March 20, 2018

Letter to Jake

Jake is a junior in high school, starting to think about college and his future as an adult.  His dad is with a couple of my good friends in Valhalla, so as a nosy and occasionally responsible uncle, I feel obliged to weigh in on what I think the young wolf cub should do. 

Jake’s options as he shared them with me today are 3-fold.  All of them start with college, then split into either being a businessman making a lot of money, joining the FBI, or being a sport broadcaster.  His words, not mine.

Here’s my response to his aspirations.


Think about who you want to be at 25.  That’s long enough to remain in the impossible future, short enough that you might actually make it there.  It’s not like 30.  We used to say, “Don’t worry about 30, we’ll never make it there anyway.”

Twenty five.  If you make it there with your current plans, you’ll be out of school and in your second year, maybe third, of your real job.  You’ll be in the prime of your physical life, on the fast track to the top.  I know you well enough, you’ll out-hustle and out compete most, if not all of your peers. 

You won’t notice it, but you’ll have missed out on some important parts of life at this point.  You’ll think about ‘em occasionally and wonder what it might have been like, but mostly you’ll be so focused on doing a good job that you’ll forget to investigate those questions.

You’ll blow past your 25th birthday, hell bent on career and probably a girl. 

You’ll get ‘em both.  Trust me.

It’ll hit you in your mid-thirties that you missed out on some important parts of being a righteous and total human.  You followed the advice of the mainstream, and if you didn’t get great grades you at least went to school and got a job. You’ll have a house, maybe a wife, kids, and dogs.  You’ll wonder what might have been, where you might have missed out, what you could have done differently.

I know, I know.  That’s the path you’re on right now, and from your viewpoint it seems like a good one. It is a good one.  Still, it’s not the best you can do, just the clearest path.  Even if the wickets seem high, it’s the easiest path for you to follow.

There’s another path out there for you, one far more suited to your abilities, talents, and potential.  It’s not on any map you’ll find, because it doesn’t yet exist.  I can only tell you a few of the places you’ll see; the high passes in the mountains, the dark nights way out at sea.

There’s no preparing for it; no certifications that make sure you’re ready, no grades other than living or dying to tell you whether you passed or failed.  It’s the life you’ll always dream of living.  It’s the life most people dream of living, they just put it off until it’s convenient.  It never is.

You’ll never have enough money.  You’ll never speak the language fluently enough (or sometimes at all.)  You’ll be too hot in the desert, too cold in the mountains.  You’ll shit liquid for a week, catch a fever that’ll stay with you long after you come back, eat bats, crickets, monkey brains, and plants you’ll never identify.

You’ll miss home, your younger brother, the comfort of a hot shower, straight lines and streetlights. 

At some point you’ll start to get it.  You’ll realize that the world you inhabit is not a series of hallways all leading to one of three doors, all set up for you to blast through at top speed.

About the time you’re stuck for a week waiting for some mechanical part in a far off port, you’ll realize that the world is wild. Over time, it’ll sink in that the only rules that exist are ones we agree on, and that you have the agency to create better rules, a better place, a world of your choosing.

You’ll figure out how to cross a border, how to trim a sail, how to tie a knot that’ll save your life.  Your passport will get stained, overcrowded, looked at with suspicion enough that you’ll get used to it.

With any luck, early on all your electronics will break or be stolen.  Don’t try and replace ‘em, and definitely don’t try and trade your life for ‘em.  Let them go and sink further into the human experience. 

You’ll sleep on floors, couches, dirt, trains, and hammocks.  You’ll figure out that a hot shower is a luxury, that sharing food is one of the finest acts we humans can perform, that kindness and compassion come from strength, that every one of us is doing the best we can and far too often it’s not good enough.

You’ll see that the world isn’t fair.  You’ll laugh when it goes your way, laugh harder when it doesn’t, and cry when you see someone else get hurt in a way that didn’t need to happen.    

Your natural athleticism will come in handy, but you’ll realize you have far more to offer than just a quick arm or a keen eye. 

