Original question from Quora:

What are the most common life mistakes young people make?

My Answer:

Young people, and maybe a lot of older people too, make two kinds of related mistakes.

The first mistake is that young people don’t put in the time to get really good at something. I don’t mean just the ability to do it. I mean, to become world class at something. To get a real mastery.

In many ways, the educational model that children are forced into misses out on a lot of practical aspects of learning and instead focuses on classroom only learning situations. Compare that to 100 or 200 years ago where most people learned skills through apprenticeship situations in a very hands-on environment.

When you are learning a skill by doing a skill, it is completely different than learning about a skill by reading or researching the skill.

Consequently, many young people don’t have the practice of putting in the time to practice. That is hurting their lives in so many ways.

In life, you are most often rewarded by the value you bring to the table. That could be in who you know, what you do, or what you know. Those are all skills that require practice to become truly valuable.

You want to get ahead? Put in the time to practice something for years.

For me, I practiced writing software back in junior high when I had nobody to teach me. I had books. I wanted to build software, so I created my own projects and then built them.

I built games, I built websites, I had this ridiculous 5 minute long cinematic website opening that was like the movie The Matrix. It was wild. Flash was so much fun back then.

When the other kids were out drinking and getting in trouble in high school, I was learning my craft. Same deal in college, though I wasn’t focused on class, I was focused on code. That practice paid off very well for me.

The second thing young people don’t seem to understand is the value of reading. Reading is the most valuable skill in the world. If you love to read, you can learn anything and possibly do just about anything.

If you stop reading, you stop learning. If you stop learning, you become less valuable over time.

I’ve been a bookworm since I was in elementary school. Yes, I’m nerdy, but it’s who I am.

Anyhow, I noticed something about the kids who always got the highest standardized test scores. The ones who score highest are the best readers.

I took classes with the smartest kids and I would say that most of the top 5% or 10% had similar intellect or capability, but some kids got like a 24 on the ACT, some got a 27, and only a couple of us got over 30 on the ACT.

Those of us who scored over 30 on the ACT (or really high on the SAT) were the ones who read big books all the time. They weren’t often school related or particularly high minded. They were sci-fi and fantasy novels.

It didn’t matter. The kids who churned through those books did far better than the rest of the students who took the same classes. The higher the ACT score, the more scholarship offers you got.

The people who loved to read didn’t have to pay for college. That’s a pretty big advantage, but they earned it.

To me, continued learning goes hand in hand with the love of reading and so many people just don’t have that love of learning new things all the time. They think they can stay the same and get rewarded for that.

So first, get out there and practice something until you are world class good at it. It can be balancing spoons on your nose. I don’t care. That’s not the point. The point is to practice practicing.

Second, fall in love with books. They are cheap, fun, and they make you more valuable. As long as you can read you can learn something new. As long as you can learn something new you can practice new skills. As long as you can master new skills, you will always be able to create value in this world for other people.


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