Note to Self

What advice would you, as an adult, give to your 10-year-old self?

Yes, a lot of people have written about that. The latest is psychologist Damon Ashworth, whose blog I read.

Dr. Ashworth’s advice to himself is good, but rather general. Most of it might apply to anyone. After I wrote my own advice, I realized that it’s more personal, and even a little angry about some of the mistakes I made when I was younger. I’ve decided to go ahead and post it anyway.

So if you’re reading this blog, my 10-year-old self, here’s the advice:

1. Remember that I am you, plus four decades of life experience.

I realize that you believe you’re the smartest thing since God created the planet, and there’s no point in arguing with you about it. But whatever you are, I am too, and I know more than you do. So shut up and listen up.

2. You’re not the center of the damn universe.

It’s not your fault that you feel like everything revolves around you. You’re a child. You’re good at math but you’re still a child and you don’t know a single thing about life. Thinking doesn’t teach you about life. Only living can do that.

3. Respect your parents.

I’ll give it to you straight, kid: Both your parents are brilliant, and your mother is off the charts. But she’s also batsh*t crazy and your father doesn’t know how to handle it. Pay attention to what your mother says about life, humanity, and philosophy: those insights are gold. Doubt anything she says about herself, you, or other family members. As for Dad, he talks less but sets a good example. Watch how he conducts himself and how he treats others. He’s far from perfect, but he’s one of the best people you’ll ever know. You might not realize it until there are only a few years left.

4. Respect other people.

You’re not a malicious kid, but you can get so wrapped up in ideas that you lose sight of the real people around you. “Being right” isn’t always and everywhere the most important thing. If you prove that you’re right but you embarrass or humiliate people in the process, all you’ve really proven is that you’re a jerk. I can think of only one time when you hurt another person on purpose; all the other times it was just you “being right” by acting wrong. Don’t be that guy. Consider how your words and actions might affect other people.

Maybe it’s against the rules, but I’ll give you a little preview of the future: About 30 years from now, you’re going to work with someone who’s just like you were at age 20. That will be your karmic punishment.

5. Accept people as they are.

Accept people as they are, not compared to what you think they ought to be. That includes your parents and yourself. Your parents are doing the best they can with the crazy-quilt of circumstances life has thrown at them. You’re a weird kid and you always will be. There’s nothing wrong with weird, but most people don’t like it. You need to accept them as they are, whether or not they accept you. Don’t worry too much about what they think of you. Just live your own life as kindly, decently, and honorably as you can.

Check out my book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Kirkus Reviews called it an “impressively nuanced analysis.”

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
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4 Responses to Note to Self

  1. Jim Grey says:

    A very good bit of self-advice.

    Mine to my 10-year-old self would be, in a nutshell: I know you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere, and that it’s lonely. But trust me, there’s a world out there shaped to fit you, and you will find it, and you will find a great sense of belonging through it. Meanwhile, double down on all of your weird hobbies, because they bring you legitimate joy today. Bonus: thanks to networks of computers you will find scores of other people who share your weird hobbies, and you will find great joy in those relationships.

    I wouldn’t warn the kid about his first wife. Some lessons just have to be learned the hard way.


    • N.S. Palmer says:

      Good thoughts. Sometimes, the world that fits and the people who “get” us just take a while to find. We need patience. As Valentine Michael Smith says in Stranger in a Strange Land, “waiting is.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. J P says:

    Excellent advice. Mine would be “Please please please don’t make major life decisions mainly to please the adults in your life. Following your own instincts will bring you so much more happiness fulfillment.”


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