Things my 36 year old self would tell my 25 year old self (and other 25 year olds)

Disclosure: I’m old. I may look and often act younger than 36, but according to birth records from the State of Nevada I was born in 1978 and thus am 36 years old.

At the end of one recent Saturday night my roommate, who’s 25, asks me what advice I as a 36 year old would have for a 25 year old, a broad and loaded question to ask someone at 2am after a few drinks. I had a little bit of advice, but I thought more over subsequent days about the question of what I’d tell my 25yo self.

That became a list of things I’d tell any 25 year old, which of course I broadened out a bit:


– You think you have life figured out, and absolutely know who is right and who is wrong, but you don’t. You’re not even close. And that’s fine. The key to life is realizing that virtually no one really does, even the people who really seem to have it together. We’re all just living our lives through a series of educated guesses.

– So take it easy on people who don’t see the world the way you do, or you feel are fundamentally wrong about something. Chances are there’s much more to it, to them and to life than that. So, unless they’re directly hurting you, themselves or others, let them be… no matter how shitty you feel their POV is.

– Each of us are entitled to and deserve absolutely nothing. This is both a bummer, and liberating. It’s a bummer because we’re not owed any benefits or success, even if technically by the letter of the law we are. Anyone can honestly decide at any time that you’re not entitled, and everyone can decide at any time not to stand up for you even if you’re right.

It’s liberating because no one deserves to stay in a bad situation, not have opportunities or be treated like garbage. You can pretty much do anything you seize the opportunity and put forth the effort to do. I prefer to look at this truism in a positive way. We are capable and able to do many things, even if there are no guarantees should you fail.

– That said, everything you do is a choice, and everything you receive is a product of someone else’s choices. Respect the times people make the choice to give you something or do something for you that they don’t otherwise need to. And take note of the times people make choices that hurt you and others. Do with this info what you will.

– Vice versa, take note of how the choices you make help and hurt other people, even inadvertently. The more mindful you are of how you affect other people, the more mindful you can help them be of how they affect you… and the more highly people will think of you over time. Many will not care, but many will notice, and those often are going to be the people that have your back going forward.

– Talk to people directly when they’re troubling you. Don’t withhold that shit, even if you feel outing yourself can get you into trouble or fired. You’ll be surprised how often talking about it clears the air and makes everyone feel better.

– People rarely think about how their personal habits affect their bodies until they get older and it’s too late to undo decades of damage. Don’t wait. Cut down on the drinking and smoking (both cigarettes and pot). (If you do anything harder than that and you seriously want to be something more than a working class stiff, then shame on you for hurting yourself like that, and fucking stop it right now.)

(Don’t let the successful addicts of history fool you. They succeeded despite their drug habits, and many of them were ultimately destroyed by those habits. Take the high road.)

– Don’t trust any feature article or blog post you read on the internet. Seriously, there’s so much subversively sponsored and agenda driven bias behind literally everything written that I pretty much spambox about 95% of it, even when good friends post it. Even mainstream sources like HuffPo and Slate. In fact, I feel bad for friends who repost this stuff. Learn to spot the agenda behind everything you read, and just don’t take any of it too seriously.

– Not convinced? Read Ryan Holiday’s book “Trust Me, I’m Lying”. I’m not a fan of Ryan as a person, but I find the information in his book very telling and valuable, as he and his employers actually used these tactics to manipulate public opinion and still do today. Literally everything on the internet is about generating clicks and even outrage through false premises. Dividing communities is how websites conquer the need for revenue.

– Use paraben-free deodorant, e.g. Tom’s of Maine. The aluminum and additives in regular deodorant may be far worse for you than sponsored studies are letting on. Plus the additives are what stain your armpits in white shirts.

– Stop waiting for the right time to do something, or when you’re ready. That day is never coming. There’s never going to be a perfect time, or even a good time, to do that thing. And it’s never going to turn out perfectly the way you want it. This is the folly of wedding planning, the obsession of creating the perfect version of an event. It doesn’t mirror the rest of life in any real way whatsoever. Nothing is perfect, and what you get instead can still be great if you put the effort to it. Yes, it could easily be awful too, but it’s never going to happen either way until you move ahead and make it happen.

– If you’re gonna pursue an endeavor or practice you really want to do, DO IT HARD. Take it seriously. Make sure the rest of your life complements your time and ability to do that thing. Make sure you’re practicing it several times a week unless/until it’s clear to you that your interest in it is no longer serious.

