No compromises allowed
I like Ayn Rand's books and her philosophy of objectivism. She keeps returning to Aristotle's meme "A is A", which has stuck to me too; What is is, and not something else. It's simple enough, but worth repeating and remembering. When things don't add up, you'd better look more carefully at the details again. A is A.
I also agree with her that in a compromise between food and poison, or between good and evil, only the bad side wins. She abhored compromise - as do I.
All choices aren't compromises
However, many situations in life present themselves as compromises, while in fact they are just choices of degree, or decisions of optimization, how best to attain a target without compromise.
These are examples of such questions:
- Lift weights with a slight injury? (How slight? How heavy weights?)
- Stay at a job that doesn't make you happy? For how long? How unhappy? What pay?
- Use perfectly strict form in the gym or chase higher weights?
- Short-term or long-term happiness (have that ice cream or not?)
- Should the Federal reserve raise/lower rates or not? Imperfect information and confidence.
- Wash your face or not? Good or bad bacteria?
- Send healthcare personnel to Ebola ground zero or not. How many? Help contain the contagion or risk bringing it home?
- Watch the news or another episode of a half decent tv series instead?
- Take contrast showers? How long? How often to change the temperature?
- How long should you endure in the sauna?
- Muscle strength or definition. Power or volume?
- Fast or not?
- Plan ahead meticulously or be spontaneous and immediate
- Learn by reviewing or repeating past lessons to perfection or by looking ahead to more complex next-level challenges to reinforce memory and understanding
- Contrarian or not (in investing, as a politician, nutrition-wise...)
- Be cautious or aggressive (in investing, e.g.)? How cautious, how aggressive?
- How long blog posts should I write? How often? Should I attempt humour... or sex?
- How long to hold your breath underwater (as long as you can, very few can hold their breath for too long)
Who is John Galt?
For the above issues, I would answer with a question: "How long is a piece of string?", i.e. there is no one and objective answer. It's all a matter of personal preferences.
Neither I, nor you know fully and totally who you are and what you really, really want (zigazig ah?). Sometimes it's good to push the limits, sometimes more, sometimes less - and at other times caution is required. Here are nevertheless a few guidelines:
Avoid permanent damage
General tip: In short I would advice to avoid risk of permanent and disabling losses of financial and physical health. With that prerequisite in mind, I would go back and forth, up and down; read ahead and review back... Go with your intuition; it will refine itself with the years and the inevitable hits and misses. It will take your state of mind before and after into consideration, when calibrating itself. Given enough experience and knowledge, "intuition" can be extremely powerful but it has to be fed and honed.
Avoid constricting yourself with dogmas or promises to your younger self. He's gone anyway, and he didn't know anything about life.
Keep an open mind and perform a lot of trial and error in your tens and twenties. Push the limits and venture a bit outside your comfort zone every now and then, but there is no need to go full retard. Try to grow in small increments but do it consistently and permanently. Your older self would of course appreciate if you were a bit considerate about his health and his finances, but focus mainly on yourself and the next five years. Anything beyond that is just that - beyond. But do save for retirement anyway.
The above is actually quite easy. The answer to each and every one of the above issues is "42", i.e. "life". Just live it and your genes and feelings will guide you. Experiment, live fully, but don't gamble with life, limb and bankruptcy. Keep reading, searching, question, discussing, and most of all growing, improving, getting better and getting better at getting better, but don't expect an answer; Expect life. Expecto Patronum.
Young people today!
Young people today!
As a young person today, however, you also face the following more tangible and particularly perplexing issues, not least considering your lack of experience with everything:
- Should you get a degree
- What to study
- What profession to aim for
- Employed or entrepreneur
- Save for retirement? When to start? How much?
- Buy or rent (house, car, phone, furniture, travel - NB: installments=renting)
- Aim for success, fame and riches or fulfilment and happiness
First and foremost, you should build a habit, a method of how to solve problems and make decisions: Get to the bottom of any problem; find the axioms, the premises as Ayn Rand would have said. Once you have broken down the problem into smaller pieces they become much more manageable and easier to solve (Vitaliy Katsenelson Oct 13, 2014). Don't panic. Don't take it all in at once, just methodically deal with one small part at a time, e.g.:
Should you get a degree?
It depends on what you want to do with it. Is it necessary for you? Will it get you a job? A job you'll enjoy? Do you want to learn something particular, or do you just want a piece of paper, documenting your willingness to learn, your academic stamina? Keep digging at these issues and you'll probably find that you don't want a standard institutionalized degree. These days formalized education is mainly a waste of time and money. You could learn the same on-line, only more and better, much faster, with better teachers, more pedagogical methods, study material and motivated peers - not to mention at a tenth or a hundredth of the cost.
Too cool for school?
Everything is moving faster these days. We are in a race toward the technological Singularity, and the milestones are coming at an accelerating pace. When I studied finance between 1990-1994, you could still spend 4 years locked up with your text books and come out ahead on the other side - just barely.
The Berlin wall had just fallen (1989) and globalization was all the rage (this was before Madonna's "Vogue" and Wilson Phillips' "Hold on". The charts were still ruled by Paula Abdul, Milli Vanilli and Debbie Gibson). In addition the internet was stealthily gathering pace during my time at SSE - and took off like a rocket with Netscape's IPO in 1995. Luckily, I was already an analyst, researching IT companies by then.
I might have missed it, if I had still been in school. Beginning in the early 1990's, I think you should be too cool for school. Not as in goofing around, doing nothing, but as in DIY: study online, study exactly that which gives you an edge. Ask around what might be needed; try your own skills live as you go along, rather than suddenly present yourself before a would-be employer, with obsolete skills or a useless document from some backwater school.
Here are my two cents on what you should do, if you are 16-20 years old today (or older for that matter if it seems to apply to your situation):
- High school math and reading abilities is all you need to stand on; the rest you can get faster, cheaper and better online. Drop out from anything else unless you put good use to your time (connecting and learning - but could you do it just as well without the tuition fees? Probably). Here is a little something about our obsolete and inadequate education system
- Internetacy (literacy for the internet - knowing how to search efficiently, and how to discern truth from lies. Be the person people wants to ask instead of googling it themselves)
- Learn programming and marketing, and maybe a few basics about statistics (you know the adage about lies and statistics, I gather? In addition, remember that statisticians my be dull but they have their moments). Read here about my choices, and here about why you want to know statistics.
- Be an entrepreneur or get out of here! There is no hiding in large organizations shuffling paper anymore. Be valuable and sell that value for your own profit.
- Save? Yes, you should save enough to take care of yourself. The government has no means to do it in a reasonable way the way things are going. How much? How long is a string? Break down the issue in manageable pieces. Do the math. In Google Sheets. Ask if you want specific guidelines, but 10% of your disposable income is a good rule of thumb.
- Buy. You should only rent things, or pay in installments if it's an investment - like your newfounded business. And, no, a house is not an investment. Save until you can actually buy your living space for your own money. OK, you could borrow half the sum, in particular if prices have fallen sharply lately. Remember that house prices sometimes fall by half and that mortgage interest rates were deep in the double digits just a few decades ago. You do not want to experience the double whammy of halving prices and sharply higher interest rates if you have a 75-100% mortgage on your house.
- Success or happiness? What are you? Stupid? Get out of here! You should be happy (and that is being successful). Read here and here and here.