Letters To A Much Younger Me: On Life’s Biggest Surprises (So Far)

This post is part of 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.


Dear 16-year-old self:

I’ve tried to consider some of the things that have surprised me about life.  These are things where my understanding or opinion has changed over the past couple of decades.  Below is a brief list of the top ten.

1. Life isn’t fair…at all.  And you’ll never be able to change that; so, focus on helping those around you to satiate the overwhelming sense of obligation you will grow to feel.

2. It’s nature over nurture…case closed.  You can do a lot to help channel human behavior, but all you’ll be doing is channeling the innate.  So, focus on leveraging natural skills instead of spending too much time mitigating natural weaknesses.

3. You control even less of your destiny than you ever thought.  Focus on what you can control and make the most of it.

smart puppy4. Animals are even more similar to us than you ever imagined.  Intelligence isn’t the measure of what it means to be “human” as you’ll meet some animals that are smarter than some humans.  You’ll love at least one animal as if she were your own child.  You’re right to feel bad for animals and their fate, but see rule #1.

5. The expression, “money doesn’t buy happiness” isn’t BS.  I know you think it’s a BS saying the rich say to appease the poor, but you’ll slowly learn that wealth and happiness are only slightly correlated.

6. Children are even more meaningful than you’ll ever expect.  The end.

7. Most things in life are cyclical…ups and downs are imminent.  If you’re up, don’t celebrate too long for it’ll eventually end; the opposite is also true.

8. Work is a lot more valuable than mere salary.  It’s hard to escape the gratification you’ll get from achieving and growing; you’ll lose interest in a true retirement.

9. Appearances matter.  No one wants to think they do, but they do; so, look as good as you can all of the time.

10. You’ll look back at the “popular kids” in high school and wonder why they were popular.  Oh, and the mean kids end up miserable.  This is one area where rule #1 doesn’t seem to hold true. :-).


Your 41-year-old self

You can read the first letter in the series, On Accumulating Things, here.

2 thoughts on “Letters To A Much Younger Me: On Life’s Biggest Surprises (So Far)

  1. Bassam – perspective and experience are wonderful things, aren’t they? There is a wonderful book by George Vaillant, entitled Triumphs of Experience. It takes a long range perspective to a whole other level. It studies men as they enter their sophomore year at Harvard throughout their entire lives. Some of the men are now in their nineties. I’m only one quarter of the way through the book, but already there have been plenty of pearls of wisdom within!

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