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The Surprising Power of the Long Game (fs.blog)
174 points by feross 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments



This article fails to wholly contextualize the reasons why some people play the short game vs the long game. There are systematic reasons why it may take significantly more effort and sacrifice to play the long game for very little real gain. For example:

Why invest in your relationship with your partner today when you can work a little bit extra in the office?

Consider the hypothetical: My partner has health issues that requires me to earn more money to support us both/cannot work. Or I need to earn more money to pay for daycare/college for my children. Or my field is very demanding and also job prospects are slim, so I need to work longer and harder than average to avoid being laid off during the next restacking.

Some more familiar hypothetical: I work at a startup and if we succeed my partner will be set for life.

Why wait to pay for a phone in cash, when you can put it on your credit card?

Consider this hypothetical: I don't have the cash, ever, but I need the phone to get a better job so I could pay off the debt I enter when investing in a phone.

Why go to the gym when you can go drinking with your friends?

Consider this hypothetical: Due to working 12/14/16 hour days normally, I can only see my friends when I go out drinking with them on certain days of the week. My job is extremely stressful and my friends are my only emotional support.

Essentially, I'm not impressed by the reasoning displayed here. It's a general advisement that does not contain enough nuance, or even the option of a more nuanced life context.

While this advice suits a minority of people who are well-off enough such that they have stable, long-term gainful employment and enough time/resources to plan their lives, I would suggest an additional nuance that there are contextual situations that justify behaviors against the traditional short term vs long term sensibilities, in the same way that there are contextual situations where getting a codebase to work should be prioritized compared to getting a codebase to function in a readable, clever, efficient, well-thought-out architecture.


The term we're looking for here is "poverty trap."

A poverty trap is a circumstance where people are forced to take a more costly short term move. The canonical example is buying a $35 pair of shoes twice a year instead of a $50 pair that might last two years.


Obligatory Terry Pratchett quote:

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”


It's a fun quote that has some truth to it, but not much more than that.


The truth of it applies to a lot of things though; if money is tight and you have to buy some quantities it means you pay more for

Toilet paper.

Paper towels.

You can’t stock up when soup is on sale. Or tuna. Or other x canned item.

Shoes, do you buy lightly used, or do you buy whatever is on clearance ?

Clothing: nothing from Walmart ever seems to fit right. Used shirts and pants always seem to fit just a little off. Is there a Burlington coat factory, or a Gabe’s, or similar near you? Maybe you can grab something cheap. If not, you may have to spend entirely too much of your paycheck to replace some pieces of clothing you probably have to have for work. (Example of this, I used to know people making barely more then minimum wage, who didn’t have a car, and had to pay way too much to keep buying cheap pants when they got holes in them so they wouldn’t lose their job ).


Yes, that is why I said it has some truth to it. Perhaps I could have been more clear in my criticism.

It is simply a very incomplete description for why some people have more wealth and income than others. It is one piece of a large and complex puzzle.


Yeap. I mainly meant it as a fun alternative to the rather more standard "Obligatory xkcd" posts :D. Also, I'm a huge fan of Terry Pratchett.


I think it pretty well encompasses all the criticism that I could levy at this artie.


Poverty traps are relevant, but they're usually more than a day's pay. The temptation to cheap out is always there, but being stuck with the bad route is mostly relevant to big-ticket items. Bigger than a cell phone, which you can get used or with a zero-interest payment plan among other options.


Well I agree but would add:

If you’re stuck in the short game poverty trap, it’s harder to even realize what your (underlying) big ticket items are.

Or to put it from another perspective: you have to be able to afford to minimalize. In the West, there are no Buddhist temples in the ghettos.


> In the West, there are no Buddhist temples in the ghettos.

Like the boiling frog, that's an attractive illustration that is literally untrue.


That was a metaphor… New Age Zen Buddhists are usually not poor, culturally not related to Asia at all and often don't realize how their practice is a refurbishment of puritan cultural origins.


Do you really think that the majority of people are living their lives in the most optimal way they possibly can? That they aren't sacrificing some amount of long-term benefits for short-term convenience?

I personally know many people, some with very tragic life stories, who find it very hard to work up the motivation to invest towards their future, precisely for the reasons given in the article. Each act in isolation seems so insignificant, and the future feels so abstract. Why bother when you can just sit on the couch and watch youtube instead.

