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How to Be Successful (samaltman.com)
894 points by sama 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 299 comments

It's also very successful, if you have built a stable business and a way of supporting yourself and a few others around you. Being successful doesn't always mean having a 1BN valuation. But sure, it's nice to think that one day, it could happen. I'm just grateful every day that what I've got now - stability and plenty of resources - was a result of pretty much what Sam said. Believing in ourselves and not giving up, and building something meaningful to others that isn't easily duplicated. Sometimes I feel that's not enough, here on this site, but it is. The business I have right now: it just can't get that big, the wider market doesn't need what I make. But I love what I do and I have insane amounts of freedom and to my friends, I'm wildly successful. I'm reminded by that each time I know I'm doing well enough to live the life I wanted, and can support my family. That's success, too.

It's also very successful if you were a stay home parent and your kids were able to succeed thanks to your efforts.

Absolutely. There are a range of definitions for successful, but I think in many ways it's best left as "in the eye of the beholder", in the sense that it's about achieving your own personal threshold. If you build a way of life that is sustainable for yourself and provides you with personal and psychological stability for you and your dependents, and if you feel at least reasonably fulfilled in this, you can call yourself successful.

If you don't think you're doing what you should be, or think you could be doing So Much More, or that you have wasted potential, then maybe you're not successful yet, even if you're doing better on paper than some people who do view themselves as such.

I have a great many friends that do not have the kind of money and opportunities I have simply due to my choice in a software career path.

Even a boring thankless job for me is where many of my peers dream they could be.

Given how many marriages end up in divorce, and how many more must stick together but create a hostile environment for children, avoiding that should be seen as an achievement too.

tell that to my exwife

As a force multiplier have a stable business that supports you but doesn't take all of your time can be huge. It allows you to take risks that others won't.

That said, there is something to having risks be actual risks. A friend of mine who has been much more successful than I have decided to take out a huge second mortgage on his house to start his own business (at the time it was an ISP and he spent nearly all of the money he pulled out on building out his data center and network). I advised him against it, after all if it failed he would lose his house. But his response was sobering, it was "Chuck, I need to know that if I fail I'll lose my house to keep my feet to the fire of not failing." Gutsy? Stupid? He made it work and is "retired" to his own boutique winery. Would I be as impressed if he had failed? I suppose it would depend on what he did after he got through that.

This motivation is real. I never worked harder than in the first 3 years of my bootstrapped business, when finance was precarious.

I didn't face any big financial loss, I had no mortgage, debt or capital requirements in the business. Just my own living expenses.

But I really, really, really didn't want to fail. That would mean moving back in with my parents and getting a job.

It really worked. If I had had enough money that I could have been in modest comfort indefinitely, I don't think I would have gotten off the ground.

I see a lot of people who would like to start a business. And they make some efforts here and there. But they have a decently comfy life, and they don't seem to have that drive that motivates you through the tedium, the tiny initial results, the lag between effort and something tangible. I consider it a virtual guarantee of failure.

Decades ago, I heard a [possibly apocryphal] story that was already decades old about an encounter between a man famous for his vast wealth (I can't remember who, Carnegie, Morgan, Rockefeller..?) and a fan. A man recognized the rich guy on the street and approached him. "Are you <whoever>?" Yes. "Tell me, what does it really feel like to have so much money?"

"Young man, I could probably ask you the same question." The young man looked puzzled. The rich man continued, "Do you feel as though you have enough money?" "Well, sure, I suppose, but it would be great to have more."

"How does it feel--feeling that you have enough money and more would be a luxury? I've never once felt that way, so I can't stop until I feel that way, too."

Devoting your life to getting above some very high percentile in money is not the best use of your only life for most people, in my opinion, but as long as they're not stealing it, it's okay with me if others want that for themselves (and I don't feel entitled to a share of it.) I think we all should take seriously the responsibility to support ourselves and to help others who can't, but beyond that, there are countless forms of success that are as worthy as "owning lots of valuable things".

Sounds like something Getty actually would have said.

Yep I agree, the meaning of success is very subjective. Imho success shouldn't be numbered in $ or PhDs.

