Real Life 101, Lesson 16: Some random suggestions

The Thinker by Rodin

This is the sixteenth in an indeterminate series of entries that provides my “real world” lessons to young adults. It is my conviction that these lessons are rarely taught either at home or in the schools. For those who did not get them growing up you can get them from me for free. This is part of my way of giving back to the universe on the occasion of my 50th birthday.

It’s been a while since I wrote a “Real Life” lesson for young adults. Mostly I believe I have mined the topic, so I suspect there are few posts left in this series. Yet there is still some vein left. Moreover, the series still gets regular hits. Not every post in the series is read every day. At best only a handful are read on a particular day, but it adds up over time. Presumably the series is of use to some people, which I find gratifying.

Most of adult life is learned through living it. Yet I do have a few more suggestions for you to consider as you transition into adulthood that should prove useful.

Read religiously. Reading keeps your mind spry, stimulates new thoughts, reduces boredom and often facilitates rational engagement with the world. It can also be tremendously enjoyable and insightful. Try to always keep a book close to you. Whatever I am reading is usually sitting next to the toilet, because this is a perfect opportunity to engage the mind. You can certainly read online, but most online content is ephemeral. It’s great to get news, weather and sports online, but it is likely that nothing on TMZ.com or similar sites really means anything, because you will purge it within a few days at best. So read mostly books, either paper or electronic, but also quality old fashioned newspaper and magazines. What is so special about a book? It is (generally) structured, edited, thoughtful, focused and comprehensive, as well as well written. This is hard to find online except, maybe, on sites like this one. Get recommendations from friends and don’t be afraid to read outside your comfort zone. You will often get the most insight and personal growth from books you would not normally read.

Listen religiously as well. Listening is a lost art and I will not claim to be an expert in it. Like reading a book, if you have the opportunity to listen, try to make it worth your time, and when someone is sharing something heartfelt, listen compassionately. See if you can paraphrase it either aloud (people like to know they have been listened to) or paraphrase it silently to yourself, so it will carry some weight. If you find yourself driving, skip the pop rock station and tune in NPR or a local news station instead. Keep a stack of audiobooks in your car. You can borrow them for free at your local public library.

Give your mind time to wander. Your mind needs time to wander. This is done by turning off distractions like NPR, not all the time, but periodically while you are driving, or leaving the radio off while you do the dishes. Your brain needs to digest and make inferences about what it has learned. I find that I am most creative and get the best ideas when I deliberately tune out life’s distractions for a spell. Often your brain will find solutions to some of your toughest challenges during such times. Driving is a good time not just to listen to an audiobook, but also to let your mind wander to nothing but the background hum of road noise.

If it sounds ridiculous, it is. We live in modern times where arguably insane and crazy people are getting much of the airtime. Instead, choose to be reality-based, not because it is fun, but because you are much more likely to survive if you choose reality. Here are just some of the bat-shit crazy ideas going around at the moment.

  • Claim: Climate change is not happening.
  • Answer: On average, every year is hotter than the year before it. Are you saying all our thermometers are in error or that all meteorologists are engaged in a massive conspiracy to falsify temperature data?
  • Claim: Businesses create jobs.
  • Answer: When people have more money and use it to buy more things, this stimulates demand. Businesses hire people to keep up with economic demand.
  • Claim: Smaller government and lower taxes creates economic growth.
  • Answer: California has tried this approach for decades yet has gone from a state that had one of the best economies to one of the worst economies. They are letting people out of prison early because they can’t afford to keep them there, for crying out loud! Maybe it happens sometime, but it’s not a silver bullet.
  • Claim: Students don’t learn because of bad teachers.
  • Answer: While there are some bad teachers out there, students choose to learn or not to learn. It is up to them to engage, which can be hard to do when there are problems at home, your neighborhood is rife with gang violence, you come from a single parent household and you can barely afford to eat, let alone afford nutritious food. Maybe serving students breakfast, lunch and a snack while at school, plus making sure they get more exercise while at school will do more to help children learn is the best way to help them learn. Safe neighborhoods would help too.

Be brave and when someone speaks nonsense, speak the truth instead. We only wallow in ignorance because we allow it to go unchallenged.

Do your professional reading. Don’t let your skills atrophy! Stay engaged in your career. Take continuing education courses. (You may be required to do so anyhow.) Consider a certificate from a local college. Subscribe to a couple of trade magazines. In many cases, they are free. As life is about change, the same is true with your profession. I bet that even garbage haulers have journals on the latest in waste management techniques. Doing so helps distinguish you from others in the field and makes you less likely to suffer career misfortunes and, if you do, enhances the likelihood of a quick recovery. In my case, I read IEEE Computer every month, as well as belong to the IEEE itself. I also read some of the most useful information technology websites, and subscribes to RSS feeds for the sources I most respect. It is time well spent, and it keeps me engaged in my career. It’s not coincidence that it’s been 23 years since I had a bout of unemployment. Hint: trade journals make excellent bathroom reading material.

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