What To Do When You Are 20 Years Old

The Japanese have a saying: “Be youthful in youth.”

It applies if you are anywhere close to 20 and ambitious / adventurous / restless / mature / self-reliant / alive.

Here’s what it means:

  1. Enjoy life. Have fun. Laugh. Do the things that you enjoy. And do them a lot. “Follow your bliss.” (Joseph Campbell) remains the greatest advice ever given.
  2. Take risks. Following your bliss usually means not following the prescribed path. You will have to get off the typical path. That is scary. It means dropping out of things that almost everyone else is doing, to do things that almost no one is doing.
  3. Travel. Aside from the next item on this list, nothing feels more like living than traveling. Ask anyone who has travelled.
  4. Fall in love. If you find someone that you are in love with, and they are in love with you… congratulations! Lucky you. And, if you have found someone that you are deeply in love with, and they are deeply in love with you, marry them. Soon.

Here’s what the saying does NOT mean:

  1. Be stupid. Stupidity is stupid. (It’s right there in the word!)
  2. Waste money. Why are so many people so bad with money? I don’t get it. Work hard, hoard your money, then travel.
  3. Do drugs. Life is too short to do drugs. True story: If you think drugs are cool, it is because you have seen movies where drugs are portrayed positively—where they are associated with fun, romance, adventure, money. You have been told to believe drugs are cool, and you have swallowed the lie. This has been proven repeatedly for cigarettes and alcohol and fame. And it is true for drugs. Media is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, influences. “Men are infinitely malleable.” (George Orwell, 1984) At least question what media tells you to believe.
  4. Get drunk. I have a theory that there are only two reasons people drink: 1) They are an alcoholic. 2) To conform. Both are tragic.

Here are some common arguments for drinking… and why they are useless arguments:

I like the way it tastes.

No you don’t. No one likes the way beer or wine tastes the first time they drink it. (I, and others, claim that no one likes the taste of wine at any time. It is dry and bitter. Liking wine is a classic case of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Did you know that for hundreds of years humans used “mumia”—powder made from human corpses—as medicine? Yeah. Not everything that we believe is good, is good.) And if it was hard to swallow at first, then the only way to like the taste is to “acquire a taste for it”. Well, in Cambodia they eat tarantulas. And enjoy them. Does that mean tarantula are tasty? No, it means that humans are infinitely malleable.

If you like the way dessert wines or sugared alcohol tastes, of course you do. You’re drinking sugar. Why drink “fortified” sugar at all… unless you’re either 1) an alcoholic, or 2) conforming?

I like the way it makes me feel.

Uh, isn’t that called being an alcoholic? If you can’t be yourself without drinking, who are you? If feeling good, or not feeling bad, is the goal… I hear cocaine or heroin or meth make you feel really good. There are other, more effective, more fulfilling ways to feel good than intoxication. The incomparable Joseph Campbell also said: “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”

It helps me relax.

See the previous point. Alcohol is not the only way, or the best way, to relax. And, is getting buzzed or drunk the same as relaxing?

I like to party/have a good time.

Then go have a good time. Do something you will be proud of later. Drinking fluids is not an accomplishment. Newborn babies can drink fluids. Accepting “partying” as a synonym for “drinking” is accepting the two reasons people drink. Think about it.

It makes me more creative.

There are other ways to tap into your right brain than by killing it.

Although I have thoroughly countered any argument in favor of alcohol, I must end with three points:

  1. Many master thinkers and writers that I admire gave alcohol a lot of the credit for their work: Christopher Hitchens, Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson.
  2. Life is painful. What else are you gonna do but drink sometimes? (Probably buy things you don’t need.) “Wine [is] a constant proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” (Benjamin Franklin)
  3. The pressure to drink is enormous. More powerful than most everyone I know. Including myself. When I hang with a group of guys, and every one of them is drinking beer, I keenly feel the unspoken, suffocating pressure to fit in.

But forget what the saying does not mean. Here is all you really want to do anyways:

  1. Enjoy life.
  2. Take risks.
  3. Travel.
  4. Fall in love.

I suppose those are great things to do at any age. But the Japanese have a saying:

“Be youthful in youth.”


Further reading (in recommended order):


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