I've met simple people, with not much money or education, although they are successful to me cause they managed to create a nice family and have a happy life. Something that usually its hard for people working towards their careers 24/7.

Hesiod once wrote 'Moderation in all things'. That personally is my moto. I don't have to have done something that is out of this world to be successful. I can be successful enough by valuing my own time, raising my kids in a proper manner and generally being happy. If I am happy, I am successful.

Simply living a stable family life is father along than most people ever achieve.

I agree, some of the advice feels more like ‘How to be a better high risk vc startup founder’ vs ‘How to be a better 1M/yr “lifestyle” business founder’.

Eventually if you want to scale yourself in the exponentiation formula you become a vc, vs grist for the founder mill.

You only have so many 1% 5 year adventure chances to do a startup before you find your 50 and dont have much to show for your life.

how many people would you say try and fail 50 times? of course, failure can be defined in many ways. But I wouldn't think you end up in a bad place without having learnt a lot.

Let us say you start at 20 and end at 50, you only have 6 'startup adventure' chances that can work their way through.

If each have a %1 chance of success, it's very likely that the 6 adventure person wouldn't have much to show at the end of it.

Ending up an equivalent of mr. bullet ball is horrifying: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leHwNiXgnh0

Because of survivorship bias, you usually never hear about these people.

Many people also try only 1 or 2 adventures, and if unsuccessful go into normal employment. But you jump off the 'potential exponentiation train' that sama describes by doing that, and you've lost out on 5-10 years of potential compound savings growth, which for many who can work at FANG instead means a million or two.

You also get to learn a lot and do fun stuff at FAANG employers too.

Agree. The title hurts discussion and I think it could be less clickbaity and a bit more accurate to topic.

The topic is more about attributes of people who do large scale endeavors. Success should not be used in this context.

You hit the nail on the head. Success is most definitely not measured by how many steaks you've in the freezer as opposed to the next "less" or "more" successful guy. From what I can glean about your post, your aim was to be -content- more than -successful-, and from what you've said, it seems like you are (e.g. you speak of more life balance)

Notorious B.I.G. - may he rest in peace, has a great song which IMHO is pure wisdom when it comes to money - "Mo' money, mo' problems"

So be -content- with what you have. And being content is an art form - easier said than done.

I was expecting to read: "know yourself and know that you want" as there are, as you point out, many definitions of success.

I could not agree more. In fact I said the same thing to a post on HN not a month ago: why are people aiming to be the 1% in their careers or markets when just being great at what you do, and for enough people, will bring happiness and joy for all involved.

I clicked on this expecting to hate-read it and then post something snarky, but it's actually pretty reasonable, assuming you read the title as "How To Be Sucessful In Business"

With that said I think it's missing a hugely important area -- which is mental and emotional health.

One of the things I've noticed in friends who have incredible business success, and have noticed in myself during periods of greatest productivity, is that successful people are able to keep their emotional state in check.

They don't get rolled easily by criticism or praise, they don't get dragged into short term thinking or fake crisis, and they don't let an emotional state push them into saying or doing something that they'll regret, or will blow up a relationship, or give away info in a negotiation.

I think it's up in the top 3-4 attributes of those who are able to fit the description described in the article.

I think you're right.

The first big step in Emotional Intelligence is being able to understand and regulate your own emotions, and it's the first step for a reason.

Kids who passed the famous marshmallow test (were able to resist the impulse to eat the marshmallow when unsupervised) were far more successful in later life

I have two brothers who occasionally get very angry, cut off relationships on whims and sabotage themselves through acts of defiance and misplaced protest, and neither of them is very 'successful' (however you define it). There is definitely a link.


Unfortunately the marshmallow test as a predictor of later success is debunked. It's part of the replication crisis in psychology. Half of the psychology we learned may be wrong. People just aren't that straightforward.


The 'replicators' here are assuming humans are blank slates even though the best evidence is concienciousness is 40-60% heritable.

We also know people with high time preference/ delayed gratification are wealthier.

So now - what is controlling for parental wealth doing? It's removing this genetic component.

Social science is confounded by genetics all the time, once you start to look for it.