Sure, everyone has reasons for why they ended up where they are now. Everyone has a great story to tell, for why their present circumstances aren't their fault. But ultimately, the only way they can overcome their circumstances is if they feel the motivation to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term investments. Well intentioned do-gooders telling them that their circumstances are hopeless and they are doomed, are not doing them any favors.


>> Well intentioned do-gooders telling them that their circumstances are hopeless and they are doomed, are not doing them any favors.

Of course it will do them favors. The problem is not the people, it's the system. Once people fully recognize that the system doesn't work, they might get the courage to change it. Right now nobody is trying to change the system because everyone blames themselves.


This isn't an either-or. We can work to change the system, while simultaneously doing the best we can to improve our lives, given the current system. You're doing people a huge disservice if you tell them to give up hope and do nothing with their lives until the system gets around to fixing itself.

FWIW, many people are indeed trying to change the system, and I'm fully supportive of that as well. Many Democratic front runners have called for proposals such as single payer health insurance, guaranteed employment, increased minimum wage, and other such proposals. I certainly hope they win and enact those proposals.


Have you read When Helping Hurts? It's a really good exploration of this dichotomy of blame between the people and the systems.

In truth, both are broken.


I think you've turned those "short game" situations into "long game" situations by how you've answered the questions.

In the first, working late isn't for short term gain (overtime, hitting a deadline) for its own sake, it's for a longer term (or more critical) objective: money for the partner or daycare or college. Especially the college one, setting up that money early by working overtime now means having to work and stress less when that bill arrives. It is the long game.

And you're right, as written it's not nuanced, but that's why there are questions to answer.

Why do I go out with friends every Monday/Wednesday instead of doing BJJ like I used to? Precisely the same as your answer: That's when they're available to hang out with (reliably). And yes, it's a hit to my fitness, but I haven't abandoned the gym I'm just doing it less (and not BJJ). My mental and emotional health is important, along with my physical health. So this socialization is (for me) part of my long term objectives, not just because I can.


I think you've turned those "short game" situations into "long game" situations by how you've answered the questions.

This is precisely the point I wish to make; without these nuances of understanding the tradeoffs, the article weakens its argument. While it is entirely possible for a person to prioritize short-term vs long-term in a way that isn't advantageous to themselves, the situations provided do not explicitly state the argument the author tries to make with them.


It seems like you maybe have slightly missed the point by overly focusing on the examples in the article though.


Not when the article says flat out:

> In its simplest form, the long game isn’t really debatable. Everyone agrees, for example, we should spend less than we make and invest the difference.

Which conveniently brushes aside the fact that there are good reasons not to play the long game.

Here's a very non-standard example: If I do not have nor can I afford health insurance, then I shouldn't invest the difference between expenses and wages:

As time goes on the probability that I have a bankruptcy due to medical bills approaches unity, so any money I save I will likely never get to see the results of.


Emphasis on "In its simplest form"

I read that as "in general" it is accepted that one shouldn't spend more than what one can afford. Generally on luxury. But if it's a necessary need. Then you will indeed need to make a deal with the sharks.

I'll copy paste the last paragraph:

> In everything you do, you’re either playing a short term or long term game. You can’t opt out and you can’t play a long-term game in everything, you need to pick what matters to you. But in everything you do time amplifies the difference between long and short-term games. The question you need to think about is when and where to play a long-term game.


> Consider this hypothetical: I don't have the cash, ever, but I need the phone to get a better job so I could pay off the debt I enter when investing in a phone.

Under what circumstances do you need the latest smartphone to get a job?

> Consider this hypothetical: Due to working 12/14/16 hour days normally, I can only see my friends when I go out drinking with them on certain days of the week. My job is extremely stressful and my friends are my only emotional support.

You can't function without going out drinking several times per week? I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for that.


Under what circumstances do you need the latest smartphone to get a job?

Note that the article did not mention a smartphone. The article mentioned any phone, include pay-by-minute or similar.

You can't function without going out drinking several times per week? I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for that.

Unfortunately, the stress and pressure of poverty or borderline poverty is a wonderful bed for which addiction can take place. Especially given that the culture of america promotes drinking regularly as a past time.


