18 years ago today my baby girl was born. I didn’t know what to expect back then but she was to change my world forever.
Here are some of the things I would tell myself if I was 18 again in 2021…
On leaving school
It used to be a privilege to go on to university. If you had the chance you wouldn’t think twice. Of course you went. It was the key to making friends, getting high, getting laid, and getting a good job. And it was free.
Today however, it’s worth asking the question: should I go?
The big down-side of going to uni today is that you will emerge with a gigantic life-long debt. Yes you MAY not have to pay it back if end-up poor and it SHOULD go away after 30 years. But do you really want to rely on that?
In fact, not only can you avoid taking on those huge debts you could use the time instead to earn money while gaining invaluable experience trying out different career choices. (I sometimes wonder how things would have turned-out had I interned at a bunch of tech startups in California instead of doing my CompSci degree!)
While earning money you could also get to hang out with a whole range of people you’d probably never meet at uni.
Besides, it’s now possible to learn everything you can learn at uni without actually going. With or without the qualification.
Going to uni can still make sense for many. Growing as a person by intensive immersion with your peers (as long they’re not all the same people you went to school with), an enforced routine (if you don’t trust your self-motivation to learn by yourself) and are able to put into practise an approach to pay off your debts afterwards.
Another way is to simply take time out - a gap year of sorts. When I was 18, the few people who did this would do it after Uni. Now, many more people take a year out before Uni. This seems like a good idea to me. Give yourself some space and time to decide what you really want to do.
I know you’ll make the right choice for yourself and I’m excited to see what happens next.
At 18, we all think we’re super-human and I was no different. Until I realised I wasn’t.
Something I wish I knew at 18, is to look after yourself first. Not in a selfish way, but so you can do the most for yourself and thereby for others. You can only do this if you’re as well as you can be: Physically, Emotionally, Mentally and Spiritually. Think PEMS. (BTW: By ‘spiritually’ I don’t mean in some woo woo way)
As you know, I’ve learned a lot from James Altucher and his Daily Practise where he does a few simple things every single day to keep up his all-round health.
The thing that took me 50 years too long to realise is that looking after myself mentally is probably the single most important thing. After nearly 10,000 minutes of guided meditation so far, I’m still very much a beginner but it’s clear meditation is a game-changer. A big part of it is learning how not to be enslaved by your thoughts and emotions.
(I use Sam Harris’ Waking Up app but other teachers may suit you better. I recently discovered Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh of Plum Village and who has an app of the same name. Try a few until you find what works for you - if any!)
Don’t apply for jobs.
Especially publicly advertised jobs. You’d be just one of 100s or 1000s doing the same thing. You are not a commodity and you don’t want to be treated like one.
It’s mostly blind luck whether you get picked to be seen, hard work if you do and demoralising if you don’t.
Even if you do get through the whole sorry saga they’ll end up rejecting you because you’re just cover for the boss who’ll end up hiring the mate he was going to hire all along. (OK, not always but often)
What to do instead?
Make yourself known in your field.
Be clear about who you want to be known by and what you want to be known for.
At first you may not be clear about any of this stuff. Just pick a direction and start anyway…
Start and continue to be known for being different. Different is better than better. Be the best at the intersection of two things. Being the best social media anthropologist is easier than being the best social media expert. Better yet… be THE ONLY. Be the THE Instragram anthropologist.
Then do the work. Don’t wait for permission. Just start.
A brilliant tip I got from James Altucher is to come up with and send your very best ideas to people you admire and / or you would love to work with. Just make sure you ask for nothing in return. No strings. Most will ignore you, but some will remember and maybe one day they’ll help you and maybe even hire you.
Build a body of work. Slowly. Gradually over time. Make it easy to find by the people you want to be known by.
Share your work freely, where your audience are. Just remember that you have no control over social media and (most) other platforms. And they will come and go.
There is one exception and that is your self-hosted blog. You will always have 100% control over what’s published there, what it looks like and how to promote it. Think of this as your HQ. Your private home space on the inter-webs.
Once published, make it easy for the right people to find and stay up-to-date with your work.
The best advice I can give you is to build your own email list. Start now and don’t stop. Respect your list. Unlike social media, it can’t be taken away from you. You will always have the ability to reach out to your loyal subscribers who want to hear from you. MailChimp is free for your first 2,000… Go.
Soon you will get people reaching out to you. Life is better that way. Be the one being courted. Let them come to you. They should have only 2 questions… 1) When are you available? 2) How much do you charge?
And don’t forget, working for the someone else is not for everyone. It took me many years to realise this for myself. Freelancing and setting up your own business / studio / agency / whatever is a much better fit for many.
For more on this topic, see my piece The Schism.
Money is a means to an end, not and end in itself. It’s easy to mix this up.
Unless you’re a billionaire, it’s much easier to spend money than to make it. Again, we often forget this.
How much you spend is at least as important as how much you earn. Spend less, and you don’t need to earn as much.