> I have two brothers who occasionally get very angry, cut off relationships on whims and sabotage themselves through acts of defiance and misplaced protest, and neither of them is very 'successful'

On the other hand, becoming the POTUS is presumed to be the definition of "successful" (cf some comments on here yesterday) and Trump is all of those ^ things and more.

It's hard to be sure if he is that way, or if he plays the role because he learned that it gives him an advantage at this point.

I think the preceding 50 years of him in the public eye gives us a pretty good handle on who he is as a person. I would venture he's not playing a role.

I'm not successful, but my strategy for getting there is specific....

-- never put yourself in the position to go bankrupt

-- stay in the game - keep your overheads down to the minimum practical for you

-- learn to program so you can implement your own ideas without need for a cofounder or need to pay for anything more than hosting and a domain

-- just keep banging out your ideas into products until one catches on.

-- try to bootstrap and if possible avoid raising capital - it's too distracting and costly and dilutes your time massively

-- do your very best to avoid employing anyone until you really can't avoid it

-- don't get a cofounder if you can possibly avoid it - it can lead to arguments and business failure... if you really need help, bootstrap till you can employ someone

-- repeat until success or giving up, not because you're forced to stop

Forgot where I read this but the article said that you'd better pick the options that have the most probability of high returns. A way to save energy. I'm naturally drawn to hard and long and get stuck and exhausted.

By and large, this is the same algorithm I use. I've really only deviated on one point.

That said, I'd add to this the idea of thinking in terms of "Return on Capital Invested" where your time and effort are a from of Capital. IOW, it's important (IMO) to figure out how to direct your attention towards the efforts that are most likely to yield the outcomes (whether financial or otherwise) that you seek. The problem, of course, is that you don't know in advance how things will play out. So you have to experiment, but once you begin an experiment the big question becomes "do I keep going on this, or redirect my effort to something else which has a higher probability of success?" (for however you define "success").

One thing worth bearing in mind when bootstrapping a company is that to be successful you just need to earn enough to cover costs and pay yourself something at the end of the day. Which is completely different to 95% of the companies you read about on here.

If you are building it on the side even just making a few hundred dollars per month is going to completely change things for you, and give you the freedom to explore more risky ideas. We may not have a universal income, but with hard work and dedication ("showing up is half the battle"), I believe anybody here could build a side business to supplement their income in a meaningful way.

> just keep banging out your ideas into products until one catches on

Good list in general. But identifying a market and seeking to serve it is a better recipe.

You still want to get stuff out there and test it rapidly. But having some idea as to whether a product will be useful is a good idea.

A more accurate title for this is "How to Be Financially Successful".

I'd love for Sam to write a post called "How to Be a Successful Human" or "How to Live a Successful Life". This more important topic has little-to-nothing to do with financial success.

I also wrote this, which I think counting reprints is my most-read blog post ever:


Re-reading this made me notice the overlap between the two posts. Most of the suggestions across both posts fall into a few common themes. I find having a shorter list of "keys to success" helps me keep them top of mind day to day. I see four main themes here across both posts:

1. Be internally driven. Gain energy by working on things you are excited about. Think independently. Don't get pushed around. Don't default to doing the same thing everyone else is doing. Don't chase status. Have almost too much self belief. You can only motivate yourself to work hard and sell your ideas to others if you genuinely believe in them and your motivation is internally driven.

2. Have clear goals. Have bold goals. Make them achievable by breaking them down by day, by week, by decade. Take advantage of compounding to make small daily accomplishments snowball to reach bold long term ambitions. Compounding works not just for financial wealth, but also for building knowledge, developing skills, relationship, and health. Taking new risks constantly will help you learn new things faster and speed up compounding in all domains. Try to create enough buffer to be able to take risks and experiment in all areas of your life.

3. Be focused and don't waste time on things that don't matter. Minimize cognitive load. Minimize personal burn rate. Being focused does not mean sacrificing exercise, eating well, and sleeping. Most people would gain by spending more time thinking about which critical priorities to focus on. Start by killing the most obvious bad uses of time like TV and twitter.

