Every Prediction from My Teenage Years Turned Out Wrong
Or why I distrust the conventional wisdom
Almost every good decision I’ve made in my life ran counter to the conventional wisdom.
That includes marrying a woman I hardly knew at the time. It’s hard to say who was more horrified, my mother or Tara’s mother, but both of them were unhappy campers on our wedding day. My mother even hid under the table at the reception every time the photographer tried to take her photo—her stylish way of expressing a negative verdict on the nuptials. (But, hey, we’re still happily married more than 30 years later.)
Or consider my habit of repeatedly leaving high-paying jobs for lower-paying opportunities—even, at one stage, taking a 90% pay cut voluntarily. And, of course, I’m still living with the consequences of tying my own prospects to jazz music, the proverbial soundtrack to unemployment (in the words of Frank Zappa).
All those decisions worked out for the better.
Those are just the personal examples from my private life. But hardly a day passes when I don’t move in direct opposition to expert advice. By any measure, I would be described as a contrarian. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I often try to convince others to pursue a similar strategy, maintaining a healthy distance from groupthink and accepted truths.
“Almost everything I was told about the future when I was a teenager failed to happen. In most instances, the exact opposite took place.”
But what evidence can I offer in defense of going against the crowd? There’s actually quite a bit of research to document this. But the simplest way is to list the conventional wisdom when I was a teenager, circa the mid-1970s.
You can decide how correct the crowd was back then.
THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM WHEN TED WAS A TEEN (EARLY AND MID 1970S)
Here’s the conventional wisdom when I was a teenager:
(1) The biggest global threat of my lifetime would be the Soviet Union: Everybody absolutely knew this was true—they didn’t even argue about it. The US-Soviet conflict was in the news every day, and served as the undercurrent of virtually every political discussion.
In all fairness, there were some serious thinkers who didn’t see the USSR as a threat (more of an opportunity), but even they believed that the very existence of the Soviet Union was the most inescapable and irrefutable political fact of modern life. For those true believers, it was just a matter of time before we all followed in its footsteps—Marx had actually proven that scientifically, they claimed. So I’m not exaggerating when I say that the entire public discourse of the day was driven by the US-Soviet conflict, which would loom over our entire lifetime.
What was the reality: The Soviet Union disappeared, without a war or even a battle. It doesn’t even exist nowadays.
Let’s continue with some more surefire predictions from that era…