> Note that the article did not mention a smartphone. The article mentioned any phone, include pay-by-minute or similar.

If all you need is a commodity phone, that is quite cheap and isn't really going to impact your playing of the "long game".

> Unfortunately, the stress and pressure of poverty or borderline poverty is a wonderful bed for which addiction can take place. Especially given that the culture of america promotes drinking regularly as a past time.

So just don't engage in it? The point of this article is that through power of will you can achieve great things. You've got to actually exercise some will to do them, though.


What if they have no power of will? These things can be beat out of a person over their life experiences and genetic predispositions. If it's never been beat out of you it's easy to it on your high horse. As Werther argued in Goethe's, Sufferings of Young Werther, you wouldn't ask someone to get over cancer through power of will.


Yeah. If you are born in the slums. Your chances are ultra slim. You might as well be a chicken born in Human farms.

This is why we the lucky intellectuals who have time to discuss this over hacker news have a responsibility over those who are dealt with a really bad hand.

https://chomsky.info/19670223/

- The Responsibility of Intellectuals

- Noam Chomsky

- The New York Review of Books, February 23, 1967


A big part of whether or not people have the power of will is whether or not they grow up inculcated in the myth of will power. Asian cultures are very very good at this, for instance. The US used to be very good at it. Yes, sometimes circumstances make it difficult to develop will power. That doesn't mean those people get off the hook for trying.


A lot of businesses and banks communicate electronically with people, not just phone calls but texts and emails. A smartphone is possibly (short of using a public library) the cheapest way to get access to those sorts of things as the world becomes increasingly digitized and connected (versus having a computer that is less portable, and can't access the internet on its own without pairing with a phone or finding a public wifi hotspot or paying for a separate internet connection, assuming you have a stable home to establish that in).


Totally. That's why I said 'latest' smartphone. You can get lower end smartphones for a pretty reasonable price.


So I'm not a homeless person nor have I ever experienced it. But there are various homeless sites I've seen across the internet.

The general recommendations I've seen are:

1. Get a good smartphone, its required to get a job these days.

2. Get a gym membership so you can get a place to shower and look good for your potential jobs.

But smartphones are consistently on the recommendation lists for the homeless. Its not a secret, its their life. People in poverty already know the importance of smartphones.

In my experience: its more useful to ask questions from people actually living in homeless / poverty conditions. They tend to know more about homelessness / poverty than people who have never experienced it. In general: people who are on poverty websites / homelessness websites are incredibly resourceful and understand how to play the long game very well.

--------

In any case, short-game vs long-game is a basic issue that's understood at all levels of wealth. Some people are just bad at playing the long game.

But in any case, a good phone, with up-to-date internet access to keep connected to today's workforce is ABSOLUTELY necessary, even at the lowest levels of poverty (ie: homelessness) in today's culture.


I don't think I disagreed with any of that.


Consider the hypothetical: My partner has health issues that requires me to earn more money to support us both/cannot work. ... I work at a startup and if we succeed my partner will be set for life.

That sounds like a risky tradeoff -- if you're taking a paycut in return for some possible future return, you're essentially gambling, since no matter how hard you work, you have limited power to affect the outcome. The company may succeed and ear you a lot of money... or it may fail due to market forces outside of its control.

I work for a startup (though it's late stage enough that they pay market salary), but my partner works at a more traditional job.


The problem with your hypotheticals is that for most people who would claim that they apply to them, it would be safe to bet that they have reversed cause and effect.

For example multiple longitudinal studies have found that alcoholics usually begin to drink heavily, then develop life problems, then revise their memories and remember it as they developed life problems before they started to drink. Therefore if you talk to alcoholics, they will usually claim that they were driven to drink. They aren't exactly lying - this is how they remember it. But that usually isn't what happened.


Seems like you're getting lost in the details, and missing the overall point they were trying to convey...


> Essentially, I'm not impressed by the reasoning displayed here.

Agreed, the examples aren‘t perfect. But what I liked about the article was it’s intended interoperability and non-specifics.