3. Work hard. Whether your goals are in business, family, fitness, or altruism, working hard at something that naturally excites you is not only easier than working half-heartedly on things you hate, but is also the only way to achieve your goals. Working hard goes beyond putting in hours - it also means being willful, pushing through rejection, being persistent to bend the world to your will. Being a doer not a talker is just the first step.

4. Surround yourself with smart ambitious people who may join your team, teach you something, energize you and give you ideas. Invest in relationships by putting others first: be quick to do favors, don't judge too quickly, be forgiving, do not burn bridges, pause to think before acting especially if you're angry, be nice to everyone including strangers.

These lists are always the same and never say anything new. Work hard, have goals, be focused, etc etc. No fucking shit. Everyone has heard this stuff X1000. The problem is, you can read the same shit again and again, but if you're not that way from the beginning, reading the same crap isn't suddenly going to change you.

Most people who are mega driven are that way because of their birth parents and childhood. If you were born into a crap family who didn't encourage you, by the time you're 18, it's radically harder to change, no matter how many billionaires come along and say "hard luck chum, just work harder and set some goals."

I agree a tough background makes it a lot harder. But I don't think that takes away from the fact that people find these kinds lists helpful in moving forward from their starting point. I can think of a few famous examples of people who attribute their success partly to crafting and refining their own personal guidelines. Charlie Munger of Bershire Hathaway and his "mental models". Ray Dalio of Bridgewater documents the principles that helped him in a landmark book called Principles. Now I'm curious to look up people's backgrounds to see what successful people from tough backgrounds put in their lists.

For sure, it's definitely harder - though many still succeed despite the cards stacked against them.

Do you have any alternatives or are you just venting your frustration?

> The problem is, you can read the same shit again and again, but if you're not that way from the beginning, reading the same crap isn't suddenly going to change you.

> Most people who are mega driven are that way because of their birth parents and childhood. If you were born into a crap family who didn't encourage you, by the time you're 18, it's radically harder to change

I both wholeheartedly agree with the above statements, but not necessarily the intent they seem to have.

I came from an incredibly disadvantaged background - single parent household, below the federal poverty line my entire childhood, unstable household (moved 20+ times before I turned 18, and spent several years of my childhood technically homeless and couchsurfing). I was fully self-supportive by the time I turned 17.

While I've had a lot of missteps and baggage due to my childhood, I also owe my current success and drive to it. The same coping mechanisms I developed them have served me well in my professional career:

- My brother and sister used our circumstances to give up, whereas I used them as motivation to try harder to get the hell out.

- I developed a very pragmatic and flexible mental framework. Growing up with zero power in any situation and zero support to fall back on, I learned to pragmatically accept what is while simultaneously evaluating any potential leverage points to change what is. I became incredibly effective at identifying those leverage points, and mutually-beneficial ways to exploit[1] them.

- I didn't make waves, but I learned how to ride the ones around me in ways that didn't rock others' boats. Having no resources of my own, and in some cases being wholly reliant on the benevolence of others, I intimately learned the value of introducing as little friction as possible into situations.

- I became very aware of implicit assumptions around me, and the friction and potential hardships[2][3] created by them. I make a conscious effort to address assumptions explicitly, because of that.

- Being under chronic stress for my entire childhood, I have an incredibly high tolerance for high-stress situations and how to cope with them.

Not everything that came out of my childhood was positive, but I've been able to translate much of it directly into incredibly valuable and fairly unique capabilities in a professional context, and I've made a successful career using those as a foundation. It could be argued that I may have been more successful at this point in my life if I had started on better footing, but it could have also gone the other way if I had never had the impetus to develop the internal motivation and skills/abilities I have today.

[1] I don't mean exploit with any negative/malicious intent, but exploit as in "don't waste an opportunity".

[2] I was able to get accepted to Columbia, and qualified for a free ride due to both academic and financial reasons. I passed on it because even though the school and room/board was free, I wasn't sure how I'd handle the logistics costs of moving there, summers/holidays, incidentals, etc. Turns out there are resources for these types of needs, but I didn't know that at the time and their acceptance literature didn't address it at all.

