This is the third in a series of posts with the same theme: letters addressed to my younger self. These letters, written by an “older me,” would have helped me navigate some of the rough waters I faced during various phases of my life. They would’ve also helped me when I was faced with difficult decisions. Through these letters, I hope to impart some of my admittedly limited experience on my two wonderful children and, eventually, on their children. The first post was: On Accumulating Things.
Dear 18-year-old self:
You’re only a couple of years away from what I consider the “critical decade”. It’s in your twenties that you make what are arguably the most critical decisions of your life. While actually making those decisions might be a few years away, it’s important you have this perspective now so as you’re able to plan and guide your choices.
1. Spouse & Life Partner
There is no more important decision in life than that of your life partner. Traditional as it may be to build a monogamous relationship with a partner, society has yet to develop a more effective, alternate construct, especially as it pertains to building a family. The choice of partner is so paramount to everything else in life; the right decision can make you while the wrong one will break you. The good news is that you make the right decision; time will tell if you can help your own children do the same.
A future letter will cover the topic of marriage; the essence of this letter is only to raise your awareness of how fundamentally important this decision is. It shouldn’t be left to chance, convenience, or any other reason than mutual love, admiration, compatibility, and complementary abilities (your partner’s talents should complement yours and vice versa).
2. Career & Job Choice
Second only to your spouse, the career you choose will have the most significant impact on your life and its quality. Given you spend a third of the day asleep, you will spend the majority of your waking ours performing your job. It’s critical to evaluate your career based on four criteria: 1) how much innate talent you have for the career; 2) how interested your are in the field; 3) how much demand is forecast for those skills over the coming decades; and 4) the quality of life inherent in working in that field.
(For more on this, see The 4 Considerations of Choosing a Career).
3. Home & Hometown
Empirical experience has shown me that the vast majority of people end up living in homes and hometowns that are relatively arbitrary. Hometowns are typically dictated by, in descending order of likelihood: 1) where we grew up, 2) where we went to college, and 3) where we landed our first “real” job. Very frequently, all three of these criteria coincide; in your case (if you consider attending a few years of high school as “growing up”), it certainly did.
While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s critical that where you live is based on a conscious decision and not left to circumstance. What you’ll quickly find is the most critical criteria in the long run are, in descending order of importance: 1) proximity to loved ones; 2) children-friendly environment; and 3) proximity to career opportunities. You’ll find that balancing between these criteria will not be trivial with the benefit of one potentially overriding the other two; what’s important is to evaluate all three and make a conscious decision. Choosing the right home becomes a further refinement of these criteria while taking into account financial considerations as well. When considering this, make sure you account for what I discussed in the letter On Accumulating Things.
It’s important for me to acknowledge that the degree to which we have “choice” is a function of our environment and, as I wrote in another post, much of that is not within our control. In a country like the United States, I would argue that most children have lots of choices thanks to the good fortune of being raised here. Despite that, so much is frequently left to circumstance; for example, people who’ve done a job for 25 years for no reason other than the fact it was the first job offer with which they were presented; people who live in the same neighborhood for life only because it was the first house with a seller that accepted their offer; etc. Having said that, I recognize that this isn’t the case for everyone as, in many environments, where one lives and where one works is not a function of choice but circumstance. It makes me very sad to acknowledge that.
Well, there is good news, and that is that, even if you make a mistake, you can always rectify it. However, the bad news is that there’s a life cost associated with every mistake so you’re better off minimizing them :-). Admittedly, the life cost associated with the criteria are also in order; i.e., it’s best to make your mistakes with the latter criterion (your home and hometown) and not the former (your spouse and life partner).
Your 41-year-old self.