Charlie Stross discusses life lessons at 50

Charlie Stross just turned 50 and put up a post discussing his major life lessons, things he wished he could tell his 15 year old self, which briefly are:

  1. Don’t die.  (Try not to fail at this one as long as you can.)
  2. Idiots abound.  (And recognize that correcting them is usually not your problem.)
  3. Follow the Golden Rule.  (He prefers the negative Confucian version: “do not do unto others that which would be repugnant were it done unto you”)
    1. Charlies does have some caveats for self defense and what-not.

Check out his post for the details.

I’m not quite 50 yet (I just turned 48 a few weeks ago), but I found Charlie’s list to be reasonable, although I think trying to distill all of life’s lessons to a short list is violating Einstein’s rule that things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.  Reality is complicated, and many people are too impatient with that complexity.

Maybe that’s why at least three additional important life lessons quickly came to mind:

  1. Conventional wisdom is often wrong.  (Strikingly, this appears to include conventional wisdom among those familiar with this lesson.)
    1. Yes, I know many might see this as a detail of 2, but in my experience many smart people buy into the conventional wisdom.
  2. Most people are more concerned about your evaluation of them than they are about their evaluation of you.  This is usually true even if they are in the more powerful position.
  3. Cherish your real friends, and don’t make enemies when you don’t have to.

There are lots of others, but in the vein of prioritizing what I wish I could tell my 15 year old self, these are big ones.

What would your additions be?

13 thoughts on “Charlie Stross discusses life lessons at 50

  1. This is a fine list. I would add a bit of Feynman wisdom to it, if I could remember the exact quote. He says something quite good about dealing with impostor syndrome – you’re not obligated to live up to someone else’s expectations of you. If they have erroneous expectations, that’s their fault, not yours, so just do what you do and let the person who hired you decide if they want to keep you around or not. I wish I could recall the reference – I think it’s in Surely You’re Joking – either that or The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Number one might not be necessary. If you make it to 50 without telling your 15-year old self not to die, it was obviously not necessary to do so so far and now you can take over and tell it to your present self.


    1. Hmmm. Not sure. When I think back to my 15-year old self, I was prone to being peer pressured into doing stupid things. In many ways, I was just lucky it never resulted in a fatal stunt or debilitating addiction. And since, even assuming full determinism, any advice to my past self would alter the flow of events, it might not be good to assume that luck would repeat.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting to think of what would happen if you could change the course of events. I had a bit of Thanatos drive myself, and I too, was lucky.

        Suppose I hadn’t done those drugs? Would I have more brain cells now? That would certainly be nice. 🙂

        On the other hand, maybe I wouldn’t have driven myself into despair, dropped out of college, gone back to college with such rigor, etc. So maybe all those bad things were necessary?

        In all honesty, I wouldn’t have listened to advice. So now we’re back to determinism. Yuck.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Speaking of unconventional wisdom, I thought I’d add my own bit of relationship advice which I would tell my 15 year old self.

    Marry someone wise, experienced. This usually means older, which is very much looked down upon in our society. However, even if it pisses off everyone around you and causes immediate trouble, it’s worth it. Think, 15 Year Old Self, how refreshing it will be when you’re the one who doesn’t communicate as well, when you’re the one being asked to cuddle more! Can you imagine, 15 Year Old Self, what it’s like to argue with your partner without feeling that at any moment it’s going to end in a breakup?

    I think my 15 year old self would have flipped me off, then said, “I won’t argue with the man I love. It won’t be like that.” And I would have smirked and kept to myself: “In a few years, she’ll learn the hard way.”


    1. Yeah, I’m not sure my 15 year old self would have listened either. Some lessons have to be learned the hard way.

      Good point about life setbacks. They are painful, but many of us wouldn’t be who we are without them. I more or less like who I am today, but I’m not at all sure that would be true if my young self had gotten everything he thought he wanted.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, a belated Happy Birthday To You ‘SAP’ and yours are some good additions.

    My addition? Mean people suck – just be nice!

    (sorry, afraid bumper sticker philosophy is all I got tonight :))


  5. I’m not very comfortable with rule 2 (idiots are everywhere). If you believe that, it can lead you to behave like an ass.

    I prefer to think that those people who *seem* to be complete morons are just like me, and that I appear to be an idiot to other observers.

    It’s a kind of relativity theory, or a conservation of stupidity law. You see? I just said something totally stupid.


    1. I know where you’re coming from on rule 2, but Charlie’s caveat about Dunning-Kruger syndrome made it palatable to me. Another way to look at it, probably more zen than Charlie intended is to recognize the idiocy within ourselves (which we do have some responsibility toward correcting).

      Conservation of stupidity? Hmmm. Are you confident that the total amount of stupidity in the universe isn’t constantly increasing? 🙂


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