It thus clarifies it’s main statements (for me at least):

- starting the long game appears never as worthwhile as keep playing the short game

- but playing long, compounds day by day

- but sadly, playing short does so too

Other commenters already mentioned it: those are the same mechanics of the poverty trap


The last paragraph:

> In everything you do, you’re either playing a short term or long term game. You can’t opt out and you can’t play a long-term game in everything, you need to pick what matters to you. But in everything you do time amplifies the difference between long and short-term games. The question you need to think about is when and where to play a long-term game. A good place to start is with things that compound: knowledge, relationships, and finances.

And if you have played the short game for awhile already. Then the choice of short vs long is now harder as you point out.

Lifestyle is big factor, imo. There is a lot of things people pay for nowadays that isn't "a must". Especially paying tons of money for a wedding (I never understood why people would go thru all that hassle, but I do appreciate the beauty in it, but too extravagant I think). Paying tons of money for a wedding ring that you would likely drop in a sink or misplace anyway. Any tons more.


Your hypothetical situations are fair, but the author never said that no-one should ever play the short game. They are simply highlighting the (possibly) under-appreciated power of the long-game, and encouraging people to try and favor it more when they can.


I agree that the long game is under-appreciated but an article that does not appropriately address the nuances of the reasons for its under-appreciation is not really useful or wise.


Well, o-wise one. Maybe for you. But for a non-wise pleb like me. I think this article is really great for introducing the indentifiers "short-game" and "long-game" to me. I think it's a great way to describe this concept.


> Why wait to pay for a phone in cash, when you can put it on your credit card?

> Consider this hypothetical: I don't have the cash, ever, but I need the phone to get a better job so I could pay off the debt I enter when investing in a phone.

Companies don't want them green bubbles too?


Yeah, perhaps rather than privation, a better middle ground would that laid out by the epicurean philosophy.


There are always exceptions to the rule


I find it fascinating that most of the comments below are critical of the article. Sure, I also agree that delayed gratification pushed to the extreme (e.g. never spending ANY money and never enjoying oneself) is just as bad as playing the short term (spending it all right away), but I think the real focal point of the article is the accumulation concept. A lifetime's worth of actions will compound more and more until deciding to change one's habits and reverse the consequences of those actions will get more and more costly (in terms of money, time and effort).

Personal example: I'm an aspiring hobbyist composer. Over the years, I've consistently tried to look for "quick" ways to learn composition, ignoring all the boring hard stuff. Relying on common patterns, guides and other "cheatsheets" to getting a good sounding tune. the result? I don't have any deep understanding of what I'm doing, nor can I really stretch myself beyond the cheat sheets and guides that I follow. Recently, I've been reversing course and starting from the basics and going into detail on the fundamentals of music theory. It's painful, it's boring, it's tedious, but I know that in the long term it will pay off a lot more. Just my 2 cents.


I think the overall negativity is that the article is simplistic.

Everything has opportunity costs. For every lament about "I should have worked more on this long term project instead of going out with friends", there is a "I wish I hadn't spent every moment working on a long term goal, and spent more time with my kids"

The real answer is finding the balance. You are going to be unhappy if you neglect your short term goals just as much as if you neglect your long term ones.

This is most important lesson I have learned as an adult. If you are always working for the future, you will never enjoy the present, because the future never actually arrives. If you ignore your future for your present, the future will be here before you know it.

You need to build a sustainable pace - the now has to be enjoyable, because that is all you have, but the future has to be prepared for, because the future will be now before you know it.


I'm also a musician. I play about once a week, and never for a lot of folks.

But it's amazing to me how much I've learned over the last 20 odd years just doing a little bit every day.

If it helps, the more you know, the funner it gets, at least for me. It's gotten continuously less boring the more I figure out.


The biggest thing to remember about any long game is to adjust for survivorship bias, literally. It's really compelling to write the story of the 90-year-old who had a blissful retirement with lots of money, friends and success. That misses the person who scrimped and saved and was frugal to play the long game, and who died of cancer (genetic predisposition, not linked to unhealthy living) at age 55. That person would have been much better off to play the short game. Sure, ideally, playing the long game is fun, and you get both current and future benefit. But we also live in the now, and the thing I regret most is being frugal, focusing on my career, and not going on the month-long Galapagos cruise with my dad. I missed out on that, and I can't ever get it back, no matter how much money I have in my bank account at age 75.