[3] To this day, I have an intense aversion to birthdays. It's incredibly common to have kid's birthdays at places which have incidental expenses for participation or admittance, such as game centers or theme/water parks. And rarely do people make it explicit on the invite what those are and if those incidentals are covered as part of their event fee or expected to be paid by the person invited. For my daughter's birthday, I always ensure and state that all activities are covered, and also explicitly state that gifts are optional, won't be opened during the party, and that they please be anonymous if anyone chooses to provide one. For most people, neither one of those parts of the invite will be very meaningful. But for some people, simply stating that can be the difference between them declining the invite outright, accepting it and it being a hardship and causing undue stress/friction for them, or accepting it and enjoying themselves. The same sorts of scenarios exist both professionally and personally, and being cognizant of them can bring a lot of success in life.

You are a wonderful person. Keep doing you :).

Either that or the people that are actually successful in life are doing something that the people here can't fathom. :)

YES, love this!

The only point that I really disagree with is that money can buy freedom. Only enlightenment brings freedom and it can't be bought. Keep up the good work!

It reads like a BuzzFeed article. Every generation has their "gurus" and judging by the comments in this thread HN has found one to hero worship.

"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do."

"On every bookstall, in every magazine, you may find works telling people how to succeed. They are books showing men how to succeed in everything; they are written by men who cannot even succeed in writing books. To begin with, of course, there is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey. Any live man has succeeded in living; any dead man may have succeeded in committing suicide. But, passing over the bad logic and bad philosophy in the phrase, we may take it, as these writers do, in the ordinary sense of success in obtaining money or worldly position. ..." - G.K. Chesterton, The Fallacy of Success

Read more - it's extremely funny and wise: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11505/11505-h/11505-h.htm#THE...

To be honest it just seems a bit like playing with words. Of course you can use "success" in sentences where it loses the meaning intended in the current context, but it seems clear to me that when someone writes "to be successful" there are implications that it means being successful on some measure that the author finds valuable or intends the reader to think valuable (in order to sell a book or something).

And of course people can argue all day about what is "being successful", since you could mostly put it as a matter of taste depending on what one finds satisfaction in, in life. It is indeed true that someone who doesn't have the same frame of reference for success as the author will have a harder time finding useful information in such a book/article, but that doesn't mean that because the measure of success can vary from person to person, it doesn't exist at all.

When such an article or book talks about that, there is a meaning behind those words that is conditioned by the cultural context in which it is used (as materialistic as it can be) and obviously this is pretty much never meant to be understood as "how to act as to be able to formulate statements that match 'I successfully did .*'", which is how this quote feels like to me...

You really should read the whole article. I definitely recognize what he talks about.

"It is perfectly obvious that in any decent occupation (such as bricklaying or writing books) there are only two ways (in any special sense) of succeeding. One is by doing very good work, the other is by cheating." (...)

"You may want to jump or to play cards; but you do not want to read wandering statements to the effect that jumping is jumping, or that games are won by winners. If these writers, for instance, said anything about success in jumping it would be something like this: "The jumper must have a clear aim before him. He must desire definitely to jump higher than the other men who are in for the same competition. He must let no feeble feelings of mercy (sneaked from the sickening Little Englanders and Pro-Boers) prevent him from trying to do his best. He must remember that a competition in jumping is distinctly competitive, and that, as Darwin has gloriously demonstrated, THE WEAKEST GO TO THE WALL." "

And the article then ends with:

"At least, let us hope that we shall all live to see these absurd books about Success covered with a proper derision and neglect. They do not teach people to be successful, but they do teach people to be snobbish; they do spread a sort of evil poetry of worldliness. The Puritans are always denouncing books that inflame lust; what shall we say of books that inflame the viler passions of avarice and pride? A hundred years ago we had the ideal of the Industrious Apprentice; boys were told that by thrift and work they would all become Lord Mayors. This was fallacious, but it was manly, and had a minimum of moral truth. In our society, temperance will not help a poor man to enrich himself, but it may help him to respect himself. Good work will not make him a rich man, but good work may make him a good workman. The Industrious Apprentice rose by virtues few and narrow indeed, but still virtues. But what shall we say of the gospel preached to the new Industrious Apprentice; the Apprentice who rises not by his virtues, but avowedly by his vices?"

