1. Realize that nobody cares, and if they do, you shouldn’t care that they care.
Got a new car? Nobody cares. You’ll get some gawkers for a couple of weeks—they don’t care. They’re curious. Three weeks in it’ll be just another shiny blob among all the thousands of others crawling down the freeway and sitting in garages and driveways up and down your street. People will care about your car just as much as you care about all of those. Got a new gewgaw? New wardrobe? Went to a swanky restaurant? Exotic vacation? Nobody cares. Don’t base your happiness on people’s caring, because they won’t. And if they do, they either want your stuff or hate you for it.
2. Money is cheap.
I mean, there’s a lot of it—trillions upon trillions of dollars floating around the world, largely made up of cash whose value is made up and ascribed to it, anyway. Don’t engineer your life around getting a slightly less tiny portion of this pile, and make your spirit of generosity reflect this principle. I knew a man who became driven by the desire to amass six figures in savings, so he worked and scrimped and sacrificed to get there. And he did… right before he died of cancer. I’m sure his wife’s new husband appreciated his diligence.
3. You are responsible to everyone, but you’re responsible for yourself.
I believe we’re responsible to everyone for something, even if it’s something as basic as an affirmation of their humanity. However, it should most often go far beyond that and manifest itself in service to others, to being a voice for the voiceless. If you’re reading this, there are those around you who toil under burdens larger than yours, who stand in need of touch and respect and chances. Conversely, though, you’re responsible for yourself. Nobody else is going to find success for you, and nobody else is going to instill happiness into you from the outside. That’s on you.
4. Learn to see reality in terms of systems.
When you understand the world around you as a massive web of interconnected, largely interdependent systems, things get much less mystifying—and the less we either ascribe to magic or allow to exist behind a fog, the less susceptible we’ll be to all manner of being taken advantage of. However…
5. Account for the threat of black swan events.
Sometimes chaos consumes the most meticulous of plans, and if you live life with no margins in a financial, emotional, or any other sense, you will be subject to its whims. Take risks, but backstop them with something—I strongly suspect these people who say having a Plan B is a sign of weak commitment aren’t living hand to mouth. Do what you need to in order to keep your footing.
6. Money is expensive.
I mean, it’s difficult to get your hands on sometimes—and you never know when someone’s going to pull the floorboards out from under you—so don’t be stupid with it. Avoid debt on depreciating assets, and never incur debt in order to assuage your vanity (see rule number one). Debt has become normative, but don’t blithely accept it as a rite of passage into adulthood—debt represents imbalance and, in some sense, often a resignation of control. Student loan debt isn’t always avoidable, but it isn’t a given—my wife and I completed a combined ten years of college with zero debt between us. If you can’t avoid it, though, make sure that your degree is an investment rather than a liability—I mourn a bit for all of the people going tens of thousands of dollars in debt in pursuit of vague liberal arts degrees with no idea of what they want out of life. If you’re just dropping tuition dollars for lack of a better idea at the moment, just withdraw and go wander around Europe for a few weeks—I guarantee you’ll spend less and learn more in the process.