Advice to My 18-Year-Old Self

Sometimes, I imagine the hands of time rewinded, starting over on a blank slate. If I was 18 again but knew everything I know now, what would I do? What would life be like? Would I travel the same journey or choose a different path?

There has to be a couple rules, which can be summed up as no cheating — no taking the easy way out. I have to work for my success. I can’t dump all my money into stocks that will rise tremendously, like Facebook or Google. I can’t copy someone else’s success. I can’t write The 4-Hour Workweek. I can’t create Angry Birds.

I have to succeed by my own efforts and creativity. To do so involves two basic principles:

  • avoiding mistakes
  • achieving excellence

Avoiding Mistakes: What I Would Not Do Again

Japanese businesses taught me the importance of simplifying and reducing mistakes. Cars remain one of Japan’s biggest exports because Japanese cars are more reliable. Fewer breakdowns, less maintenance required, and decreased ownership costs. In the same way, avoiding mistakes will help you avoid unnecessary headaches in your life and allow you to focus on things that really matter.

Which mistakes will I avoid? These are things I would not do:

I would not jump into college. Most people mindlessly go from high school to college. And why not? Most of the time, college is an extension of high school. It is safe to stick with the known rather than the unknown. But the mindlessness will bite them in the rear sooner or later. The rocketing tuition and non-dischargeable student debt will heap financial disaster for years to come.

When you go to college to extend your childhood and to avoid the rigors of adulthood, you stunt your growth by four years or more. If you are like most college kids, you partied and pushed the inevitable until a few months before graduation. What a waste of time — the one resource you will never get back. Wasted time may damage your future more than the debt.

I imagine what life would have been like if I did not go to college. I would be forced to examine my life to find how I can best provide value to the world. If I wrote every day starting from 18, most likely, I would have made it big by the time I was 28. I would have made a bigger impact on the world (and earned more money as well) at a younger age. Geniuses like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg made the right move when they dropped out to focus on their calling. They risked the known for the unknown. And look how they turned out. Worst case, if everything fell apart, they can always re-enroll.

I would not work on Wall Street. Truth be told, I do not have respect for Wall Street. The financial industry doesn’t add much value to society. And I don’t enjoy working 90 hours a week tweaking financial models and creating PowerPoints. For all that misery, the finance guys don’t even make that much!

I would not chase women. All the money and time I spent on women are lost forever, sucked into a black hole. Those precious resources during my youth would have been better spent mastering a skill. Women are temporary, but self-improvement is for a lifetime. Friedrich Nietzsche said, “The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything.” I agree with the most dangerous part. With the “right” one, I could have been shackled to a woman and children.

I would not play video games. Video games are like women, but less dangerous. They are a time-sink but don’t require too much money. And you can’t marry them or get them pregnant. Yet, you will lose your most precious resource: time. Some people get so addicted, they would give up food and sleep. A few even died.

One of my friend’s friend dropped out of medical school to play World of Warcraft. A short-sighted gain at long-term costs. An acquaintance spent 6 years in college, wasting his parent’s hard-earned money, only to drop out. Last I heard, he still lives with his parents, gaming his life away. What a waste of his youth.

I would not repeat my life. That means if I go to college, I will not take the same courses for the easy A’s. I will not major in finance. I will not work in accounting. I will not go to medical school. Where is the challenge in traveling on a path you have already taken?

It is tempting to follow the same path — to live my life the same way. It is proven, yielding more financial success in my early thirties than most people will see in their lifetime.

But isn’t it a waste to repeat a life that has already been lived? Been there and done that. Where’s the excitement, the newness?

When I reach the end of my second life, I would look back and wonder, “What if …” What a terrible question to ask when given another chance at life.

Life is more than amassing wealth. It is a journey. It is creating a new story. It is overcoming obstacles in your own unique way. And so what if you fail along the way. Just get back up, pat the dust off your shoulders, and try again. It doesn’t take too much money to live well. Anyone in a first-world country can do so. As long as you have a roof over your head, food in your belly, and a laptop with internet access, you have everything you need for a rich life. Failure won’t kill you.

With that mindset, it is hard to fail permanently. So why not take the road less traveled?

Achieving Excellence: What I Would Do Again

A person is made up three parts:

  • body
  • mind
  • soul

Therefore, a complete man should achieve excellence over all three parts. Many know the importance of keeping fit and working out — taking care of the body. Some understand the importance of self-education and reading and experiencing widely — taking care of the mind. But few pay attention to the soul, which to many religions is the most enduring part.

A man is not whole until he strives for excellence in all three parts. Excellence is mastery. And mastery is consistent deliberate practice of the fundamentals over a long period of time. Thus, a whole man consistently and deliberately practices the fundamentals of the physical, mental, and spiritual.

How would I do that?