Sports talk host Jim Rome has built a multi-million dollar empire over his 25 years on the air. During a Q&A with fans, he was asked how he felt he made it from the small time in L.A. to the top of his profession. He said, basically, ‘I’ve known countless people who are more talented or skilled at this than I could ever be. But they quit. They eventually gave up. And I never did. That’s a big part of how I got here.’

Commit in your life to building it around the things you want to do, right down to how the way you eat, sleep and take care of yourself serves your ability to do your passion.

– If you’re gonna go out and drink, that’s cool, but don’t be the loud douchebag/bitch at the party. Being gregarious among your friends is fine, but don’t force the rest of us to listen to or deal with you. I tend to cut those people out of my life (not just for that; such people usually give me a few other associated reasons to do it) and I can’t imagine I’m the only one who does. Respecting the host’s home, a neighborhood, or the space of a public establishment isn’t just about not breaking their shit.

– Exercise. I don’t necessarily mean pick heavy things up and put them down, or do oven hot yoga, or run 7 miles a day, if that’s not shit you want any part of. (If you do, then knock yourself out). But do something a couple times a week that challenges your body’s limits. Play sports. Go on long hikes. Take some modern, ballet or jazz dance classes (sorry, but ballroom’s too physically easy to count). Carry your 30 pounds of laundry down to the laundromat and back. Walk to the supermarket and carry your groceries back instead of driving there.

If you absolutely don’t want to do much exercise, at least do a cheap but daily exercise program like 5BX or the Hacker’s Diet workout. Or even a challenge program like One Hundred Push Ups. Something is better than nothing, and you may be surprised at how much it improves your body/energy.

– Clean up your diet, e.g. meat you cook yourself, fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds as close to their original form as possible, rice and/or beans cooked yourself, water and coffee/tea. Deviations should be incidental and infrequent. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, but when you do go for the clean option.

The processed shit pumps you full of sodium and other additives that make you retain water weight and jack around with your body function. Plus it’s more expensive per serving.

– Never mind getting in shape. Hell, even if you’re ripped or rail thin now you should clean up. Your energy levels and your health over the next few years will be much better than if you don’t.

– Sleep is so NOT overrated that by now I say it’s vastly underrated. Turn out the lights by 11 on work nights and make sure you get at least 7-8 hours in bed each night. Take an afternoon nap on the weekends if you feel run down. By his own admission, Tom Jones looks pretty good at 70-75 because he drinks a lot of water and gets a lot of sleep.


– You know what IS overrated? No, not love, but settling down. Don’t make binding decisions like marriage, children or homebuying lightly, because you’re sacrificing so much more than you realize. It is not nearly as easy to break out of an unwanted mortgage or a bad marriage as people make it out to be, and having kids is a much bigger (and more expensive) pain in the ass than anyone lets on. Do not believe the hype. And no, that’s not your hormones or biological clock egging you that way. That’s cultural and peer pressure.

– Love does not conquer all. In fact, it’s motivated more horrible mistakes than anything.

– Don’t feel bad if you’re not married or in a committed relationship by now. We culturally teach people to get hitched at 18-25, but people don’t really figure out who they are and what they want out of life until their 30’s. Who and what you want now might not be what you want in 5-10 years, and if you make any commitments before then (marriage, a house, kids), it’ll be too late to change without serious damage to people’s lives.

– If you need a relationship to be able to afford your life (e.g. you’ve got to live with your boy/girlfriend), you probably need to focus on getting a better job or career, if not trimming your expenses.

Arguing with people:

– Don’t, unless there’s just no other viable choice, unless it involves a situation directly, adversely affecting your life. If you’ve got to risk being an asshole, be an asshole for the right reasons.

– That said, stand up for yourself. And don’t be afraid of yelling at the creeper on the train or the street if they’re giving you and others a hard time. Pretty much none of them are serial killers, or even at all skilled in hand to hand combat. You think they’d be on the street sliming random people if they were?

Bills and money:

– Pay your bills. On time. Every time.

– Don’t take rainchecks.

– Don’t break a contract or a lease. Don’t sign either one if you want the flexibility to leave before the term expires.

– Take a year or two, minimize your spending, and pay off your debts if you’ve got any: Your credit cards, your student loans, etc. I wish I had the wherewithal in the early 2000’s to suck it up, align my life and get those paid off. I’m still paying the price today. Life and your finances do not get any easier, unless you miraculously get rich.

– It doesn’t seem possible to both have a life and not spend any money… unless you’ve got good friends or a practice/hobby doing something you’re passionate about. Find them if you don’t have them.


– The usefulness of classes follows a bell curve. Take too few and you’re not skilled enough to practice what you want to do. Take too many and you’re not putting yourself out there, building a practice and carving your own identity. Plus, you’re institutionalizing yourself, exploring a physical pursuit in such an academic and puppet strung setting for so long that you can’t branch out on your own.

