There’s this thing people say: “if the 16 year old version of me saw this they’d kick my ass.” It always seems to show up around matters of responsibility, compromise, maturity, finances or anything we’d have once labeled “adult.”

I think the underpinning assumptions of this quip are so baseless as to deserve reconsideration. Namely, who gives a fuck what a 16 year old cares about anything? [For this, see whatever pseudo-strawman age we come up with to denigrate ourselves against.]

As we get older, we’re made aware of three inalterable truths about our existences. That there is a objective reality outside ourselves. Then there is what we want this reality to be. And that these two facts overlap less often than we’d like and more often than we probably deserve. The longer you’ve meditated on this, the wiser you are.

Yet, here we are comparing ourselves to a child in order to judge the rightness or wrongness of decisions we make about our lives.

It might feel like there is some refreshing certainty in ignorance but it is a chimera. Ignore for a second what you remember yourself as at [any age] and hold in your mind what the average representative of that group is like. Chances are you were much closer to the latter than the former. (Have you talked to a 16 year old recently? That’s who you think knows what’s important?)

The key is to hold yourself against something who has more of a sense of the world, not less—or worse, someone who doesn’t know it at all. To consider it from the perspective of a man. Notice how we never seem to say: what would 40 year old me think of this? And naturally, it’d be better to take ourselves out of the equation entirely, find someone who surpasses us, and ask how they would feel.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.