25 at 25

I turned 25 this week. Here are 25 things I’ve learned in the past 25 years.

  1. Good things often don’t just happen, you have to work to make them happen. Doing this work is okay, expected, and honestly more rewarding than letting things “just happen” to you.
  2. On the corollary, when things do “just happen”, they’re often bad things – the world tends toward entropy. Expect this, accept this, and brush it off – don’t let the world drive you crazy.
  3. Small, consistent effort is the secret to getting things done. The dopamine won’t be there to reward you along the way, so it’s tough to get going. Working on something a little bit each day will look smaller than you hope in the short-term, but will end up bigger than you think in the long term.
  4. Focus more on improving local community. Trying to reason about global community is overwhelming since global community is often uncontrollable by any individual.
  5. Local community can often happen on the internet, too!
  6. Invest in the things that make you happy, even if those investments aren’t prudent.
  7. Time is a resource. If you’re a budgeting kind of person, think about how you’d budget your time. It might be worth it to track your time to make sure you’re spending it where you think you are (or where you want to be spending it)—it’s been worth it for me.
  8. Invest in things that make your work take less time. Reducing friction makes things exponentially easier and reduces mental hurdles needed to do those things.
  9. Kindness always takes work and is usually worth it.
  10. Writing is amazing. It helps you think through problems. It acts as a time capsule for ideas or observations. It lets you offload things from your brain. Write more—you never have to do anything with it if you don’t want to, but it’ll still be valuable.
  11. From Justin: It feels really good to correct people when they say something wrong, but unless it’s going to cause meaningful problems down the line, don’t do it. You don’t want to be, like, the guy who jumps in and tells someone that they messed up. Take a breath, acknowledge the wrongness internally, and let them keep going.
  12. If you’re born with or otherwise acquire advantages or privileges, that’s not your opportunity to sit back and enjoy a smoother life. Take that extra time, extra energy, extra mental space and learn about the struggles that other people in the world (or in your local community, see above) are facing. Work on making the world better for them. In other words, the plane is depressurized and your oxygen mask is already on – that’s your opportunity to help the people next to you with theirs.
  13. Dig up curiosity within yourself. The world is made up of systems: systems of technology, systems of people, etc. To whatever extent you can, find the drive to figure out how those systems work. It’ll help you figure out what’s happening and how you can best make change.
  14. Networking (IP, DNS, HTTP, the wifi in your house) is one of those systems that you should figure out.
  15. You don’t have to be an expert to try something new out.
  16. You don’t have to always aim to improve at a skill in order to be happy doing it.
  17. Code is written for people, and software meant to be changed. Don’t get too tricky when simpler code works just fine.
  18. When you do get tricky with your code, use that trickiness to make it harder for people to make changes that will break things down the line.
  19. Sometimes when you don’t think you know much about a subject, you really just don’t know the right language to talk about that subject with others. Find the language first and see how much your understanding grows.
  20. When building a project, the code is fun, but the marketing, onboarding experience, and design is more important if you want it to be used by other people.
  21. If given the opportunity, develop environments where people can be more creative than usual.
  22. Your own enthusiasm is contagious. If you’re hyped about something, you can get other people hyped about it too.
  23. The details are more intricate than you expect, and they need more attention than you’ll expect to need to give them.
  24. It’s hard to be an authority in a field that focuses on one topic, because there will be so many other people looking into that same thing from different angles. Instead, work to be an authority on the combination of two different things. The combinatoric possibilities are much more vast, and there will be a lot more room in that field for you to explore, grow, and learn.
  25. Don’t carry too much stuff in a backpack at one time. (The exception: when backpacking)

Who am I?
I'm James Little, a software engineer and design enthusiast based in Boston, MA. I work at Stripe, on Stripe Terminal, and I build a search web tool called Stork Search.

Made by James Little between 2016 and 2022.