I spent my 20s going to parties and djing. I entered my 30s bankrupt but I have absolutely no regrets. I had amazing experiences that I wouldn’t change for the world.

Who gives a fuck if I have a million dollars when I retire. There’s no amount of money at 70 that will buy me the experience of djing for a crowd of 3000 people or diving off of a cliff in Nicaragua. You have to live while you’re young.

I’m never going to look back at my life and regret that I didn’t live it.


Nor do you want to work when your old (most people in most jobs). Balance is key.


This whole article rests on the premise "The longer you play the long game, the easier it is to play and the greater the rewards."

This is a version of the "time diversification fallacy" in finance.

The debate over time diversification has been longrunning and remains unresolved. However, there is little empirical evidence to support the claim that time moderates the risks inherent in risky assets. In actuality, a longer investment horizon increases the magnitude of potential outcomes, both negative and positive. That being said, other factors may warrant the consideration of an investment time horizon in the asset-allocation process. [1]

Also, the article suggests "doing what everyone else is doing pretty much ensures that you’re going to be average." Math check. In the case of the stock market, the "average" return of the S&P 500 index outperforms 95% of active managers' returns. Turns out ensembling informed opinions is a pretty powerful tool. Who would have thought?

[1] conclusion of https://www.vanguard.com/pdf/icrtd.pdf?2210045172


The "easier it is to play" part is seems quite true, from a psychological perspective. If one has built up a strong habit of carefully managing your finances and not spending too much, then that is what you are likely to keep doing (in general).

The "greater rewards part" looks to me like a reference to compounding results, which I don't think is very controversial. I don't know much about time diversification, but it looks interesting. I'll have to read more about it sometime.


Lol. The article is about humans not assets.


You can turn just about any short game into a long game and any long game into a short one. Just apply the same thoughts and strategies to the short game as you would to the long one.

Those MIT guys who turned blackjack into a business is a great example of the former, and amateur day trading is a great example of the latter.

It's not what you do, it's how and why you're doing them.


The most overlooked idea is that the long game can be fun too. Think of it this way: you either play the short game every day and have fun... or you invest a small number of days into learning to have fun from the long game. Then playing it every day will give you just as much fun and make you better off. The initial investment is much smaller than you think, e.g. a month after starting strength training at age 28 I was hooked on it and haven't stopped in 7 years.


I played the long game for the past 8 years. I worked on my first project for 3 years, it was a failure. I worked on my second project for 5 years, I still can't earn a regular salary from it.

I worked insanely hard for 8 years; most nights after work and almost all my weekends. I can't say that the long 'game' works. It really doesn't feel like a game anymore though.

Most successful people I've met play the short game. People like to play the short game because it works.


Sorry if this is blunt, but playing the long game still requires that you take into account common fallacies, like sunk cost. Maybe successful people who played the short game did so because they skipped from opportunity to opportunity once they realized their investment wasn't going to be worth it in the long run.


But what is the difference between sunk cost and necessary persistence?

Sometimes it's not obvious at all. There are many cases of people who were failing for decades but they persisted and then out of nowhere they got their big break. There are also many cases (probably even more of them) where people persisted but went nowhere. It's only sunk cost in hindsight.


All fair enough but I'd just like to point out that some people discover that the long game is not going to pay out for them. It's really horrid, I know people don't like to hear it, but I had two close friends die in their late 20's. Both had been good, saved, worked... both saw no return at all on that delayed gratification.

Live! At least a little. Life can be short.


Ditto. Had a boss drop dead at 42 of a heart attack. Seemed like a shitty card to get after spending most of his adult life in a cubicle.


I find it works best if 'the long game' has short term appeal --

1. i.e. exercising in a way I find fun (jujitsu, dancing, swimming) 2. plan going out in a way that develops my social skills 3. save money but buy nice things that have low amortized cost (quality clothing, vacations, a computer that works...) 4. I think there's also value in making mistakes


There has to be a better mental model than a game to represent the benefits of long term thinking / delayed gratification. For me, I look at as nudging my timeline by a minute fraction of a degree each time I do something that feels unnatural / like a chore, but that I know is beneficial in the long run. Hundreds of such small adjustments over the years result in major course corrections...

I'm sure other mental models are possible.