You’ll learn things that can’t be taught anywhere else.  By the time you come back and want to go to college, to get that “real” job, you’ll be ready to learn, to use a university and a job for what it was designed for.

Whether you want to start a business, join the FBI, or be a sports broadcaster, there is no finer schooling than traveling the world.  As my wife Lee and I were told one late night in Buenos Aires by an extraordinarily successful businessman, “The opportunity of a lifetime comes along once a week if you look for it.” 

Getting familiar with the world will sharpen your eye for those opportunities when they come along; the business deal, the off-hand pistol shot in a smoke-filled room, the play you’ll call when everyone else misses it.

You’ve got 80 or so years on the planet.  None of ‘em are guaranteed, you know that as well as anyone.  The one thing we’re pretty sure of is that you probably won’t get more than 80. 

There’ll be plenty of time once you get past 25 for a job, the military, school, or walking the straight and narrow.  Just make sure you explore the crooked timber, the wild lands, the now-unknown before you get there. 

Do it before you’re shaped further by a society hell-bent on turning out average workers.  Like everyone, you carry within you the ability to be far better than average.  It’s up to you to explore it, to develop it, to follow the weird, the creative, the unusual, to reach deep and see what’s way down at the bottom of the well. 

Here’s hoping you seize that opportunity and follow your potential to the ends of the earth.

Yr uncle,


p.s. Here's a picture of me at 23 years old.  I'm sailing away from the coast of Panama in a 22' boat I'd sailed down from San Diego.  Eventually I took that boat through the Panama Canal, up to Florida, then sold it to a guy in Kingston, Jamaica.  In this pic we (just two of us on the boat, a girl I picked up in Costa Rica, and me) had just anchored off that beach so I could swim in, climb those trees, and cut coconuts.  Those are the big green things rolling around at my feet.  They're hell to cut into, but that's a lesson I hope you'll learn.  That's the good life, bub.  That's what I want you go out and look for.  

Nik, sailing away from Panama

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Nik Hawks


Nik Hawks helps run the show at Paleo Treats. Fascinated by humans in all their strange glory, Nik is harnessed in and pulling hard in pursuit of excellence with the rest of the PT Crew. Enjoy!

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April 18, 2018

This article is pure gold.

Mark Lovell
Mark Lovell

March 21, 2018

Excellent advice, Nik. I’d just add a couple of things.
1. Access to foreign parts has declined appallingly since I was in early 20’s. That’s about 60 (yes!) years ago. Travel options have gone down exponentially while border controls have grown relentlessly . NB I’m not talking about options like criminal activity or ways to become a hostage waiting for ransom to be paid. My point: get some interesting travel in NOW, before yet more options disappear.
2. In my younger days I assumed that if I met friends I liked it would be easy enough to reconnect sometime, somehow later. Fallacy. They’re just as likely to drop out of sight, leaving you with what used to be their address in Japan. When you approach dinosaur status like me, you wonder about those guys more often. Friends grow in importance (good ones, I mean!) as what used to be a stream of new acquaintances slows to a ripple. Find ways to reconnect quickly, as you move from Mumbai to Melbourne.
3. Pick up some local language wherever you go. Even when they laugh at your accent you make a much better impression, get more contacts, have more fun.

Karen Pendergrass
Karen Pendergrass

March 21, 2018

Jesús christ. That was hands down one of the most legit things I’ve read all year.

I wish you were my uncle when I was that age so I could have heard this advice. Although, I may have been too stupid and headstrong to have really heard it… but at least I’d have had been encouraged by someone— anyone— to entertain the thought of taking a different path.

And maybe I wouldn’t be spending my 30s traveling and paying off my student debt. Maybe I’d have a house, kids, camels— something to look forward to in my 80s and not wishing I had spent my 20s like this.

I think I got the purpose of my 20s and 30s backwards. But backwards is better than nothing if you ask me.

I can only say that I have faith that with you as his uncle, that your nephew will find his way. Whatever it is that’s right for him.

Good luck, Jake.

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