Monday, April 27, 2015

Happy 21st South Africa

Happy 21st birthday South Africa. Watching a country heal and become something better is a slow process. I have always liked the idea of aligning the anniversaries of the first democratic elections with the birthdays of a person. Being the case, the country has reached adulthood. I say that tentatively since most of my friends and I were still very, very silly when we were 21. We had a great time though.

In the insurance world, there is a thing called the Accident Hump. The first couple of years of your life are very dangerous. Then as you get past that, the main thing that increases your risk of dying is getting older. Sorry, nothing you can do about that. But then, between the ages of 18 and 25-35 there is a thing called the accident hump. It is particularly pronounced in men. This is an age when we are learning to drink(,) and drive. We jump off rocks. We say offensive stuff to other accident humpers in bars. We break stuff. We build stuff. We test stuff. We learn.

In a big part, we start to figure out who we are, and doing that is dangerous. Women seem to find out who they are without quite so many tears. Fortunately glass ceilings are breaking and more women are coming into power. Khaleesi is coming to Westeros.

It is traditional to give some advice to a 21 year old. Advice is always difficult since it is so specific to your own story. Austin Kleon suggests that all advice is autobiographical. So here are my three pieces of advice. Feel free to add yours in the comments.

1. Don't fret so much about defining your own identity, the world is bigger than you.

You don't have all the information at your hands to make a perfect decision. You will learn stuff only by doing. That doesn't mean you shouldn't think through actions, but if you follow two rules '1) Be interested in other people, and 2) Don't be a dick.', you should be fine. What you do will define you, but you are only a little part of the big picture and the big picture is what really defines you. By showing interest in others, you are finding out more about yourself. By not being a dick, you are treating yourself well.

2. Don't overreact to stuff that goes wrong, people are resilient, and we learn.

People struggle to look beyond the next three to five years. Three years goes by in a blink, but the next three years seem to drive all our decisions. We react to stories, particularly scary ones, and we aren't that good at taking stock. Realise this, and before you panic, pause. Whatever goes wrong, there is a way to move forward. Don't let the crazies distract you. The people who add the most often aren't making a lot of noise.

3. Take a step back and enjoy right now.

It isn't all about progress. At some point you need to savour the good stuff. Some of your happiest moments will be when you aren't worrying about what has happened, and you aren't thinking about the future. Take time for yourself. Take time for the ones you love. Love widely.

Happy 21st birthday South Africa!

Some naughty schoolboys at my 21st

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