Edit: Forgot another point: the further away in space/time an effect of your actions is, the weaker its emotional response in you. You can motivate yourself to act by finding strategies to amplify that response. To me, it is what sets us apart from animals, who operate mostly in the here-and-now.


And the mistake a lot of people make is thinking that the long game is always dull and boring, while the short game is fun and exciting. But that's not at all necessarily true. The long game can be just as fun as the short game.

You can either choose to do things that'll make you happy now, but also in the future (like exersize or working on a coding project), or you can do things that make you happy only now (like playing a video game).


>You can either choose to do things that'll make you happy now, but also in the future (like exersize or working on a coding project), or you can do things that make you happy only now (like playing a video game).

That's an obvious choice. But things like "exersize" are not things that make most people happy "now". They are things they have to force themselves to perform (at least initially).


The trick is it can be very hard to predict what will make you happy in the future.


Well, some things, like better health, are no brainers...


Also, certian financial decisions,like saving money to minimize college debt. (although i wonder how possible that would be in the US).


Short article touting the idea of "delayed gratification" and "will power" in order to satisfy your future self. What is interesting is how possibly counter-intuitive the gratification equation is. It's fun to think about the compounding effect of both strategies suggested in the article. If the "short-game" is repeated doesn't it become your "long-game" strategy?


It was a nice read, but the article is clearly biased. It just says "suffer a bit today to have nicer tomorrow", but when you play the long game, tomorrow will be the same as today. You suffered yesterday, you suffer today, you will suffer tomorrow, but for how long? No one guarantees that after years of suffering you'll reach your desired goal. The question is, with the life being so short, is it worth playing the long goal or should you just enjoy your life and party till sunrise while you still can?


The long game requires planning and goals, like any project.

No one guarantees that after years of suffering you'll reach your desired goal

This is flippant, but intended to be helpful: There are no guarantees. Each person has to use their own judgement on what's likely to happen in X amount of time, and then re-adjust on a regular basis.

This is true for the short or the long game, it's just the distance to the horizon that's different.


Because 'playing today' is money now, 'studying' is investment for an unknown return.

Some people play the long game and it never pays off.

Kind of a wasted life then, no?

The issue is to try to understand the risks, and know what activities benefit whom. If you like working, and derive self worth and identity from it then great. If you don't ... it might be hard to justify working 80 hours a week until you're 65 to do what exactly?


There are other angles to this. For example, I am a luxury spender. Travel, cars, nice place to live all are high (but affordable) expenses for me that frugal people would definitely judge me for. However, I find the luxuries of life and being able to share them one of my day to day motivations to keeps me working hard. I also believe my work is broadly beneficial for humanity, but I need a fair bit of local luxuries to keep the day to day motivated. If I died with a little in the bank, a nice life, and a minor (or major) contribution to humanity I'd be fine. Most of the actual millionaires I know have major expenses in their life and they enjoy working. They aren't these bizarre penny pinching, retire at 40 types that seem to pervade financial blogs. But to each their own.

Edit: as a counterpoint to my own -- ulta-frugalness may be a completely necessary strategy for anyone but high net worth/high pay individuals need to survive an environment that is cutting entitlements and shows increased long term employment risk.


The teacher example is an extreme version of the long game. There is a middle path - where you focus on investing, invest in your health, treat your job less as a job and more as a career.


Well, let's see... After a career of 35 years she had 6 millions. Did she save 171k a year off her teacher salary? "They didn't throw anything away" said the lawyer. I'm not sure how a school teacher who makes 50k a year will save 170k a year by not "throw away anything".

Or maybe... She got lucky with some investments, maybe real estate. That reminds me all the stories of engineers who retire early by "saving instead of spending" that start by "I got 500k from stocks when the startup I worked for got bought out".

Sure, saving every year and investing instead of buying everything credit is a good thing, just like avoid to sink all your savings + 25 years mortgage when you buy a house, and many Americans especially need to be reminded that. But showing a lady who end up with 6M "just by playing the long game" sounds a lot like the old Adam Smith/American dream bullshit. "If you work hard and save, one day you'll be a millionaire". That's bullshit. You can't become a millionaire just by saving your blue collar salary (or school teacher salary) and saving up instead of overspending.


