I recently spoke at the WSJ Europe CEO conference, and within days a clip from my talk was viewed 7 million times on TikTok. Rewarding, as Elon Musk had spoken earlier in the day and received … fewer. Yes, I’m petty that way.
Anyway, the gist of the clip was that young people’s time spent outside of the house is a forward-looking indicator of their success. I received a ton of feedback, mostly correlated to age. People my age agreed, and younger people felt my comments failed to read the room (i.e., how the world has changed).
I believe your 20s are for making money, establishing relationships, and getting in shape — finance, fellowship, and fitness. It’s true that some variation of these objectives can be accomplished online. However — as with sex and concerts — the in-person experience is better and yields greater returns. In sum, get out of the house.
One piece of feedback that resonated is everything has become so expensive that it makes sense to spend more time at home. Half of Americans spend more than a third of their household income on rent, transportation has skyrocketed, and incomes are not keeping up: Over the past sixty years, income has increased only 15% after inflation. However, the anger (I believe) is tied to relativity. Specifically, relative to older generations, the young haven’t shared in the immense prosperity the nation has registered over the past several decades. Yeah, their life is better in many ways, but when it’s much better for an older generation, who keep voting to give themselves more money … young adults get justifiably pissed off. One of my TikTok critics put it perfectly: “It’s expensive to not be at home.” Think about this: A generation believes, and not without some reason, they can’t afford to leave the house. In America we have mistaken prosperity for progress.
A hundred years ago the greatest threat to young people in America was scarcity. We’ve come a long way since then. Food insecurity has reached record lows; so has child poverty. Now threats stem from abundance. Among children, 1 in 5 are obese, up fourfold from 1965. Extreme wealth inequality has hamstrung access to economic security — the older generation has become twice as wealthy in the past three decades, and young people have witnessed their wealth get cut in half.
Prosperity, distributed inequitably, has made us less happy, as many young people turn to online, lower-risk means of pursuing dopamine. Young adults’ loneliness rates have increased every year since 1976. In the past decade, teen depression rates have doubled. One-third of Americans report having fewer than three close friends (up from 16% in 1990), and 12% say they have no close friends at all. As reported by the U.S. Surgeon General: Loneliness is a national epidemic. I also wrote about it here.
No single thing caused our loneliness crisis, and there is no one remedy. However, stepping outside is a step in the right direction. Being outside offers a wealth of positive benefits: It lowers blood pressure and heart rate, enhances immune function, and decreases the likelihood of diabetes and cardiovascular mortality. Exposure to sunlight increases testosterone levels in men, while trips to the park improve health outcomes and create resilience in children who’ve experienced trauma, abuse, and poverty. Spending two hours per week outside has been shown to significantly increase health and happiness. Some doctors prescribe time spent in nature. The Swedes have a word for this, friluftsliv, “living close to nature,” and they offer tax breaks for companies with policies that encourage it. The biggest threat to this lifestyle? The crowding out of the outside world by our devices, consumed mostly in the inside world.
Meeting strangers and experiencing novel environments is fundamental to human growth. Our podcast producer, Caroline, said this week that she’s cultivating a practice of “say yes to everything.” I love this. The comfortable and the familiar are the harbingers of weakness and fear. Without rejection and awkwardness, you won’t experience victory or true satisfaction … that you’ve achieved something. Greatness is in the agency of others, as is true reward.
A common saying in my youth: “Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.” This was mostly true, as the “after” part usually involved (more) alcohol and chasing a high and an environment that peaked at midnight. The chase, if repeated too often, can begin to impair your ability to register progress during the day, which is key to your success at night. Simply put … it’s all about what you do during the day. I believe this should be modified for a post-Covid world to “it’s all about what you do outside of the home.” The point of differentiation between those making a living and those having a significant impact will, I believe, be a function of their success in the physical presence of others.
The American Dream/Dystopia
The American Dream used to be buying a home. The new American reality is never leaving it, as it costs so much to get into that many don’t feel they have the disposable income to venture outside. Accounting for inflation, house prices have risen 118% in the past 60 years. When I was a kid, the median home cost just over 2x median income. By the time I graduated from business school in the 1990s, it was nearly 3.5x, and now it’s well over 4x. More people are renting, and rents are going up.
Spending outrageous amounts on housing levies additional costs on your well-being, because you stop … living. This is all part of a dangerous trend in America: an economy increasingly built on scarcity that benefits the incumbents — the old and financially secure. Limiting freshman college seats, housing permits, and new customers sends the value of existing degree holders, houses, and Big Tech shares soaring. We need legislation that creates a torrent of housing permits, reverses the flow of capital and opportunity back to young people, and pursues antitrust enforcement. But I digress.
Second Place & Sloppy
Going on to the second place and being more forthright with your emotions are asset classes that are oversold. Similar to Florida real estate in 2010, they offer huge returns. After brunch/CrossFit/writing class, walk around or grab coffee. Organize a backyard BBQ or beers on the roof. Also, when any positive feeling or thought strikes you, emote it. Tell your friends you hope you’ll be friends for life; tell people you are attracted to them; laugh out loud and touch people. We are emotional, physical beings — to not express our emotions in person, through shared experiences, is to be less human. Less alive.
We are a social species — a million years of evolution have made us most comfortable in small groups of other humans, telling stories and challenging one another. That’s not to say we should make a prison of our instincts; nature makes us crave salt and fat, too. Nor does this mean excluding digital contact. I celebrate that my father can see his grandkids on FaceTime, and I’ve recorded podcasts from Tokyo, Osaka, Riyadh, San Diego, Seattle, Austin, New York, and London … in the past month. You’re reading or listening to this thanks to online media, and it was TikTok that brought a message to 7 million people and catalyzed a dialogue.
For most uber-successful people, however, online activity is leverage for relationships and achievements established in person. The only way you will be loved by others, get to love them, and live a life you do not deserve is to take uncomfortable risks. Today the risks are mundane but offer greater returns. Say yes, go to the second place, and be promiscuous when it comes to expressing your regard, interest, and love for others. You will experience disappointment, sore muscles, hangovers, and awkward moments. And looking back, you will regret none of it. Say yes.
Life is so rich,
P.S. Section is launching five new business bootcamps in fall 2023. Each is limited to 100 people, so join the waitlist now to secure your spot:
- Vet Your Business Idea Bootcamp
- Launch Your Solopreneur Business Bootcamp
- Grow Your Small Business Bootcamp
- Marketing Mini-MBA
- AI for Business Bootcamp
P.P.S. This week on the Prof G Pod, I spoke with author Ryan Holiday about parenting and how to practice patience, rethink outsized reactions, and teach discipline.