and positive affirmation is a known behavior modifier, but in this case, what does that do for someone?
You are the way you are because of the struggles you've endured. If someone, especially someone convincing, had told you that everything would be OK at a time in your life when you weren't too sure (or maybe you were, erroneously) would that have sapped some of your drive?
It's a tricky line to walk, but worth thinking about. There's no way to know the right answer, but in the contemplation alone you'll gain insight into who you were, are, and will be.
As you give it more and more thought, you'll realize that the advice you'd give your 20 year old self is really the advice that you can still follow right now, today.
So, what advice would you give your 20 year old self?
Too much reading...
How about dessert?