– Theatre, dance and improv instructors promote classes and workshops because that’s how they make a good portion of their income: The tuition you pay to attend. Most people and organizations will never make enough money from performances to pay the bills. Classes are pretty much the only reliable revenue stream… but only as long as students feel persuaded to attend. Classes, while they do have a significant benefit for a performer, often are more beneficial for the host than they are for you. Just remember that instructors are like realtors discussing the purchase of a home: They’re always going to endorse doing it, because that’s where they get their money. Proceed with caution.

– Find out what skills and practice you need to develop, and take enough class to develop that. Then stop taking class for a while. I’d recommend not taking more than a couple year’s worth of classes in a row. After that, form a group to practice together or find a place to regularly jam. It’s the practice that’s going to teach you most of what you need anyway. Only consider going back if after several months you notice a clear key weakness or skill you need to improve, and there’s a class or mentor in place that can absolutely address it.

– General exception: Take a workshop, intensive or one-off class if the subject matter is interesting or relevant to what you’re seeking or trying to do. But only then. If you find yourself taking a lot of these classes, step back the next time one comes along.

– Do. Find out how to produce your own shit. Don’t wait for someone to let you into something. Never mind the value of active practice. You don’t want to give others all the power over your artistic life. It’s cool to want to join an iO Harold Team and audition for it, and it shouldn’t be the end of the world if they don’t take you. Have other shit going on so if they say no thanks there’s an abundance of other pursuits in your future.

– Don’t spend time around people who don’t want to work with you or respect you. If you’re getting big-timed or the cold shoulder in response to your support or attempts at conversation, seek a better crowd.

– Go to shows because you want to see them, not as a favor to people whose attention you want, or otherwise out of obligation.

– You can block people on Facebook from sending you event invites. Please use that function on the people who never talk to you but like to spray invites. They’ll annoy you far less. Also, be okay with declining invites. I’ve got a lot of shit I do with my life and most people know others do too.

– Hey, don’t be that person: If you create a Facebook event or want to invite people to someone else’s, take the extra few minutes and selectively invite people you know can and might want to attend. People who don’t block you will appreciate the selectivity, even if they’re not interested in the event.

– Unfriend the people who never seem to give a shit about you, never come to your shit, etc., but always want to promote their shit to you. Don’t be a fanboy or a groupie. People who care about you ought to get your love and attention. (People who don’t give a shit about you but also never bother you are obviously okay.)

– Don’t act like an asshole unless someone’s directly violating your space or dignity. If someone’s just being a dick, give them the “yeah OK” treatment and GTFO of there as soon as you can. File that info away for future reference.

– There are going to be days as a performer, student or ensemble member where you are able to perform but you just don’t want to go to class, go to practice, go to a jam, go to an open mic, not because you’re seriously worn or burned out but just because you don’t want to. Those are the days you NEED to go, get up there and seriously give it the best you got. Muhammad Ali once said he didn’t count his sit-ups until his muscles started to burn, because those were the ones that counted. Those were the ones that were helping his body grow past its current limits.

– Likewise, the times you’re nervous or uncertain about getting up there are the times you need to push yourself up there and just do it. It’s never going to get easier until you force yourself to experience what you fear, and get into your muscle memory the habit of facing the light and doing it anyway.

– And the times when you’re knee deep in something and it sucks are the best times to soak it in and work through it, because there will be a lot of days where life punches you in the face on show night, and you’ve still got a job to do, colleagues and mentors counting on you, and (often) people who paid to see you perform. There will be a lot of nights where everyone gets off on the wrong foot. You can save the show by connecting with your fellow performers and working through it, or you can sink with it and end up wasting everyone’s time.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw 4 interceptions in the 2015 NFC title game, and still led a 16 point comeback in the final minutes to win a trip to the Super Bowl in a situation where almost any other team would have totally given up.


If I told all this to a 25 year old, they would tune about 90-100% of it out, partially because we all forget 90% of what is said to us, and in part because many young adults have a black and white POV in a grayscale world.

So I don’t expect anyone to take this totally to heart and I even think many will disagree with much of it. But I hope you get something of positive value from it.

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One thought on “Things my 36 year old self would tell my 25 year old self (and other 25 year olds)

  1. John Leith says:

    Steven, I often read your musings on this site, I am on your email notification list. I always enjoy your ideas. I enjoyed this one especially. I hope you are well and thriving. Chicago man. Chicago. I also enjoy and am heartened by your independence and desire to form the better self. A real explorer,,, right on. -John Leith

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