Lessons for my Youth

[Written April 11, 2024]

The first lesson I would give to my younger self, if he’d listen: “Business isn’t personal.” This is a wide-ranging idea that covers a lot of pieces.

Being rejected is meaningless. Employers have a whole pile of applicants to pick from, and they aren’t sitting at the desk being like, “Oh, I know this loser.” They’re just skimming too many options and picking some to contact. When one hears nothing, one must simply keep searching and applying.

Being laid off and being fired were pretty meaningless, too. Just a mismatch between us of expectations or cash flow.

It’s worth getting a foot in the door. I didn’t even try for an internship! I would find out the hard way (and end up in fast food for a bit) that one does not go from zero to hired just because one really thinks it would be nice.

Having that basic job earlier on seemed really helpful for getting more jobs. Nobody wanted to be the first person to take a risk on someone, especially someone who’s dangerously close to straying from the Approved Hegemonic Life Path.™ (Maybe nobody ever asked me about the gap year, but I’m sure they noticed. That’s one of the few pieces of information on the résumé.)

Finally, the basic job was the place where money started to have actual inherent value, rather than abstract numbers. When I could look at “lunch at this place” as costing an hour’s work, it was a lot less enticing to buy it.

The second lesson is deeply personal: “You will need to grow a lot; not everyone is like the people around you now, and you will need to find those others.”

When I look back, I see that I trusted the adults in my life too much. I’m sure they loved me, were doing their best, and thought they were doing the best thing for me. But it wasn’t what I actually needed, and I came up short on social skills. (Perhaps the first social skill is recognizing that people lie, both intentionally and otherwise.)

I was angry about all this for a while. I felt like I had been cheated out of a better life. I could have been so far ahead of where I was! If only! But frustratingly, the wisdom that sounds so trite as to be useless is also correct, namely:

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. —Lao Tzu🌎

Being sanctimonious about it, or wallowing in self-pity, improved nothing. Or perhaps, “the only way out is through.”

The third lesson (don’t these things always come in threes?) is: “The most transformative things in your life will be making more money, and learning to save more money. They won’t happen at the same time.”

The former came about naturally. I started with a few companies who (I would find out later) were trying to spend more money than they actually had to create “growth,” only it didn’t work out for them. When I got to a company that was actually profitable including my paycheck, the stability was welcome.

In between making more and saving more is a space where I just spent more instead. I was lucky enough that circumstances never pushed me to living beyond my means, but I wasn’t saving money. There were so many ways to spend it!

To save, I needed a specific goal. If we could set aside $X a year, after K years, the house we had dreamed about looked attainable. (The cosmic joke is on me; the thing🌎 happened during those years, and now there’s nothing to buy.)

Perhaps the greatest irony is that I didn’t have the skills to save much, during the period when I could have used them the most.

In conclusion, then… wanting to speedrun my life📺 was a failure, but a common one.