I have this theory about information. I won’t bore you with it, but suffice to say that with all the blogs and email and texts out there, I’m pretty sure the sheer mass of mostly useless information floating around will eventually warp space-time and then everyone throughout the entire history of the world will have access to my blargh.
Just in case I’m right, I’m leaving this here for my younger self. Because if literally everyone throughout history has access to my blargh, the most important thing to communicate is OBVIOUSLY all about me and not, you know, something like “Tell President Lincoln to skip the play” or “Encourage young Adolf to stay in art school”.
So here are the Three Things, going out to me in the past:
1. Your differences aren’t defects.
You like things other people don’t like. You get excited about Big Ideas that none of your friends are thinking about. You don’t actually like a lot of the things that everyone else is talking about, but you spend a lot of time and energy trying to pretend you like them just so you don’t get left out.
But you get left out anyway.
Which is all to say, you’re lonely a lot and you don’t feel like you fit in anywhere and you wonder what’s wrong with you all the time.
KNOCK IT OFF, KID!
It turns out all those things that make you different are actually what make your life go awesomely. Apart from the awesome family you’ll have, by the time you get to be me, you’ll have written books and screenplays and worked on video games that have sold millions of copies. You’re pretty much living the dream over here in the future.
Don’t worry about trying to be like everyone else because you’re not and IT’S COOL. You aren’t an accident. There’s nothing wrong with you. In fact, there’s actually a whole lot right with you.
And hey, literally nobody remembers that one time we did that thing (except for us), so let’s try not to hold on to it for so long, okay?
2. Pursue excellence, not perfection.
We do this thing where we notice little imperfections that no one else seems to notice; you do it back there in your time, and I still do it now. It’s just the way we’re wired.
It’s not a bad thing, necessarily; we notice the details, and details matter, and you and I both just want to get it right.
But we kind of take it too far, man. There’s a lot of truly excellent work out there that has tiny little cracks and chips if you look closely enough for long enough. Movies with continuity mistakes. Books with typos. Paintings with scientifically inaccurate representations of constellations.
But if you’re sitting there looking for that stuff, you’re missing the point.
A tiny mistake, a minor imperfection, shouldn’t make it impossible to appreciate the work of art before you.
Yeah, so sometimes planes fly across the sky when you’re looking at the sunset. It’s still a magnificent sunset.
You’re going to make some mistakes. A lot of them, in fact. Several metric tons worth. People you admire make them too.
By all means, keep doing your best to make things excellent. Just quit freaking out about things not being perfect. I’m way older than you and I still haven’t seen a perfect thing yet.
Except maybe your wife and kids. Good job on that, by the way, you are going to be so impressed, dude. Knocked it out of the park on that one. For real.
3. Prefer action over fear (especially when you’re afraid of failing)
Speaking of mistakes, I’m sorry to tell you one of our biggest ones comes from the number of times we didn’t do something, because we were afraid we might do it wrong. It’s all right to take a few more chances, to get out there and get after it.
I don’t mean you need to do more jumping off rooftops or dual-wielding sawed off shotguns or anything. You’re a smart kid, you’ve got good instincts about stupid risks. But you hold yourself back too many times because you freak out about the what-ifs and the just-in-cases. And sometimes you miss out because by the time you’ve reached a decision, it’s way too late.
Pick a thing and do it. Don’t worry so much about whether you’re going to get it right the first time (you won’t) or what people are going to think about you for trying (it doesn’t actually matter that much).
Just about any action is better than fearful inaction. Get moving. We can correct along the way.
Okay that’s it for now. I know I didn’t tell you who you’re going to marry and I didn’t send you code for that Red-Black Tree program that’s going to ruin one of your Thanksgivings in college, but it’s cool, you’ll be all right.
And hey, if you’re reading this, just write down all the things you wished I had told you, and then when you get to be me you can rewrite this to include all of those too.
(Just don’t delete those three points because I might have to use them in a job interview or something one day.)