As I was reading point 1 of Sam's article, Compound yourself, I was thinking, ah ok, teachers are in the wrong field evidently, for Success. They can never be exponentially increasing their force and effect in the way suggested.

Although there are people like Gilbert Strang, making his excellent courses (e.g. Linear Algebra) available online, which over a million people around the world have watched and benefited from, and helping to create a world with an amazing variety of free online course videos available in all subjects. That is success for a teacher, I suppose. And we're asked to believe (in this culture) that making a lot of money is or could be in any worthy sense a greater success..

Teachers compound society, which is extremely valuable but doesn't make them rich.

You should read the article I linked to! Sadly it was a bit too long to paste the whole thing.

When I was younger, my father gave me a thick and nauseating compendium labelled The University of Success, filled with extracts from vacuous books of the kind Chesterton talks about. I guess he thought I wasn't 'successful', and it would teach me how! By then I'd already read and got a lot from some of the useful books in the field - Awaken the Giant Within, Life 101, How to Win Friends and Influence People, The New Guide to Rational Living, Effortless Mastery, The Art of Possibility etc. For the kind of success I value most, I've been inspired for decades by, and owe the most to, writers such as Robert Fulghum, SARK, and most of all, Emerson.

Finally, a sane judgement free comment. Thank you.

"Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value." - Albert Einstein

>> "How to Live a Successful Life"

This advice need not come from a rich person.

The answer is to be surrounded with deep and valuable human relationships.

Being friendless and rich is better than being friendless and broke.

Yes! I'd say there is a little more to the "answer", but yes!

Isn't success defined by your own metrics at the end of the day? You need to choose what are the things you are willing to tolerate/live with and what is your end goal in life.

It's hard nowadays to define such thing with so much information around, moulding what a "successful" life should look like, how should it feel and where should it be lived.

It's up to us to define what we care about and how to measure our happiness.

As always, good reading material: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28257707-the-subtle-art-...

The opening two lines says that it's also about building something important, and subtly imply that's the better goal of the two.

As a non-profit founder I found the advice useful. If you think the incentives of the world are such that doing something important is basically the same goal as making money, then that's great, but I don't think so.

Financial success can at least be measured.

Being a successful human, on the other hand? Is it measured by one’s own satisfaction with life? By one’s impact on the society? By the number of offspring one produces? It’s all very confusing.

I recently discovered, which was difficult as an atheist, a huge body of work on this, under the topics "spirituality" and "philosophy". It makes so much sense now, but we've lost touch with it in our modern society. The idea of "what makes a successful human life" has been the hottest topic of written literature for all of history, it's just that we've lost a little touch it.

We can also measure people's height, yet we usually don't use it as a metric for success in life (you also don't see that many how to be tall posts).

The only difference is, the metrics I listed are all metrics of success in life (according to different viewpoints). The personal feeling of satisfaction is a metric from the viewpoint of an individualist. The impact on society is a metric from the viewpoint of a socialist (or possibly a historian). The number of offspring is reproductive success, which is all what counts from the viewpoint of an evolutionary biologist. (And of course I completely forgot to account for the viewpoint of a theologian.)

I am not sure these viewpoints are reconcilable.

As opposed to financial success.

It's likely he knows more about the former than the latter.

If you acquire a billion dollars and give 10% of that to give well, I will say you have been a successful human, since it is "only" estimated to cost 175 billion a year to end poverty in 20 years[0], which means we only need 1750 such individuals each year for 20 years to end poverty, worldwide, forever, which is a goal worthy of humanity[1].

[0] http://www.anielski.com/real-cost-eliminating-poverty/

[1] One of the goals of the UN is to end extreme poverty by 2020, a very worthy goal, but this is going one step beyond that and ending global poverty, in all its forms, forever.

This post embodies everything I dislike about success fluff. I look up to people I admire - Tesla, Nick Drake, Mingus, My highschool Chemistry teacher - they meet maybe 0-3 of the list. Creation of value is such a delicate thing, we should not flatten it that way.