It’s much easier to live a ‘rich’ life than we think. Hiring a fancy car for the odd weekend for example is a tiny fraction of the cost (and hassle) of owning one. (The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss opened my eyes to this way of thinking)
The best way to get money is by doing (almost) nothing. The way that works is to own assets…
What’s an asset?
An asset is something you own that generates an income for you while you sleep. Property and shares in a company are the main kinds of asset. Own the right property or the right share in a company and it will provide you with an ongoing stream of income. Start small and gradually build up your assets.
The 20% Rule
‘Investing’ is a scary word. It just means buying assets. It’s an extremely good thing to do if you want to avoid being stressed out by not having enough money.
The best way to invest is to start early, like NOW you are 18. Invest a fixed percentage of your income every single month.
20% is a good number but you can vary this up and down temporarily with your circumstances. But really try stick to 20%.
The rule is to reserve 20% of your income to saving, investing and paying off debt (including your student debt and credit card debt). By the way, most other forms of debt are to be avoided. (Borrowing for your home is different and unavoidable and is not part of the 20%)
Two more things on the 20%…
First, set up your ‘investing’ so that you don’t even notice you had in the first place. Otherwise, you will be tempted to raid it. Make the payments invisible.
Second, automate it. It’s easy to set up direct debits and stuff so that these payments just happen every month, on their own.
Doing this is as important as it is boring. That’s why you need to automate it. Set and forget.
Choosing and growing your assets
Your assets will grow in value over time partly through the magic of compounding. (Compounding is what happens when you buy more of an asset with the income from the assets you already own - like buying more premium bonds with the winnings from those you already have).
The effect of compounding is small at first but accelerates faster and faster over time. Time is your friend right now.
Compounding is key but buying the right assets is the starting point.
Choose the people who decide where to invest your hard-earned money wisely. Big safe names are best for most of what you invest.
Sometimes you’ll be tempted to take a punt on something different like Bitcoin. Only ever risk at most a tiny proportion (1% or 2% of the value of your total investments) in more exotic investments. Only ever as much as you can afford to lose.
Never try to ‘time the market’. You will nearly always fail. Instead, just decide how much you want to invest, and do it in fixed amounts per month. This is called drip-feeding your investments or ‘pound-cost averaging’. Much less stressful, less risky. All this will happen naturally with your ongoing 20% investing.
Never trust those who claim they can consistently ‘out-perform’ the market. They are either deluded or lying.
Finally, make sure you only pay a very low fee for others to invest on your behalf. Low-cost trackers operated by big name companies make sense.
A note on tax… in the UK there are ISAs which are tax-free wrappers for your investments. It means that you will not pay tax on the returns from those investments. That’s it. These are best for mid-term (say 10-year) savings for big items like the deposit on your first property.
Pensions are the other sort of tax-wrapper. They are for long-term investments that will eventually provide you with an income when you finally stop working. The idea is that you save up as big a pension pot as you can. Then when you ‘retire’ you buy those income-producing assets with your pot. You then live off the income from those assets for the rest of your life.
Ideally, you will accumulate a diverse bunch of these sort of assets as you go through life. By using the 20% rule.
With pensions, you pay ZERO tax on the money you pay into a pensions as you go along. So the income that goes into a pension is the full PRE-tax amount. Whereas what you pay into an ISA (and most other non-pension investments) is only the (smaller) AFTER-tax amount.
Stick with it
So, avoid debt and keep investing 20% of everything you ever earn from age 18 and you will never have to worry about money for the future. Do NOT be tempted to compromise on this at any cost. If you have a period of very low income - then 20% of that is also very small. So it’s always fine.
Following the 20% rule from age 18 is the single best thing you can do with your money. This is because it will build up in value over time.
Finally: set a reminder to review how it’s all going once a year with one or 2 people you trust. Make adjustments and then get back to living your life.
On friends, love and family
You don’t need any advice from me on friends. All I would say is don’t forget to keep in touch with your closest friends.
Stay friends especially with those who make you feel positive about yourself and the world. Conversely, don’t waste your time with people who make you feel bad.
You cannot plan or force love or marriage. I resisted marriage for a long time. Perhaps because my parents divorced, I don’t know. I cannot explain logically (as opposed to emotionally) why I got married to your mother. All I can say is it just naturally became something I felt compelled to do. If you feel this urge strongly, then make sure you know the person you marry really, really well. Many people skip that step and almost always the marriage fails.
Sorry, but having children was also something I resisted but gradually became a strong positive urge. And of course, you (and your sister) are the amazing result! So I hit the jackpot there!
I am drawn to the The Stoic philosophy in many ways. William B Irvine has written the best books I know on this. (Ryan Holiday also has a compelling contemporary take on Stoic (not to be confused with Stoical) thinking which complements the classic Meditations by Marcus Aurelius).
Stoicism aligns beautifully with both meditation and (non-woo woo) Buddhism. Check it out.
To paraphrase the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh…
There is no such thing as birth or death. Only change. A cloud becomes rain. Rain becomes drinking water. And drinking water becomes the tea in your cup.
18 years ago you were my baby and now you are a young woman. Now go and live your life…