Taken from a recent Quora answer I wrote.
This advice doesn't apply exclusively to young people, however it's certainly true that my own life would have benefited from this knowledge had I accessed it earlier.
Dogmatic thinking is intellectual poison. It closes our minds to possibilities and prevents human flourishing.
Remaining skeptical forces us to accept the universe as it is, not as we would like it to be. And being connected to reality allows us to ask interesting questions, to challenge the status quo, and to lead meaningful, moral lives.
Read (Books!), question, argue, debate and change your mind when your intellectual integrity depends on it. Notice when your ego is crushed and be profoundly grateful for those moments.
We all have blindspots in our thinking, tiny cracks of irrationality that play havoc with our decisions. It’s worth continually dedicating a portion of our lives to refining our thinking abilities.
Connect with the paradox of life
Along with everything in the universe we are in constant flux. Recognising the impermanence of everything allows us to choose when to question, and when to simply experience the present moment as fully as we possibly can.
Against a 13.8 billion year backdrop humanity is a vanishingly small speck in a vast cosmic ocean. We are bits of talking meat spinning on a tiny wet globe adrift in incomprehensible vastness. But this polarity between insignificance and complete connectedness is precisely what makes our existence precious. We can stare into the void with awe, gratitude and wonder, or we can gaze at it with fear - make no mistake that the choice is ours. In a universe so infinitely vast there is no objective meaning, but this frees us to create meaning in any way of our choosing, and it allows us to let go of a childish need for absolute certainty, the type of which authority and religion often promise.
Do things that interest you
Take risks. Be brave. Make mistakes. A full life isn’t possible without challenge. And challenge isn't possible unless we are willing to fail. Personal growth is proportional to our ability to step into the unknown, and like all abilities, it is a trainable skill.
The world can seem like a scary place before we realise that we don’t exist. At least not in the way we feel we do, as a permeant, monolithic ego rattling around behind our eyes. “You" are a function of everything that is happening in the universe, and you owe it to your future self to embrace your oneness with everything. I know that sounds like a cringe inducing pseudo scientific word salad, but as far as I can tell it’s the truth.
Many of our fears are illusions born from the fictional stories we tell ourselves. And we can erode fears by challenging them. By overcoming that which holds us back we create the momentum towards positive future experiences. When you stop failing you stop growing. I’ve had some huge losses and some amazing wins, and I hope my future is spiced with more of the same. Because I’ve come to realise that it's rarely worth doing things that have predictable outcomes.
In a deterministic universe there is no deserve. You didn’t construct your own brain, you didn’t set in motion the dominoes which produced you, or the things you’ve done, good or bad. Free will is an illusion, but understanding that is also a liberating truth
Being alive is awesome, and even when life is terrible it’s still fucking awesome. I know that’s the kind of nauseating statement that is normally uttered by people who've experienced unfathomable privilege, but I don’t really care, because for most of us, most of the time, it’s the truth. The vast, overwhelming majority of us want to be alive, we want to feel something. It’s difficult to argue that consciousness isn’t the most important thing, and if you’re reading this you’ve been blessed with it, that inexplicable, indefinable thing that lets the show go on. Don’t waste it feeling sorry for yourself, or squander it on self loathing, guilt or petty jealously.
The universe is pitiless, and when it comes to evaluating our own circumstances so should we be. Your life is going to get fucked up. Some of these interruptions will be unwanted waves dislodging your vessel from it’s intended voyage. But eventually, if you live long enough, your entire world is going to get turned upside-down.
Someone you love will die, or get sick, or leave. Or you’ll lose the ability to do something you loved to do, or your heart will get broken in some other cruel and very usual way. That will happen to you, trust me. And when it does the only thing to cling to is the gratitude that you’re here to experience anything at all. Gratitude is available to us in any moment we choose to connect with the miracle of our existence, but it’s most needed when it’s least obvious.
Don’t get me started on the dogma of positive thinking! If you've ever been so desperate as to fall for something as fraudulent as The Secret, now is the time to wash your hands of nonsense, before you end up like our friend in the video below.
Life’s too short to pretend to be positive, especially when we should be angry, or sad or whatever the reasonable emotional state is. Let yourself be what it is you feel while accepting that whatever state you’re immersed in will pass. The light at the end of the tunnel is the fact that you’re always moving through the tunnel, and any experience is almost always better than none.
Play with it...
Forget politically correct nonsense that usually emanates from the most privileged corners of society. Nothing deserves immunity from having words directed at it. And learning to be a serious person depends on an ability to stop taking yourself so damned seriously.
Reality is completely absurd, and the more we learn the stranger it appears to be. If we embrace the irony of our existence we can let go of much needless suffering and smile wryly at the game of life.
I'm writing this on a artfully designed technologically marvel and nudging this data out into the world via the miracle of the internet onto a platform called Quora...none of which existed less than a few decades ago. The exponential nature of technological advancement and scientific discovery makes it difficult to imagine what the universe will conjure up next. We can only wonder and smile at the infinite possibilities. You’re in the mix already, so you may as well experience life as intensely as possible.
Like this dog…be this dog