I read an interesting article at Lazy Man and Money this morning entitled “15 things..”. It got me thinking about what I would tell myself, aged 18 or so, if I could travel back in time and give some advice to myself. So here goes:
- Save more. Echoing a comment by Lazy Man, I saved a lot but I could have saved a lot, lot more in my youth. There were a lot of gadget purchases and CDs and dinners out that I could have avoided that would probably pay for a year or two of my mortgage by now.
- Don’t stop exercising. The reasons for saying this should be obvious if you read some of my earlier posts on weight gain. I had a long slow period in the mid-to-late-90s where I never, ever exercised. The effects of that still haunt me today.
- Pay more attention to your tax courses. I have a master’s degree in accounting, but all of my specialization was in international accounting, audit and other ‘corporate’ areas. In taxes I whisked through a couple of courses simply because the university required it. I wish I had spent more time learning my taxes and building up my expertise in that area.
- Don’t move every year. From 1996 to 2000 I lived in 9 different apartments. Now part of that includes three brief stays of one or two months while “in transition” between cities, but I wasted a lot of time and money moving. While I was living in Moscow, it wasn’t so bad; I moved most of my stuff in one or two cars since I didn’t really own any furniture. In New York I wasted a lot of time and money moving, even though twice it was a somewhat involuntary move (Marriott bought my apartment building once, and 9/11 rendered another place I lived almost un-commutable).
- … and on a related note, buy a house when you start working and rent a couple of rooms out to roommates. I probably would be sitting on $300,000 of equity by now. And when you move to New York and think “who in their right mind would pay $600,000 for a two-bedroom in Manhattan?” the answer should be you. Some of that money wasted investing with priceline.com could have been spent on a down payment.
- Stay in touch with people. In the early 90s, it was tough to stay in touch with people. You had to call, or write a letter, or visit them. Then suddenly we got this neat little thing at work called ‘electronic mail’, or email for short. With a tiny bit of effort, I could have carried a little notebook with the email address of every colleague, acquaintance and friend of mine for the next ten years and dropped them a two-line email twice a year. I didn’t do this. I lost touch with a lot of good people – people I wish I still stayed in touch with for networking purposes, and some I just miss.
- Don’t work so much once you do get a job. I had a colleague in the got paid exactly the same as I did. Neither of us stayed with that firm, and as far as I know he went on to do just fine, as did I – but neither of us were making a future at that particular company. I had another colleague who smoked pot constantly and wouldn’t show up for days at a time. He didn’t get fired either. So I wasted a lot of time working very hard at a job I detested (I quit before I finished my three year contract). Who was the idiot?
- Don’t join a fraternity in college. Joining a fraternity seemed like a good idea, but other than making some very good friends it taught me nothing other than: (a) laziness, (b) racism, (c) sexism, (d) violence and (e) drunkenness. Sounds like a good deal, all for just a few hundred dollars a semester, huh? I basically spent three years surrounded by violence and ugly behavior that would make most people cringe. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
- Don’t worry about trivia. A major drama of my senior year involved a quiz for (supposedly) the smartest kids in school. I lost because of a difference of opinion over which battle of the Civil War was the “bloodiest”. I believe I answered Antietam, the single bloodiest day of the war; the correct answer was deemed to be Shiloh, the bloodiest battle of the war over the course of several days. Did losing the Brawl affect me in any way, shape or form? No. Don’t even enter the stupid contest, high school BB. Spend that learning Russian or just hanging out. It will be time better spent.
- Don’t waste a lot of time on TV. You will live in two of the world’s biggest cities, with a million possibilities for entertainment, the world’s best restaurants, cultural events and explosive nightlife, and you will often spend whole weekends watching football. You will even watch Notre Dame play, and you hate their team. Nice going.
- Buy a cell phone when you live overseas. I know $1000 for a mobile phone circa 1997 is a lot to pay, but it will be worth every dime not trying to coordinate your daily life from pay phones that never work. Your phone card cost $8 a minute, anyway.
- Be kinder to people, particularly women. I have never been cruel, I hope, but I spent a lot of careless years not worrying about how my actions might upset other people, particularly girls I dated or who liked me. I certainly ended quite a few relationships rudely and thoughtlessly, and probably created some real dislike if not downright hatred for myself. I was brutal in some of my work relationships both in my speech and actions. A little bit of compassion or even white lies to appear compassionate on my part probably would have made life better for everyone. I would have lost nothing by being kinder. I guess that’s just life, but I do look back and really regret some of the ways I lashed out at people where no lashing out was necessary. I particularly regret being cold and emotionless when I just could have faked a little bit of pleasantness.
- …and related, don’t worry too much about your relationships in the 90s and early 2000s. When you meet the right girl, things are going to be immediately and blindingly obvious. You may think you’ve met the right girl a few times in the late 90s, but when you actually do meet the right girl you’re going to realize that everyone up until her was definitely not the right girl.
- However, don’t do vodka shots with Russian mafiosos while out for a fancy dinner with your at-the-time-girlfriend and her friends. That will not end well on many, many levels. Oh, and make sure your visa paperwork is correct before you travel to remote Siberian cities. They don’t like it when foreigners show up with the wrong paperwork.
- Don’t work for the Big 4 or a corporation. This one is tough, because of course it has led me to the life I have today. But I do wish that when I was young and more or less free of responsibility that I had taken a few more chances. I wish I had gone to work at a smaller company, or a foreign company or even started a business. I spent a lot of my mid-20s – most of it, in fact – working horrible hours at decent but not exceptional salaries doing work I detested. I wish I had some of that time back, even if it meant I couldn’t afford a slightly fancier apartment or to eat out 5 nights a week. Working in the Big 4 gave me a lot of opportunities, but I always wonder what if…
That’s actually a good exercise. Feel free to leave a comment if there’s anything you’d tell your high school self.