27 short pieces of (future) advice for my son, age 2

In a Hollywood story, this perhaps would be the part where I stress getting these words down before The End. The COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the world as I write this — yet for now I’m not only healthy, but keeping up with my weightlifting as best I can. I’m in better shape at 40 than I was at 20.

I won’t claim to have stumbled on any major revelations, either. No, the premise here is simply passing on advice that’s rarely spoken out loud, or which is, but which my fleeting memory is determined to erase. With my own rough past, I think about my son’s future every day — but so often I’ve found myself forgetting not only advice but things I need to remember in daily life. I’m worried that my memory will deteriorate even more with age, and quicker than most people.

So, Jackson, this list is for you, even though your current favorite words include the likes of “phone,” “circle,” “chicken,” “no,” and “gagoo” (thank you). It’s not intended to be comprehensive, and there may even be a Part 2 to this list as other things come to me. I just want you to succeed where I failed — or where I did succeed, succeed faster. These are hard-won lessons a growing boy needs to know.

  1. Start preparing for your future career NOW. Ignore the trope that you can be vague with your plans into middle age. That rarely works out well, and if you follow the histories of your idols, you’ll discover that most of them started their paths in their childhood or teenage years. Kids and teens have more free time to pursue their interests — and knowing what you want to do at that age can mean navigating jobs and education right further down the line.
  2. To figure out what you want to pursue as a career, judge what you like to do that you could actually make money at, then ask if you would chase that goal at all costs. Everyone wants to be an astronaut or a firefighter, but not everyone is willing to slave at As in math and physics, or spend several hours a week in the gym.
  3. Life really is a competition in this sense. The best jobs and partners are reserved for the people willing to put in the most blood and sweat. That’s not to say life is a war, or that everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. You’ve just got to try as hard as you can at the things that matter to you.
  4. The best dating advice I’ve ever received is this: focus not just on the sort of person you want to date, but on becoming the sort of person they would want to date. That means mentally, physically, emotionally, and in fashion and hobbies.
  5. Do not treat every new date as your prospective spouse. Have a good time, flirt a little, and let things evolve from there. You’ll only hurt yourself and make others feel awkward if you come on too strong.
  6. Before you get serious with a partner, find out their opinion on the big things like monogamy, marriage, finances, and especially children. If you want kids but they don’t, or vice versa, it’s not going to work out.
  7. You should also share similar hobbies and life philosophies. Optimists tend not to get along with pessimists, for example, and if they don’t like your gaming hobby while you’re dating, they may loathe it after several years together.
  8. Sexual compatibility is a thing. This one you can probably learn about on your own.
  9. Don’t put the opposite sex (or the same sex, for that matter) on a pedestal. They’re flawed human beings too.
  10. Choose someone kind, and be kind in turn. You’ll want someone who can forgive you and be your rock even after years of putting up with your bad habits.
  11. Be aware of those habits and try to fix them as best you can. That may take years.
  12. With those you don’t know, be kind yet wary by default. Save pessimism or cynicism for after they disappoint you. If you start a relationship tossing jabs, you’re sabotaging it from the get-go.
  13. It’s hard to overvalue independence. No man is an island, but the more self-sufficient you are, the safer you’ll feel facing the challenging or the unknown.
  14. If you want to be on safe financial footing, spend within your means, rarely on credit, and put aside money in savings and retirement accounts every month if you can. Limit big-ticket luxury expenses to the things you know will make you happy beyond the short term.
  15. For all decisions, consider first if you might regret it later. That tends to eliminate a lot of bad choices.
  16. Despite what I said about independence, the sad truth is that while you’re in school, conforming to the slang, fashions, and interests of the people around you will avoid bullying and make your life easier. It’s safer to express your weirdness by yourself or amongst close friends. This goes against popular beliefs, but…
  17. Be skeptical. Question what people know and how they know it, including yourself. Even this list should only be accepted if it stands up to real-world experience.
  18. I’d really recommend weightlifting as a lifelong activity. It’s not just about being attractive — being strong will help you with everything from moving apartments to carrying your own kid (if you have one!) on your shoulders. It should also keep you healthier and looking younger as you get old — there are people lifting into their 70s.
  19. At the same time, don’t become a gym rat! You can do lifting 5–6 days a week when you’re single and childless, but if only for your own social life you’ll probably have to scale that back to 3–4 full-body workouts at some point. An exception may be if you’re competing, or if you find a partner who’s a fitness fan too.
  20. Once you can afford it, do take the time to have fun outside your home regularly, on your own or with friends. It doesn’t have to be traveling either, some of my best years were spent going to concerts almost every week. Go see movies, museums, you name it. It aids your mental health and social life.
  21. That said, one thing that’s overrated is drinking. You can visit bars occasionally — I enjoy absinthe and sambuca myself — but getting drunk on a regular basis is dangerous to your health, and frankly, makes people look like idiots. Also, most alcoholic drinks are expensive yet taste terrible.
  22. Be careful with your hearing. Wear earplugs to loud concerts, and only turn up your speakers and headphones to a level where you can hear everything clearly. Hearing loss will hurt your work, learning, and relationships. Your partners will hate repeating everything twice.
  23. You may or may not be into sports by the time you read this — certainly your mom and I aren’t. Either way, try not to let them rule your life unless you’re willing to sacrifice every waking hour towards making them a career. Pro athletes are hired guns that don’t represent their town any more than you do, and there are more important things in life than who’s going to beat who at the Super Bowl. Sports should be a minor hobby for most people, much like games.
  24. Recognize that most political and business leaders have separate public and private agendas. This isn’t always nefarious; good people may be playing the game as much as they have to, or else simply feel these are separate spheres. Always ask what a leader has to gain, what their track record is, what their connections are, and whether what they’re saying jibes with facts and logic.
  25. On a lighter note, open your mind to movies of all genres and all countries. They can genuinely enlighten and improve your life. Movies aren’t rollercoasters — in a well-made one, at least, everything you see is there for a reason, to convey some sort of message or tone. With enough experience you can read a film like a book.
  26. Develop a wide taste in music. You should be able to appreciate old music as much as new, and find something you enjoy in any genre.
  27. Be kind to your parents. Please? You’ll grow to hate some of the things we do — in fact I’m counting on it as you get older, and develop a mind of your own — but a recurring trend with people my age is that they wish they’d been nicer and more understanding. The dirty secret is that all parents are fumbling through life like you, only they happen to have more history to guide them.

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