Body. I would eat right and exercise every day. I was super fit from college until my second year of medical school. By then, the academic rigors sucked away the bulk of my time. I was miserable. Consistent exercise fell to the wayside. I channeled the little free time I had into building my first successful online business. I hunched over the desk, with my butt glued to the least ergonomic chair possible every day. Anyone can see the disastrous consequence of my habits. By the end of my second year in medical school, back pain plagued me for most of the day. It ruined my sleep. It haunted me for years.

Starting in 2016, I did something right: I worked out every day. My fitness system is unorthodox, but it works. No free weights or machines. Just my body. I lost weight and kept it off. I am stronger and more flexible. But most important of all, my back pain subsided greatly. It is still there once in a while, but my sleep improved. And once the pain rears its ugly head, I jump, kick, and punch it away. Had I kept up my fitness regimen throughout medical school, pain would not be my constant companion.

Mind. I would read every day. Reading is easy and effortless for me because it makes me happy. I don’t have to try very hard to keep this routine. I did not find this joy until I was 20 years old. Before that, I did not read beyond what was required for school. I was fortunate to start this good habit fairly early because it introduced me to new worlds. Reading propelled me to succeed in business and medicine and whatever else I set my mind to. Reading is why my life is very different from the average. Reading inspired me to live. The only thing I would have done differently was to start when I was 18. Who knows how much further I would have gone with a two year head start.

Soul. I would turn to Jesus every day. I cannot take credit for all my blessings. There are too many things out of my control that facilitated my victories: an intact family, a handicap-free & disease-free body, a curious mind, a middle-class upbringing in a first-world country, and more. I’m not saying that I never experience crazy-bad things. I did. And somehow, I still managed to land on my feet. Fighting in the club, sitting in the back of the police car in Brazil, and turning my back on medicine. I see my victories as divine intervention. I give thanks to God every day for what He has given me. And anyways, showing gratitude and acknowledging God nourishes my spirit and keeps my ego in check.

Achieving Excellence: I Would Dedicate My Life to Craftsmanship

Eventually, I and you and anyone else who wants a lot out of life must think how we can give back to the world. It is rooted in human nature: reciprocity. If you want a lot, you must give a lot.

I didn’t understand this when I was 18. My dream was to live a luxurious and easy life. I dreamed of creating a self-running business that would generate a lot of money. All I had to do was to collect the buckaroos. And then I would retire to a tropical island in my 30’s. No wonder my first business did not work. I focused on what I could get. I completely missed the part about giving something valuable to the world.

Giving back does not mean you have to do something you hate. Your valuable gift to the world does not have to make your bleed. You don’t need a stressful, high-paying, and high-status career to be rich. You can make money in any field as long as you offer something valuable in exchange. Very often, that will require you to master the fundamentals and become the best in your field — a master craftsman.

If I was 18 again, I would write every day. I would gift my words of truth and beauty. Non-fiction, fiction, poems, songs. Everything would be true and beautiful.

Why would I choose writing? After much searching, I finally found my passion. I love reading. And after reading so much, the natural progression is to write something worth reading. It makes sense.

I read. I write. I read some more to gauge the quality of my work. Then I write some more and improve. I am a writing craftsman. If I do this every day for another 10 years, I will be a master wordsmith. Truthfully, 10 years is too short. The cycle of reading and writing will never end in my lifetime.

In the beginning, it is not about the money. It is about the repetitions. It is about fighting and triumphing over Resistance every single day.

I would have a website to publish my writings — a proof of my practice. For the first year or two, the articles would suck. But every month, you will see progress. By the 10th year, my writings would gleam like polished gems. The sheer force of publishing an article every week for 10 years will bring a tidal wave of traffic. It is inevitable. From there, monetizing would be a piece of cake.

Anyone who is serious about writing should have a website and publish content consistently — at least once a week. First, it will push you to practice deliberately. Second, it will build your brand. People will know about you because you are giving something valuable to the world. Third, it will make you money in the long run (and grow your business skills as you experiment with ways to monetize).

To become a master wordsmith or any master craftsman who can give a valuable gift to the world, you must set up your own deliberate practice system. The system should help you …

  • beat Resistance (or overcome the inertia from within)
  • put in the work everyday
  • gauge the quality of your work so you know what you should improve

With time, you will become one with your craft — like how a sword is an extension of the master swordsman. Your craft will be enjoyable at times. It will bore you at times. It will infuriate you at times. But like your beloved, you cannot help but seek it out every day.

I am no longer 18. I didn’t write deliberately and consistently for 10 years. But I still have time to create something the world has never seen … if I start now. I still have time to give something valuable.

It is not too late for me. It is not too late for you either.

If you want to know more, read The Simple Guide to Becoming Rich.

Enjoyed the article? Then get e-mail updates. FREE!

Speak Your Mind