> "If you work hard and save, one day you'll be a millionaire"

I've always been surprised how much traction this saying gets. If you look around, not only is it untrue, it's actually the opposite. The hardest, most boring, most unpleasant jobs are generally the lowest paid: custodian, service industry, tellers, cashiers, csr's, etc. The most fun, desirable and easiest jobs are generally the higher paying ones: management, tech, academia, etc. Optimizing life for hard work is misguided and reaps only coincidental benefits. It's more directly about value, moving up the value chain, which generally ends up reducing "hardness".


Academia is high paying? I made more as an undergrad intern than as a postdoc with an Ivy League PhD.


My buddy is a prof in finance with summers off, light weekly schedules, and generally the most relaxed lifestyle around, and he makes more per hour than a wall street hotshot (because they work many more hours). He's in a lucrative department (finance) but my understanding was that other disciplines are not far off. From what I've seen, finance prof may be the single best job in the world.


There's a lot more to it than that. They are hard and easy in different ways.

For one thing, your hardest examples are easy to learn and execute. The barrier to entry is low and a lot of people can do it. Not so much with tech, for example. There's a lot of work you have to put in before anyone is going to pay you and you may be breaking new ground. The ongoing work is often very hard, very complex and not fun.


Sure, but what's "harder", slogging mindlessly 8 hours a day dealing with the public for 10 years, or hanging out in a cafe with buddies memorizing text books for 5 years, then coming in at 11am and playing ping pong building software for 5 years?


Management may be high paying, but it's often not fun or easy. Though it may be one of the easier careers to "fail up" in.


There is an obvious flaw in your math. You are completely discounting investment returns. You don't have to "get lucky" to multiply your money over 35 years.

Ignoring inflation for the moment, if you invest $1750/month and the stock market returns 10%, after 35 years, you'll have roughly $6 million. So that means the teacher only needed to save $21k each year, and dump into index funds.

(The pre-inflation annualized return for the S&P 500 from 1980 to 2015 was 12.97% - if you use that for your assumptions, you only need to invest $875/month or $10,500 each year. Obviously after 35 years, that money will have lost some steam due to inflation, but it will have grown a ridiculous amount).

Footnote: The "retired teacher" article didn't seem to mention investments, beyond a few savings bonds and calling it a "portfolio", - or the actual time span of saving money. Just that she "worked" for 35 years.


You’re right that is is optimistic—and totally ignores the fact that you probably don’t just want to hit an arbitrary target with your bank balance; you’ve got to live for those 35 years too.

However, the numbers aren’t totally bonkers. Suppose she invested $15,000 saved from her first year, which would be hard but not totally impossible on a teacher’s salary.

If that makes 7 percent per year for 35 years, it will be worth about $160,000 at retirement. That’s just for the first year. Money earned and invested the next year will earn a bit less, though with raises, etc, perhaps she could invest a bit more....


Your argument is well-intentioned, but there is no way a first-year teacher could save $15,000, unless they lived at home. (or were already wealthy) The latest data I could find (2010) shows that even the highest-earning first year teachers only earned $39,259.

The perverse reality for many professions is that, when you are youngest and best able to take advantage of the magic of compound interest, you are barely paid enough to survive independently. After paying for loans to cover college and graduate school, a public school teacher would be lucky to save $15,000 a year 10 years after starting their career.

https://work.chron.com/annual-salary-firstyear-teacher-5573....


> highest-earning first year teachers only earned $39,259

Appendix A [1] contains the salary schedule for Chicago Public Schools, which shows that in the current school year a first-year teacher ("step 1") with a bachelor's degree ("lane 1") earns between $57,000 and $69,000 per year, depending on the length of the school year in the particular school they are appointed to. A master's degree ("lane 2") bumps the pay by somewhere in the range of $4,000-5,000.

Being a coach on the sports team earns an additional $26.21 per hour of coaching, participating in after-school non-coaching, non-instructional activities earns $40.90 per hour, and after-school instructional activities earn $47.62 per hour.

It appears as though a teacher could add $5,000 or more per year with only an hour of extra time per school day.

If a teacher wanted to be frugal and save money, it surely appears possible.

[1] https://www.ctunet.com/for-members/2015-19-contract


People certainly live on $25,000/year--ask a grad student. Actually, the median household income is a bit over $50k (~$57k, I think), but many households include more than one earner, so there are a lot of people getting by on about that.

