Browsing the net the other day, I came across a list of "The 20 things I wish someone had told me when I was 20".
The author was an American "spirituality expert", so many of the items were suspiciously familiar ("Love your parents") or crushingly banal ("Consider the other side of the story.") There was the newsflash of the century ("You can say no to sexual contact") and the curious juxtaposition of "Seize any (safe) opportunity to journey to a new place" with a photo of a young female hitchhiker in short shorts.
And there was this: "God gave you a spirit that speaks to you from that spot deep down in your core. You can feel it give you a stinging 'fzzz' when you shouldn't be somewhere and a feel-good 'lalala' when you're in a very good place." Who needs a mind when you've got a sort of psychic smoke alarm?
Of course, the exercise is flawed because 20-year-olds are programmed to ignore advice, especially from anyone whose age and experience qualifies them to dispense it.
As well, figuring things out, making our own decisions and taking responsibility for our actions are part and parcel of what psychotherapists call "personal growth".
But mindful of the saying that "those who can do; those who can't criticise", I decided to give it a go. Here, in no particular order, are 20 things I wish someone had told me when I was 20.
1. Instead of talking about buying a section on Waiheke Island, as you and your mates do after a few rough reds, you should just do it.
2. Men aren't from Mars and women aren't from Venus: we're all from Planet Earth. Technically speaking, females aren't a different species. Even the really pretty ones.
3. Never buy a brand new car. Never buy a Swedish car unless it's a Volvo.
4. Nothing is ever quite as good or quite as bad as it seems.
5. New Zealand won't always be like this.
6. The road of excess doesn't lead to the palace of wisdom.
7. Life is too short to drink really cheap wine. But only a fool or a poser takes the quality over quantity rule to extremes, for instance spending hundreds of dollars on a single bottle of Grange Hermitage when they could get a case of only marginally inferior shiraz for the same outlay.
8. There is such a thing as a free lunch, but only if you keep changing jobs and phone numbers.
9. When people tell you something is "out of this world", take it with a grain of salt. Most of the things other people rave about are over-rated. And of all the over-rated things in the world, the most over-rated is cocaine.
10. When travelling in Europe and faced with the choice of going to another art gallery or museum or having lunch in that nice little bistro you passed a few minutes ago, always opt for the lunch. Chances are you'll remember it long after the museums and galleries are just a blur.
11. Only a philistine believes that when you've seen one church or chateau, you've seen them all. But ... when you've seen one, you've seen quite a lot.
12. There is nothing picturesque about poverty.
13. Many things that seem permanent almost to the point of being the way of the world - the Berlin Wall, apartheid, having to bowl with a straight arm in cricket - aren't.
14. Never wait by the phone. If they want you, they'll get hold of you; if they don't want you, the phone won't ring.
15. Pay no attention to anti-sport wowsers or people who treat sport as a matter of life and death. Sport matters, but only for a very short time.
16. If come 1987 you happen to own shares, sell them all before October 19.
17. Life is a long haul. It might take you many years to find your niche. And if you find yourself at 30 or 35 thinking that you're entirely fulfilled, chances are you'll be having a re-think somewhere down the track.
18. The term "homo sapiens" is a misnomer. Even though we are the most highly evolved species, a remarkable number of human beings are credulous, superstitious, irrational or happy to ignore evidence that undermines their particular brand of dogma. And then there are the idiots.
19. When someone tells you they're going to make a movie of one of your novels, they're either lying or deluded. If you meet them in a cafe or restaurant, make sure it's on them.
20. You're not as objectionable as I'd been led to believe.