3 min read

Introducing: 40 for 40

In honor of another trip around the sun

For the next month, I'm going to do something a little bit different. I'm turning 40 this month, and I'm not much of a birthday celebrator but a couple years ago Kevin Kelly dropped his 68 bits of unsolicited advice for his 68th birthday, and it was a great read at the time and has continued to be something I think about on occasion ever since. The idea of deliberately trying to convey the most valuable wisdom that each of us accumulate intrigued me. So I decided that because I have a birthday that ends in a 0 this year, I might as well give it a shot. Every week this month, I'm going to drop a batch of 10 bits of wisdom I've gained through the years. You'll get the first 10 next week.

For today, I want to share a bit about the process of cultivating this list, because it had some unexpected wrinkles to it... The first thing I need to say is that - shit, I shouldn't have linked to Kevin Kelly's list, because Kevin Kelly is much wiser and more interesting than I am. But, actually, that was something I had to learn to make peace with: we each (all of us) have our own list. I'm not calling mine unsolicited advice, because I'm not convinced I'd advise everyone to try and live by the wisdom that I think has worked for me.

I'm also not convinced that future Seth will agree with present Seth; that was one of the most provocative parts of compiling this list - recognizing that, had I done this at 20 or 30, there would be things on this list that would not have stood the test of time. The list does not just grow and get added to and deepened. Like a tree, it also gets pruned. 25-year-old me, for instance, was dead convinced that it was noble to pursue a life free of attachments and constraints; 40-year-old me finds that the attachments and constraints I've taken on have produced some of the most profound joy. I hope 50-year old me a) exists, and b) can look back at 40-year-old me with the same fondness & generosity that 40-year-old me has toward 25-year-old me.

(Was that a super confusing paragraph?)

Oh man, I really hope 50-year-old me isn't like Tobey Maguire

But all of that led me to consider how I wanted to organize this list. At first, I considered the obvious option: try and group it thematically (Family, Career, Friendship, etc, etc). That felt a little bit trite to me. In light of this recognition of how dynamic this list is, what I decided to do was to put these 40 items in order based on when in life this piece of wisdom solidified for me. The first batch are some bits of wisdom I gained pretty early in life, which have become pretty foundational and done quite a bit to shape my identity. I doubt the first 5 will ever find their way off of the list.Conversely, the final list are the things that have come to me more recently in life; some of them are things that I am very much still learning at a basic level. This hasn't been an exact science, but it has revealed to me that I've had some very fertile stretches, and I've had quite a few stretches of 2-3 years where I'm living off of the benefits of accumulated wisdom, trying some new things that didn't necessarily stick, and - sometimes - just acting in survival mode. I think that's just the way things go sometimes.

So, while these are somewhat chronological, I haven't listed out a specific date for each of these, and I'm not putting them into a numbered list because our minds just automatically assign that some kind of hierarchy. Yes, it's true that my earliest pieces of wisdom were all foundational, but I don't think they were the most foundational or inherently more valuable than, say, number 22 on the list.

Oh, and unlike Kevin, I'll do a little bit of explanation with each item. Look out for the first batch next week.