What do I need to do in daily life that I don't realize I need to be doing?
What would you tell the 20-year-old you?
What do you wish you'd known when you were 18?
Advice for a graduate
What do you wish you'd known/done when you were 21?
For those about to work
What practices have had the most effect on your health?
What "rules for life" should I pass on to my fifteen-year-old brother?
Rites of passage and the requisite advice
Insights gained via one's career
It occurred to me that the most valuable words of wisdom of this veritable landslide would be (a) those that recur, (b) those that surprise and (c) those that recur and surprise. I thus read through all these threads, collected the recurring/surprising, stripped out as much cliché as possible and organized the results the best way anything can be organized: thematically. I haven't written a word. My only work was in structuring and polishing. Here it is.
Invest in genuine friendships. Surround yourself with friends who don't care if you don't talk to them for three weeks at a stretch, but make sure you do talk to them more often than that. SOCIAL SKILLS. Learn them! People you think you are smarter than, you are often not. Even if you are, you can still learn from and enjoy them. There's a lot to learn from a lot of different kinds of people you meet. Make friends who are interested in different things to you. Take an interest in what they are interested in. Surround yourself with interesting people. You'll only be bored if you're boring to begin with. Be interested and you'll be interesting. There are a lot of weird, wonderful people in the world; sometimes they scare you, sometime they scare others, sometimes a lot of negative stuff is said about them.
Don't get in arguments with random people. Rational arguments pretty much never persuade anyone of anything. Don't waste your time arguing with True Believers. Don't waste energy wishing someone else was acting differently. You can't make anyone do anything. You can only choose your own actions. People do what they want to do. Don't create drama, and avoid those who do. You can't choose your emotions; you can only control how to react to them. Don't waste your energy on hate. When you waste time mocking rednecks or liberals, you're wasting your time. Avoid listening to or spreading office gossip. You can't fix people.
You learn by doing, so get doing. Hit rock bottom as soon as possible, then figure out how to get out of it. No other challenge will seem unconquerable after that. Advice from others means absolutely nothing; fucking up is what teaches you something. Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn't. Realize that most people older than you really don't know any better. Figure out what your fears are and take steps to get over them. Now is your time to fail and fail spectacularly. If you don't fail, you're not taking enough risks. You are more likely to get a stunning career with one or two enormous, audacious failures under your belt than with a by-the-book, up-from-the-bottom "normal" approach. Everybody fucks up; it's how you deal with fucking up that matters. Nothing in the world can take place of persistence. Learn to laugh at yourself, and do it a lot. No matter what you do, someone will have an opinion about it.
The less you say, the more intelligent people think you are. By the same token, when you talk to people, let them spend the bulk of the time talking about themselves. The more they talk about themselves, the more interesting they'll think you are. You probably wouldn't worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do. Keeping calm and smiling is an excellent technique for needling angry people. Whatever it is that someone is trying very hard to convince you they are, they privately fear they aren't.
Get rid of the clutter. Things mean very little. It's amazing how little you really need in this world. Offload extra stuff to Goodwill regularly. Haven't worn that shirt in a year? Send it away. If you keep everything you've ever owned forever, you're just going to be dragging your past around with you like an anchor. Most things you spend your money on won't be worth it. Don't buy books, get a library card. Live as simply as you comfortably and happily can, rather than as well as you think you deserve.
Set deadlines. If you "try" to work out a couple times a week, you might miss a week or two and then completely lose it. If you play basketball every Wednesday and softball every Saturday, you won't forget. Don't make excuses, especially to yourself. Actually start making calls and setting up timelines; sometimes what you think is impossible to achieve happens very quickly thanks to a series of fortunate events. You're not likely to get anywhere in particular if you're not headed anywhere in particular. If you want to succeed at something, work at it every day. How you do anything is how you do everything. Don't wait until you feel like doing something you should do to do it; begin, and the appropriate feelings will follow.
Your brain cells will calcify and die if not exercised. You need always to expose yourself to new ideas, new people, new music, new art, new literature. When you leave college, it's easy to sink into a lifestyle where you are no longer challenged. Most jobs don't require you to learn new skills after you've reached a certain place in the hierarchy. Take the long way home sometimes, and then a different long way. Take as many weird classes as possible. Read books of all sorts, try all kinds of food, participate in events you'd never think of doing, get outside your comfort zone. Most people quit learning when they leave school or soon after. They go decades without learning any new ideas. Don't wait for life to force you to learn something.
Chill the fuck out. Ignore the media. Don't give a damn about anything that doesn't directly impact you. Mind thine own business. A disregard for social conventions and what is expected of you is often a good thing. (This is not to be confused with being mean or callous.) A lot of people do "things" they've heard are important to "do" before they get old, not doing them because they have a personal interest, but instead fulfilling some kind of twentysomething life checklist. Don't panic.
Life is too short for bad beer or bad coffee. Learn to cook great food. Slow down. Become a disciplined hedonist. Wine tasters don't guzzle. Good liquor is worth the extra money and when you order it in a bar people will think you actually know what you're doing. Avoid disposable culture in favor of stuff that's proven some lasting value. See the classics; they're classics for a reason. Travel as often, and as cheaply as you can without going into debt. Get away somehow once every season — a weekend trip, a longer trip, anything. This will shake up your head and get you out of your life and skin for a bit, and it will give you something to look forward to. Get a passport if you don't already have one. NOW. Learn Hindi, Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish, or any other major language so that you can work across the world.
The power of networks > the power of your talent. Advancement depends as much on networking as good work. School wasn't about getting good marks; it was about learning how to make friends. The intersection of smartest people and those who have been "most successful" is pretty small. You hear about someone's work and you go, "How did she get that job?" — the answer is, by building a mix of skills and connections outside of a formal program. Six months after you graduate, no one will care what your grades were. YOU ARE NOT A SPECIAL LITTLE SNOWFLAKE! WORK HARDER! YOU DO NOT GET REWARDED IN THE REAL WORLD FOR BEING GOOD AT TAKING TESTS, DO YOUR GOD DAMNED HOMEWORK! NOBODY GETS YOUR JOKES NOT BECAUSE THEY ARE STUPID, YOUR JOKES ARE STUPID! University is easy. If it wasn't, most of the people there wouldn't have gotten in.
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome. We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. Shallow men believe in luck. Life is perspective; understand that, and you understand everything.
Some of the most prevalent advice was a little too common, a little too mundane for me to include. That's not to call it less valuable, but I can only get hit with so much about saving money, avoiding credit card debt, exploiting compound interest, flossing, backing up hard drives and the non-Vonnegutian edict to "wear sunscreen" before my eyes roll back. I also encountered a startling amount about shopping around for insurance. "Experiment with sex" popped up almost as often, which I suspect bespeaks somewhat misplaced priorities.
Because one should always end with laffs — though that was not, I notice, among the MetaFiltered wisdoms — I give you an unintentionally (but delightfully) revealing response to one of the what-have-you-learned-from-your-work threads:
Postmodernism and [academic] feminism aren't just eye-rolly buzzwords. They're also useful and complex collections of smart thoughts about understanding the world.
It makes a difference when your support request email sounds reasonably polite instead of just irritated. And be friendly to cashiers; they're often bored.