This is a linkpost for https://amirbolous.com/posts/21/

Today, I turn 21. Here are 21 reflections for 21 years.

  1. The highest ROI thing you can invest in early on is learning to be an independent thinker. The world is full of noise. It's impossible to drown out it all out, but it's possible to pick out the tunes if you listen carefully. Learn to derive things for yourself. Read and listen to what other people say but always arrive at your own conclusions.

    Corollary to this: there may be forces that drive you to take a certain path. A shocking number of new possibilities open up when you realize you don't have to walk on the path laid down by others for you, and you can in fact craft your own path. You're also probably underestimating yourself.

  2. Who you surround yourself with is very important. Everyone talks about this but I still think we underestimate how large of an impact this has. Do your friends inspire you? Do they encourage you to become a better person? A good litmus test for what kind of person you are is are you a good influence on your friends' lives? Do you lift them up or bring them down?

  3. Initially, the bottleneck to doing something is often knowing that it's even an option. After that, the bottleneck is courage not intelligence.

  4. There's value in approaching different aspects of your life with more of a "scientist mindset." Many of us often spend too much time worrying about what to do as opposed to trying things to see what we actually like doing. Treat all aspects of your life as little experiments. Treat the project you've been to afraid to start as an experiment that may fail. Treat your exercise routine that you haven't gotten around to commit to as an experiment. Try, observe, and adapt. There's nothing to be afraid of if you fail because it's just an experiment.

  5. Try not to judge others because you don't know what they care about or what their value function actually is. What makes sense for others might not make sense to you if you don't care about the same things.

  6. Be competitive with yourself. Are you a better person than you were yesterday? Did you learn something new today? Try not to be competitive with others because it leads to some common failure modes like a zero-sum, scarcity mindset.

  7. Being honest with yourself is hard, but your intuition is more telling than you think.

  8. Be true to yourself is not great advice. Instead, think about what type of person you want to be. Think about what will help you become more of that kind of person. Do those things.

    Speaking of advice, most advice people will give you will be bad for you. The issue is that people are not acutely aware of your circumstances. Most advice is in fact advice people would give to their younger selves, which means they're projecting advice calibrated against their experiences and circumstances instead of yours. Be wary of advice from people who don't know you well.

    Most cliches you hear (e.g. "do what you love", "work hard", "journey before destination" etc.) however are incredibly good advice. They're cliches for a reason. They've survived thousands of years of evolution. Note also, that most generic advice actually has multiple levels of nuance that can only be understood through experience.

  9. Do stuff in public. Think in public. Write in public. Ship in public. Doing things publicly attracts like-minded people and opportunities that you wouldn't be able to easily otherwise find. It's a great vehicle for serendipity.

  10. If you're constantly rushing from one thing to another, are you really saving time or are you wasting it?

  11. We make a lot of assumptions in our lives, many unconsciously. Some assumptions are good (e.g. in a scientific context in order to let's say model something), but be careful of what you assume (especially unconsciously) about others.

    For example, just because someone isn't at a particular stage in their life, does not mean they couldn't be there if they wanted to. Don't assume someone hasn't achieved something because they couldn't do it, or think less of a person because they didn't do it when maybe they in fact don't want or care about it (e.g. some common things that fall into this bucket are money, status etc.).

  12. Change your mind about things. Being right is overrated.

  13. Read (or broadly consuming e.g. listening to podcasts, watching videos etc.) a lot. And in different domains. What's standard practice in one field, is novel in another - all of the low hanging fruit in ideas is in connections. You develop original ideas by reading a lot. You build a map of the territory by reading a lot. You learn by reading. We are so fortunate to live in a time where pursing your curiosity and learning things is so easy. Take advantage of the fact that it's easier now to do and learn things than maybe ever before.

  14. The world is full of distractions. People who get a lot done ("10x engineers", "10x operators" etc.) are not special in some way, they're just people who spend a majority of their time actually focusing (flow-state, no distractions etc.). Multi-tasking and context switching do not work.

