If you live in Britain, or in a country sufficiently influenced by the British, you may have heard fireworks and smelled the smoke of bonfire. You may even think that you know the reason: the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night, during which our Anglo amigos let loose their pyromaniacal penchants.
This is a common misconception. For what all of these millions of people across the continents are actually celebrating is not an event which grew out of the ancient battles for Anglicanism, but rather an even more historically significant and culturally stupendous event: my birthday.
Today, I turned 25. It’s an interstitial age. I’m halfway to what is called “middle age”, and am a third of the way along a reasonably optimistic life expectancy. I’m out of college myself, but people I went to school with are still in college, or, blinded by the bright lights of the Beyond, have reëntered as grad students.
At work the interstitial space feels even more defined. Almost all my colleagues are older than me – I love to “accidentally” remind Stu that he graduated from MIT the year I was born – and I’m still one of the “young guys” at the office. But yet the undergraduates whom I advise, and who work for me, think of me as being almost impossibly old, even though, had I attended MIT, it would have been contemporaneous with Chris, Rachel, and other 2012 bloggers.
But rather than mourn my generational unmooring, I’ve decided to always look on the bright side of life. Being both an old person and a young person, it stands to reason, must magically confer unto me the insight of both. I’m clearly twice as wise, or at least wise twice. I am confident this is how wisdom works.
So with that established, here at 25 things I’ve learned in my 25 years:
- People are basically good. If someone does something that seems rude or mean, even if there is not an excuse there is almost always an explanation. Knowing and understanding this can be much less satisfying, but much more fulfilling, than responding in kind.
- Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission, but only if you are really, really sure you’ll get – and deserve – the forgiveness.
- Always wash your hands. No exceptions.
- No amount of money, fame, or fortune is worth good health and general security, nor, past a certain point, can it procure it.
- You can buy fancy clothes and blue steel at the mirror in the department store all you want. But if you’re naturally slackjawed like a morose cow and your posture looks like someone hit a chrome penguin with a shovel then they are not going to help. (Still working on this one).
- Pizza is properly eaten by folding it in two along its symmetrical axis and munching on it like a burrito. If you are not eating pizza this way then you are doing it wrong, or you are eating deep dish, which is a different way of doing it wrong. Sorry Chicago.
- You can confide in other people, and other people may confide in you. But don’t confide in other people what other people confided in you. That’s not confidence. That’s gossip.
- One of the most satisfying feelings in the world is being a regular somewhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s a deli, or a barber, or a bike shop. But few simple things can make you feel so at home as walking up to a lunch counter and found that someone is already making the sandwich you were going to order.
- Games, movies, books, sports, and soap operas are all the same. They aren’t done for their own sake. They are done with other people so that you can relate to them, talk with them, share with them something: a goal, a history, a narrative, or an experience. Don’t miss this.
- Sometimes something hasn’t been tried because it’s a bad idea. Sometimes something hasn’t been tried because it’s a good idea but no one knows it yet. The important thing is to know how to recognize the difference.
- You can pick your friends. And you can pick your nose. But you can’t pick your friend’s nose. Because then they won’t be your friend anymore. Then whose nose will you pick? I thought so. See, you have to think about these things ahead of time.
- Most of the most important things in your life will be determined by complete serendipity. You can’t plan it. You can only prepare for it. Learn to improv.
- Sometimes really, really awesome people have never been told that they are awesome. Change that.
- Don’t aspire to be things. Aspire to do things. Saying “I want to be this” is too limiting. Figure out the skills and interactions you enjoy (interpersonal contact, or high pressure, or working with your hands) and then find out what occupations, vocations, or diversions incorporate those skills. You may be surprised by the things you like to do, and the things you end up being.
- There is nothing sufficiently shameful about Spaghettios to make them not worth eating on a Saturday afternoon in your pajamas.
- Don’t be afraid when you love someone. It is awesome. Yes, sometimes it will really hurt. Non, je ne regrette rien.
- A lot of people leave jobs, situations, or significant others they love so they can attain the fame or fortune to allow them them get a job, situation, or significant other they love. That’s kind of backwards. Sometimes you need to go backwards. Sometimes it’s ambition confusing ends for means. Learn the difference and you’ll be much happier.
- Don’t call in to sports talk radio. No one benefits. Ever.
- Never, ever underestimate how vastly different other experiences in other parts of the world are. Travel sometime. It will make everything make so much more sense.
- A corollary: never, ever understimate how vastly different someone else’s experience or perspective is. No one thinks like you do except for you.
- There is never a wrong time for hamburgers.
- Don’t be afraid of coaching. You may be very good at what you do, but almost always someone can help you learn to be a little bit better. Even if they are outside your field. You just have to be able to recognize insights and transfer them appropriately.
- Structure unstructured time into your day. It is OK to do nothing in particular for awhile. If you don’t occasionally shut off your brain it will burn out like a bulb.
- A proper sandwich is the highest form of civilization to which humanity can aspire.
- The most important thing you can do is find a community – a job, a school, a club, a town – where you feel a deep, profound sense of belonging. Home is where the heart is: if you have a big home, you’ll have a big heart.