Saturday, June 09, 2007

Letter to Myself 20 Years Ago

Letter to myself 20 years ago

Dear Zach, You’re probably curious about what happens to you when you grow up. I don’t want to go through a history; It’s probably not a good idea to know everything that’s going to happen to you over the next 20 years. I’ll just give you some pointers, and if it doesn’t help you it’s probably your own damn fault.


The most important thing I’ve learned in the last 20 years is that it’s ok to try something even if you’re afraid it won’t work out or you’ll fuck it up or something. In fact, every time you go out on a limb that makes you uncomfortable, you’re going to grow as a person. Here’s an example: you’re going to co-found a very good rock band. What’s the best preparation for playing live music on a stage in front of thousands of people? You think practice? Wrong. It’s playing on a stage in front of people. That’s right, even when you’re quite sure you don’t know what you’re doing and it scares the shit out of you, just doing the damn thing is the surest way to get any good at it.

Failure is normal. Natural selection works by trying a million variations until one succeeds. No one remembers or cares about the failures: they are part of the process. The key point here is that you are trying to do something. Caveat: not all failures are created equal. Dropping out of school and sitting on your ass is not ok.

Women (Sex)

I wish someone had given me this advice: obsessing about women and sex is the biggest waste of time in your life. It doesn’t sound romantic, but this is true: one of the best things about marriage is that you can divert all the energy you spent worrying about sex toward something useful.

Ok, this is not going to be easy for you to hear: your philosophy of exalting women does not work. Women are not exalted or sacred. They are people, same as anyone. Some are smart, some are stupid. Some are kind, some are mean. They will not love you more because you worship them. In fact, the opposite is true. If you look at it, you will see that it’s actually insulting to a woman to treat her like she needs some kind of special protection. You are not going to be rewarded for being the most reverent and deferential person in your class. You are not worthy of praise because you try to come off as selfless. Your fixation on being morally superior to your peers makes you an asshole. If you want to be a good person, forget about having the appearance of goodness, and instead do some nice things for some people for a change.

Anyway, back to the girls. My advice to you is to find a young lady with a loose reputation and convince her to do you in her canopy bed while her parents are out of the house. You can pretend to be studying! You don’t have to be in love. At this early stage, it’s better if you aren’t. You are going to be tempted not to believe me, but I’m you for chrissakes, I should know. As long as I’m giving you such startling advice, I may as well say the responsible thing as well: don’t have any unprotected sex. You might think you’re so smart you would never have unprotected sex, but actually you would, dumbass.

In a larger sense, your issues with women are actually self-confidence problems. And I know that you can’t just hear someone say, “Be more confident,” and you will be. I hate to tell you this, but even 20 years later, you don’t have the self-confidence problem licked, but you’re making a lot of progress. Maybe it would help you to just acknowledge that your first impulse about how people think of you may not be correct. Example: when you’re a junior in high school and Deana Townes invites you spend the weekend with her on Cape Cod, it’s because she likes you and not some kind of scam calculated to humiliate you. Jesus, snap out of it.


I want to say a few words about college because if you don’t make some changes, you’re going to have a miserable time. You are accustomed to succeeding in school without much effort. This will not continue to be the case. I suspect that when you run up against your limitations you actually don’t want to try because it will mean that you know what your limitations are. Please try to accept that you aren’t smart enough to ace everything, and that you will need discipline to do a halfway decent job. Please do at least this: drum up the discipline to attend all your classes. The rest is not that hard, but you will go a long way just by showing up over and over like clockwork.

Here is something that really surprised me: the subjects you study are not remotely as important as the quality of the instructors you get. Use the instructor surveys and choose the best professors, no matter what they’re teaching!

College is not a place to learn a trade, even though they try to make you think it is. College is a chance to learn how to think. In order to get the most out of it, you should take exciting classes in as many disciplines as you can. And just as importantly, get as many social experiences as you can. This is how you grow. And it can be a lot of fun. When you enter the working world, you’re not going to have nearly as many chances to make friends, so take advantage of it.


Those are the biggies, but I should tell you a handful of other things. I apologize if I’m coming across as a prick. Don’t worry, you don’t become some kind of monster. I’m being harsher on you that I would be with anyone else, because you’re me. I feel like I shouldn’t have to candy coat anything with you, you know?

Your taste in music isn’t any good. Here’s something you can take to the fucking bank: the top 40 is awful. Stay away. Try listening to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles about two dozen times. Try the Zombies, Bob Dylan, Talking Heads, the Cure, Joy Division, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Nina Simone, the Pixies, “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys, in no particular order. Country music is turning to shit, but you can take comfort in Johnny Cash, the Stanley Brothers, and Bob Wills, among others, but I’m not really in that world these days.

Trust your instincts. You’re not too young to do something no one’s ever done before. Go find out what the Internet is; It’s gonna be huge!

1 comment:

Sean said...

Nice post! I can empathize with the idea of not trying your hardest so as to avoid discovering your limits -- I pulled something similar in college. Stupid 20 year ago self!

Thanks for the food for thought.