    Constantly pushing yourself to your limit is also not going to work. Instead operate in sprints, short periods of intense focus and hard work paired with more low-key, relaxed periods.

  15. Being proactive unlocks many doors that were previously not an option. Be the first person to reach out. Be the first person to organize events. Be the first person to say hi. Everyone is nice but you have to say hi first.

  16. Learn to "hack your brain" to help you do the things you want to do. You can rewire your brain chemistry to make things that are good for you addictive. Turn things that you don't enjoy doing but have to do into little games. The same way social media has been intentionally designed around making the experience as addictive as possible, design systems in your life that make doing things that are good for you exciting and addictive.

  17. It's good to keep yourself busy, the opposite of happiness is boredom. But there's more value in having slack in your life to explore early on. Sometimes you can be so busy focusing on something that you forget to notice you're doubling down on the wrong thing.

  18. Reality is very detailed. Like surprisingly detailed. Learn to notice the details in things. Question why things are the way they are.

  19. One of the most costly mistakes you can make is not valuing your time. One of the most selfish mistakes you can make is not valuing other people's time.

  20. The way to get started doing something diffcult is to dive in. Having a loosely defined plan helps, but nuances only become clearer when you actually face them. Also knowledge is acquired through experience of doing/trying to do said hard thing as opposed to thinking about it beforehand. Doing hard things is mostly about having high expectations for yourself and getting used to being uncomfortable.

  21. Good work is surprisingly mimetic. Learn to steal like an artist. Steal the way people think and look at the world. Everything is a remix. Do not be afraid of initially copying others, your style will naturally evolve from there without you noticing. Quantity produces quality.

Bonus one for fun:

  1. Be wary of status. Be wary of pursuing status (directly on indirectly via a thing you say you want), be wary of assuming things about others because of a certain status or lack thereof. Status is one class of finite games which are played to win, and induce a scarcity mindset. Avoid playing these types of games.

These are a small subset of reflections, things I'd want my younger self to know. Maybe if there's enough interest, I'll do a part two (of n).

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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5 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:42 AM
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One more... Integrate Spaced Repetition device (Ankiweb, Readwise, ...) into your reading/learning flow to mitigate the memory decay, esp as you expose yourself to more and more things.

And thank you for the number 9 - "do stuff in public"... In fact, this is what inspired this public comment. Haven't done this in eons.

I would like to add my own modification to 19(valuing time). The actually important here is something like integral of mood over time. If you gain time but you aren't happy in it(content and curious and excited happy, not addiction -chasing happy), time is worth very little. So if going to visit your friends takes a lot of time but makes you happy over the week, do it anyways.

Got any tips on how to make good things addictive? I went through college and paid all my attention to graduating (instead of playing the infinite game), and now my life is dominated by anxieties and addictions.

Really need tips on how to make brain focus on solving hard problems again. I miss those days.

Sometimes you can be so busy focusing on something that you forget to notice you're doubling down on the wrong thing.

I have fallen into this trap before!

For me, the accompanying thought is that "time is slipping by, argh, why aren't I making progress faster -- I have to keep my nose pressed even more firmly to the grindstone from now on!" I feel that time is so fleeting that I don't have any time to seriously meta-plan.

I have learned to be wary of that feeling; it usually just blinds me to working smarter rather than working harder.

Be wary of status. Be wary of pursuing status (directly on indirectly via a thing you say you want), be wary of assuming things about others because of a certain status or lack thereof. Status is one class of finite games which are played to win, and induce a scarcity mindset. Avoid playing these types of games.

Counterpoint: Status can be very useful—it's often insanely motivating and feels very fun, and impossible to root out in humans, so it's better to redirect status to good things and away from bad things. I don't think you can do without status, so use it like Hercules used two rivers to clean out the Augean stables.

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