As a side effect, if we widen our view of success, there will be more place up in the 99.9%...

FWIW, here’s a success/failure/success sandwich...

My dad is extremely successful in his field of expertise, one of the top experts in the world, but he hasn’t been able to turn that into financial success for his family. At the same time, he’s an incredible husband and father.

In many ways he’s inspirational, a great source of wisdom and a role model for me. If he was able to turn his talents into wealth it would have acted as a multiplier for him, his family and those around him.

Looking at his bank balance, he’s a total failure. But knowing him, and the person he is, how dependable, persistent and stoic he is, he embodies a lot of what I think leads to success in the broader sense.

[edit] a word

I think one of the problems with trying to understand how to achieve success is that by referencing the successful we often are dealing with outliers and not rules. I think this is why a lot of people here like seeing startup failure blogs instead of startup success blogs. So much survivorship bias.

I hear this a lot, but I’m not convinced there aren’t enough successful people to learn from. There are probably tens of thousands of “self made” multimillionaires. Surely there are patterns.

I don't know much about Nick Drake, why do you admire him?

You don't want to be in a career where people who have been doing it for two years can be as effective as people who have been doing it for twenty—your rate of learning should always be high.

I'm having trouble reconciling this point. How can you continuously increase your effectiveness exponentially in a particular role? Take being a developer for example. Seems like the progression of skill is usually linear (with some variability). Is Sam saying that investing in becoming a great engineer ins't effective if your ultimate goal is to be extremely successful? I feel like this is overly reductionist. Maybe being an engineer for your entire career isn't going to lead to that massive success, but spending part of your career cultivating that skill does provide indirect benefits that can help you become super successful. For example, being able to rapidly prototype an MVP when you are testing product ideas. Building a business is the high-leverage action that could lead to massive success, but the years you spent cultivating your technical ability could be what enabled you to be able to build the MVP in the first place. Or maybe it allowed you to recognize good technical talent if your first engineering hires. I think exclusively focusing on tasks that provide orders of magnitude improvement is too direct and superficial of an answer. I'd be interested in hearing people's thoughts.

I think the "career" you're talking about is entrepreneur, built upon the "skill" of programmer. On the other hand, if your "career" is programmer, you're limited by salary, and competing (largely) on skill, which a talented recent graduate could beat you at. If your "career" is entrepreneur, then you get a bunch of multipliers (as Sam calls them) which make your core skills more valuable.

For example, 10 years into your career as an entrepreneur, you'll have a network (and possibly financial assets, and possibly an existing successful business, plus vague intangibles like 'wisdom' and industry insight) which all lets you be vastly more effective than someone who is equally skilled but still in their first couple years.

I don't think Sam is telling you not to build any particular skill, but rather to put yourself on a path where, 10 years down the line, you'll be able to use those skills in a way that other folks can't compete with, thanks to the other assets/resources/multipliers you've built up for yourself, and the fact that you're playing in an area where there is a) the potential for scale and b) you own the upside if it works.

Caveat: I have no idea, just my interpretation of the article.

I'd probably argue that in the majority of cases, technical abilities tend to grow exponentially at the start, and sub-linearly after a point. I've worked with a whole lot of people who have been software developers for a long time, but a given a fresh grad and a couple years experience, the fresh grad would be caught up.

For me, I've put a lot of effort into both breadth and depth, and that's where, for me, a (maybe not exponential but) super-linear growth comes from. When you dive deep on a broad set of topics, you start seeing relationships between them that others don't see. But that takes a lot of dedication to diving into a diverse set of things, and go deep on it.

This quote actually captures the sort of issue/gripe I have with being a developer (let's say you don't ascend high into management) for the rest of your career. No matter how good you are, you still have to write individual lines of code out, one-by-one. You'd be a glorified factory worker, albeit a very efficient one (years of experience would make your solution more efficient and architecturally sound from the get go).

Not to mention some very keen, obsessed younger developer could easily replicate what you're doing.

All such articles should be preceded by huge blink tags with 'Warning: survivorship bias ahead'.

