It's me, 50-year-old you.
Yes it is - just shut up for a second and let me talk - I know you don't think you'll ever be 50. But you will.
I have now lived exactly two of your lifetimes. So here's what I have learned in as short a piece as I can write since I know you hate reading.
First - let’s get a few things out of the way:
In three years you are going to meet a girl who you will fall in love with. I know, she's cute and all but she cheats on you six years after you marry her, she keeps it a secret for three more, and when you find out it completely unravels your life and utterly breaks your heart. You're a nice guy and you try to make it work for a couple more years - but it won't - and dude, you can make it without her. So don't wallow, wishing you could hold that relationship together. She wasn't there for you when you needed her most and it's not worth the grief. It takes two people to keep a commitment. It's not your fault. And anyway there is someone else, someone amazing - and so much better for you. You will meet her when you're 42 (yes, you will be 42) - only after you have moved on and begun to find joy again in being alone. This is someone who gives you what you need - who loves you for what and who you really are - someone who does not expect you to change, and embraces you. I mean, dude, she likes Star Trek and Bond movies! She is so right for you, man, you have no idea. Marry that one. She'll give you beautiful babies and a great life.
In 1996 your Internet company will get a big investment. Don't wait to seriously grow the company until 2000. That's way too late. Grow it right away and sell it by 2000. You can start another company after you sell the first one. The lesson here is: move when you have opportunities.
In 2002 you are going to wonder if you should buy Apple stock. I know it's in the dumper. And everyone tells you to stay away. But you should buy as much as you can afford, and you shouldn't sell it until 2012 when it hits $700. I know that sounds impossible, but just trust me.
Also, at 25 you have recently noticed that your stomach is getting upset almost every day. You have to rush to the toilet many times daily, right? It's the worst, man. I'm sorry. Your doctor is going to send you to a gastrointerologist. After literally months of tests he is going to tell you that you have 'Irritable Bowel Syndrome'. He will say it is incurable and he will try to treat it with a bunch of sedatives. None of them work. You will try to change your diet dramatically. Nothing helps. You will give up at some point. And then a decade later you will try again in earnest to solve it and you will see new gastrointerologists who say the exact same things. And they convince you it's all in your head. You are 'high-strung', they say. You will tell them that they would be too if they were worried that they would crap their pants in traffic every day. Your IBS is going to be with you for 20 years. TWENTY YEARS! During that time you will experience all manner of urgent bathroom moments. It's a horrible part of your life. It ruins major events and opportunities. But let me tell you, dude - after 20 years and countless tests - after all the doctors had you convinced that you were just a 'stressed out' person and that your IBS was all in your mind, the result of your emotional weakness - you will come down with bronchitis.
THAT doctor will prescribe antibiotics for you to kill the chest infection.
And as it turns out, your IBS will be gone the next day. Seriously, dude. One round of strong antibiotics and poof - IBS gone. It wasn't IBS, it was just a bacterial infection the US doctors weren't experienced enough to recognize.
So get back to that gastrointerologist, and tell him he is a quack, punch him for me, and get some antibiotics right away.
The lesson here - and I can corroborate this across many other experiences - is that doctors don't know very much. They are wrong a lot. Don't accept what they say blindly. Research the possibilities yourself and own your state of health. Tell your doctor what you want to try. Own it.
One last health thing. In two years you are going to throw your back out. You'll be on your back for several months. It's a herniated disc. It will hurt like hell. You will struggle with this for over a decade - during which time you will periodically require a cane. Doctors will prescribe drugs. It doesn't help. You ask about chiropractic and your doctor smiles smugly and says suggests condescendingly that resting your back would be better.
A decade later you will try a chiropractor for the first time anyway, and you will start a weight lifting program. With regular visits and workouts, your back problem goes away. And it's still gone - another 12 years later, and you're now fitter than ever.
OK, so the rules of thumb:
Joel, your intuition is almost always right. That inner voice of yours is almost never wrong. You just don't trust it right now. You will meet a lot of 'big, important' people in your career and they will, with their big, fat titles and impressive backgrounds try to convince you that your ideas are not right, or off-target. They will be very convincing, and the people around you will listen to them and do what they say and so you will doubt your intuition. DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. NEVER DOUBT YOUR INTUITION. You were right all along. If you follow your own intuition and make big decisions based on that - you will have incredible success.
All you have to do is study what you love. And trust that inner voice.
