Dear 16 Year-Old David,
There’s so much I want to tell you. Let me start by saying that I understand the futility of giving you advice. I understand full well that some of what I tell you will be unbelievable and that you’ll just have to figure it out for yourself- part of knowing is finding out. I also understand that there’s no indication that my advice is good advice (you are the foremost expert on yourself). I can only say what worked for me (you). Part of success is just being in the right place at the right time. Some strategies will only work in a specific scenario.
Read as much as humanly possible. If there’s one characteristic that sets you apart from your peers, it’s how well versed you are in books. Read anything you can get your hands on. Don’t be afraid to re-read books. Don’t concern yourself with trying to read for a purpose. Reading different subjects is a great way to find out what you enjoy, so the more you churn through, the faster you will come to know what you want to do with your life. You should be reading at least 50 pages per day.
Avoid video games at all costs. They provide no long term value. They’re basically slot machines with fancy graphics. Sure video games are fun, but that’s all they are, merely fun. Reading is more fun, less addicting, and has significant long term value.
Write as much, as hard, and as fast as you can. It’s about quantity not quality here. Writing fiction is actually fun. It’s like a playground for your imagination. The less that writing is assigned, the more fun it is. Screw the writing rules. Figure those out later. For now, focus on building a body of work.
Take a gap month/year. Don’t go straight to college from high school.
Don’t go to college. If you’ve been reading 50 pages per day for the two years leading up to college, you’ll know if college is right for you. I just assumed that I would be going to college, and I think that was part of why I spent so much time depressed. Living on autopilot is depressing. Making hard choices is the remedy for depression.
Don’t go directly into mechanical engineering. Take lots of gen eds. Get an associates in anything at a community college.
Don’t join AZA. Those kids are a bad influence. It was fun, but there’s no long term benefit in it.
Don’t join a fraternity. Doing the cost/benefit analysis in retrospect tells me that it wasn’t worth it. It was good, but not good enough to justify the price.
Make as many friends as possible with people 25+. Those people have connections. They will be impressed with how smart you are, your peers will not.
Don’t stress out about “being right” vs. “fitting in”. It’s a balance, you need a little of both. You’re not betraying yourself by fitting in. What ever you choose will get easier over time. I don’t know that one is better than the other anyway.
There are nearly infinite bad paths I could have taken. There are a handful of good ones. There are a small few that would be best. I chose mechanical engineering. It’s good, but it probably isn’t the best. Don’t be afraid to try something crazy.
Read the following books: The Art of Non-Conformity, Atlas Shrugged, and Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. These books changed my (your) life.
Research the following topics: psychology, economics, ethics, and game theory. These subjects are my favorite and you’ll save us both time if you get to them sooner rather than later.
An important distinction needs to be made/learned. I turned out ok, but I could have been better. There’s nothing wrong with “ok”. For reference, the technology existed to build a car in the 1600’s, but it wasn’t built until 1800’s. A massive amount of suffering could have been avoided if someone put 1 and 1 together and figured it out. Similarly, if you work hard now, you can avoid a massive amount of pain later. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true.
You’ll make it through. Just keep your head up. Breathe. Smile. Enjoy.