It would not be particularly pleasant, but as I said, it would be hard (possibly hard enough to merit a newspaper article), but not impossible.


this still comes down to the reasoning if suffering "for the long game" is worth it in such a case, especially with growing inequality?

Why would i skim off all money in the first 10 years of my working life if i know the pie gets bigger, but my share as a working class person is getting smaller and smaller?


It says here that her brother was a financial whiz http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-simsbury-milliona... He left millions too..


the teacher example is a total embarrassment! that lady was straight up lucky, the article linked to doesnt say she was an amazing saver it says that she was a messy hoarder who happened to come from a rich family that meant that the trash she didnt tidy up was worth lots of money.

Also it looks like half or more of th emoney cam from a relative that happeded to move in with her yeaars before dying.

the lady got given a house to live in for free and had no requirement for money.

This article can be summed up as: long term efforts chipping away at something can ALSO pay off.

I am yet to see a success story that is not heavily leaning on situation or luck. our system is simply not fair and i really tire of bullshit like this trying to pretend that it has some purpose or value beyond exploitation.


Where do you cross the line between delayed gratification and the deferred life plan? Is there an article about that?


The article makes excellent points.

But at the head of its concluding list, "A good place to start is with things that compound: knowledge, relationships, and finances.", should be an altogether more important item -- health.

Without your health, all the money, knowledge, and relationships in the world will amount to little.

And health is the ultimate long game, literally playing in ltiile bits today for the ultimate goal of a long healthspan and long lifespan.

And, considering that virtually every study points to a single factor as being as close to a magic elixir as we get -- exercise . . .


Health is the ultimate wealth. Thanks for inspiring me to put something in the bank here.


Could this be why our politics are so messed up?

When you're only worried about being re-elected in 4 years, there's zero pay off to playing the long game. The only thing that matters is the short game. Yet as citizens we need governments who will eat their proverbial veggies and show up to the proverbial gym every day.

(Btw this applies to the whole political spectrum, so don't go thinking that because you're right/left wing you're superior to the other.)

I don't have a solution to this. Obviously we don't want people leading the country for life (those tend to become tyrants and dictators).

But if the negative effects of the short game are so obvious on a personal level, extrapolate that to entire nations and the world as a whole.

Climate change? No one in charge when it matters will be around when we pay the price. Long game issue.

National debt? We're so in debt already, what's wrong with a little more? Long game issue.

Education? Please, it takes 20 damn years before the kids show up for work. Long game issue.

Poverty? Even Jesus didn't think we could solve that one. Long game issue.

Healthcare? Why should I take the political risk today when most of my consituents won't get sick until I'm gone? Long game.

Etc.


You too could die with riches in your accounts if you act like Kathleen Magowan. Get a CFO executive dad, inherit a house from your parents and live in it without modification, live frugally, work every day, never have a partner or children, get a financially savvy sibling to invest for you.

She seems like a nice lady, I think its good to be sensible but having a family, spending some money to enjoy life while you're here is a better strategy imo.

http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-simsbury-milliona...


I chose the family life, but the family life did not choose me.


but having a family.... to enjoy life

YMMV


You can't choose the family you have, but you can choose the family you make.


Not if certain parties have their way.


Work hard/easy, instead of easy/hard, is how another person puts it. Do the hard work first, then enjoy the easier later.

I am wondering if the definition of "The American Dream" hasn't significantly morphed over the decades (I am a US citizen), arguably for the worse.


Or optimize and do the hard work now and then the hard work later, and never do the easy work. Why do easy work when you should just be doing more hard work? This is how capitalism will look at your situation. Its a system optimized so you never get to do the easy work. The problem is you eventually burn out, get depressed and don't know why are you working so hard anymore...


Depending on whether someone tends to be more of a planner or more impulsive, the long game may or may not fit.

As I tend to be more impulsive, I find pursuing the long game to be a grind.

I follow my interests for the most part, at the expense of maybe not maximizing my wealth.


There is a social cost to the long game, particularly in institutions (including educational ones, ironically) - you can end up in a tiny minority, without support, once you have something to show.


This author read and summarized The Slight Edge.




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