And another thing about those 'big, important' people. Don't look at them as authority figures or as being in any way more right or more important or more valid than you. At their best they are exactly equal to you. If they don't look on you with the same equality - ignore them. Anyone who does not approach you with a sense of equality and respect is indeed not equal to you - because they are not as good as you.
When you have an idea, or when something doesn't make sense - NEVER keep it to yourself. Throw it out there. Say it proudly.
Never look at any part of your life or career as though 'this has to be exactly right because my entire future depends on this being right'. Jobs, friends, locations, all of these change, Joel. They will change so many times in your life, that you just have no idea.
Today you worry that if you aren't doing exactly what you want to do, that your future is screwed. Well, sorry buddy, that's the one thing you're wrong about.
There is no job, no project, no friend, no major part of your life that will have that kind of impact on your greater future. Only your attitude and passion can have that impact. So lighten up - just enjoy what you are doing, and do a great job.
In fact, those times in your life where everything seems wrong, where you are in a job that isn't 'your chosen career' - those are the times when you learn new things. The most valuable lessons of all come when you're not doing what you so carefully planned. All those 'off-target' experiences will expand your experience so much more than the little myopic ideas you have about how you want your future to be. Indeed when you are in the 'career' that you thought was right - it isn’t.
When you get into your mid-thirties it will all start to become clear. But everything before that is kindergarten. I know you don't want to hear that. You're 25 and that feels like an adult to you - but my boy, you are a child with such limited experience. Be patient. Just fill yourself with ideas. Because your best ideas won't come until your forties anyway.
Some more tips:
Embrace ambiguity. It's OK to not know the answers. You don't need answers to function. Just be confident in your ability to solve problems when they surface, when they are relevant - as opposed to ‘NOW’. Some people can't handle letting key uncertainties persist. They want answers, and they want them now - or else they fear maybe it won't go the way they want, and they can't carry that stress of not knowing. Unfortunately pushing for answers too early often forces things to happen that you don't want to happen. But if you can accept ambiguity - and be confident that when the time is right you can affect the change you want (and you can, I promise) - you will do so much better. You will be confident in the face of uncertainty. And that makes you much stronger and able to deal with life's twists and turns. Uncertainty is not bad. It gives you time to consider options.
If they go on too long, it's OK to admit - in the most important meetings of your life - that you are tired and that you all might be more productive if the meeting continued at a later time. Remember that the reason you are in meetings at all is because people want your opinion. If you are not on your game, your ideas won't be strong and they want your strong ideas. So admitting that you've reached your 'saturation point' for the day is OK.
Don't be a pleaser. Don't feel like you have to give people what they ask for on their schedule. Your schedule is half of it. When people ask your opinion - it's OK if you have not formed one yet. Just tell them you are still processing.
Never stop working out. It's one of the best ways you'll ever find to eliminate stress and stay healthy.
When you are asked to speak in public, do it - just talk about something you love and be confident that what you know, and what you say will be entertaining and informative to the audience. You will do great.
The best ideas in the world come from the place in your brain where fart jokes are funny. Know that. But don't tell your clients. It makes them nervous. Let the strategists babble about where the ideas came from - that's usually what the client wants to hear.
Work should almost never be so serious that you can't laugh. If it ever is - change something.
When you work in a company, no matter what role you have - whether you are staff, contractor, or owner - you are NEVER a victim of the system. People who throw up their hands, who roll their eyes, sit there and complain about things, are merely allowing themselves to be victims. That's weak. NEVER EVER just complain or point out problems. If you identify a problem, ALWAYS offer a solution. ALWAYS. This is the key to advancing in any career. And the key to advancing in life.
Remember, obstacles are only there in case you care to stop.
Do what you love - on whatever scale you can. Always. No matter your day job. There is always a way to do what you love while you do what life requires of you.
Last thing: Experience is a superpower. You might not be able to relate to this right now, but the day will come when you have done so much that you can draw all sorts of analogies, and you will realize you have power you didn't even know existed. No one tells you this! And this is important, because life is all about recognizing patterns. Waves in the ocean, waves in the air, waves of sound, waves of light, waves in economics, waves of design trends, waves of innovation, all things come in patterns, and the big secret I want you to know is that the more you experience (even, and maybe especially, in unrelated things), the more able you will be able to deal with new challenges. The more experience you accumulate the more adept you will be at maneuvering through social situations, creative opportunities, survival - everything. And this experience only comes with years. At 30, you will be wiser than you are now. At 40 you will be so much more suited for dealing with the world than at 30, at 50 you will look at 40-year-old you with pity - how could I have been so inexperienced?? Be patient. You get stronger and better with every year that goes by.