What you did and what you didn’t do
I’m turning 25 tomorrow. Something I’ve been thinking about tonight after my run is that old saying “youth is wasted on the young.” I’ve never quite bought it, mostly because I think old age is wasted by the old too, but when I look back over the past 5 years, there’s one way in which this rings especially true.
When you’re young, all the unimportant stuff seems so important. So much of my young years were occupied by things that in hindsight seem trivial. So much emotional energy was spent thinking about these things. And often I got what I wanted, but now that I’m here years later, I’m increasingly realizing how little they all mean to me. In fact, at least 80% or more of the things I spent energy on I can barely remember now.
If only I’d known then how a few years later, all the pain or excitement I felt at the time would fade and of the things I found significant at the time, only a few would remain.
What are those remaining important things? The things I did do and the things I didn’t do. The things I made and the things I didn’t make. That’s it.
Here are some of the things I DID do:
- Built a multimillion dollar startup challenging the higher ed monopoly with my colleagues at Praxis.
- Traveled hundreds of thousands of miles all over the world speaking at conferences and universities.
- Wrote hundreds of blog posts and turned some of them into an upcoming book.
- Launched the Nakamoto Studies Institute.
- Worked with companies around the country.
- Spent a month in Rome studying Latin.
- Ran the largest student libertarian club in the country and sued the University of Michigan successfully.
- Dropped out of college.
Here are some of the things I didn’t do that I wish I had:
- Write more blog posts and publish more books. So many days were wasted.
- Get to the level of physical fitness I want to be at.
- Launch and run an online news site.
- Hike Killmanjaro.
- Take an Arctic photography class.
- Keep in touch with some friends and acquaintances I wish I’d had.
- Create even a fraction of the giant list of side projects, mini businesses, and websites I have listed out.
- Read nearly as many books as I wanted to.
- Journaled every day.
These are the only things that matter now. If there is one lesson from all of this, it’s this: think of your activities and days not just in terms of pride and enjoyment in the moment, but by asking yourself whether you think you will be glad you did that or sad you didn’t do it 5 years from that day. Significance fades with time, so orient your mind and your tasks around things that are especially significant.
And so I sit here hours before my birthday, thrilled at the direction my life has gone in, proud of what I’ve done, and silently kicking myself for not doing more when I had all the time in the world and then some to have done it all if only I’d known so much of what I occupied my thoughts and time with would not matter to me one day.
Most of all though, I’m excited. The last 5 years feel like training time. I’ve learned so much that I hope can help make these next 5 years even better.
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
– If by Rudyard Kipling
P.S. It struck me after writing this that a reader might take the idea of valuing your activities and focuses today by how you will feel about them 5 years later as an excuse for inaction. I want to clarify that it’s totally the the opposite. It’s very hard to know what you will value in 5 years and what you won’t, so the best thing I can say is to just do as much as possible and finish it and move on.