I think 99% of the time bringing up survivorship bias adds nothing to the conversation. If I tell you how I ran a marathon, you could shout "survivorship bias!" But that fact still stands that I hadn't successfully run a marathon before I did those things.

It's not meant to add to the conversation, it's meant to get people to shut up about giving advice on becoming successful.

There's no trick to it, you need to work and get lucky. Emphasis on the getting lucky. We don't need 1,000 thinkpieces from people who are already successful.

Give me an article from a person who can reflect on why they're not successful. That will be more interesting any day of the week.

> That will be more interesting any day of the week.

I doubt it. I'm not successful because I haven't even put in the work these articles lay out. And I definitely haven't gotten lucky. I assume millions of dollars definitely won't come my way until I at least do the part of the equation in my control.

Doesn't sound like a very interesting article to me.

> There's no trick to it, you need to work and get lucky. Emphasis on the getting lucky.

Pretty much everyone gets lucky eventually though. You might never hit a home run, but if you go to bat enough times then sooner or later you're going to get hit by the ball and walked to first.

The thing is running a marathon isn't that hard and there's little to no luck involved. By following a rigid plan most people can do it in about a year. Millions of people do it every year.

However if you followed all of Sam's advice to the letter you could remain relatively unsuccessful despite all that advice. That's what survivorship bias is about: there's a significant luck component to success.

It would be warranted if you explained how to run a marathon the same way people explain how to be successful. Which you probably wouldn't.

> If I tell you how I ran a marathon, you could shout "survivorship bias!" But that fact still stands that I hadn't successfully run a marathon before I did those things.

Well, yeah, the whole point is that we don't know how many people did those same things and then failed to complete a marathon.

No, it is to distinguish activities that worked versus activities that are inconsequential. That way you can identify how to get the most bang for your time and energy.

This isn't an article about how sama was successful. It's an articler about traits sama--a person who spends most of his time observing people succeed or fail at business--has observed more common in people successful at business.

He's in a much better position than most any of us to avoid survivorship bias in this. I see people once their business succeeds. He's there observing people early on, so he gets to witness both the successes and the failures.

loser mentality

No, just a scientist mentality.

#2: Have almost too much self-belief. Self-confidence has been something I've struggled with my entire life, to the point where its crippled my career growth as a developer. I've been told that I'm a good developer, but if I only believed in myself I could go a lot further and become truly great. However, it's hard for me to believe in myself when I don't have a lot of data points to prove that I AM competent and capable. Over the past 3 years of working full-time yes I've accomplished some things, but none of them were truly difficult or ground breaking. I'm always pushing myself harder to learn more and get better, but it never feels like its having enough impact on me actually growing. So if all I have are at best average/mediocre accomplishments, how do I convince myself that no, I AM great, that I CAN do this? I feel like if I start having a lot of self-belief it'll just become a lie that will blind me from my weaknesses and cause me to stop growing.

> Over the past 3 years of working full-time yes I've accomplished some things, but none of them were truly difficult or ground breaking.

3 years? Fuck. It sounds like you're on track for a long and successful career. Not everyone peaks early. Give yourself a break, spend a little more time networking and a little less time on your hard skills and you'll probably find greater opportunities for ground breaking things through relationships than through your skills.

I hear you.

I've been trying to find solutions myself - I'm trying to use some strategies listed in this book: The inner game of tennis, by Timothy Galloway, and I'm seeing positive results so far. He talks about 2 versions of self: self1 - the doer and self2 - the judgemental self, which is constantly evaluating self1, and adversely affect self1's potential. He has some useful suggestions on how to limit the impact of self2, and I found those pretty helpful so far.

If there's a common pattern of anxiety or lack of concentration in life, then it may be worth it to go to a family doctor or therapist to talk about it. This isn't an easy black-and-white decision to make either. It may take months or even years of self-reflection to come to terms with that, and even more time to work up the courage to seek help for something so ambivalent.

It's hard to be your successful when you're not the best version of yourself.

Hmm, your post made me think of machine learning somehow, because a life does seem like finding a good place in a maze/forest/mountain to me. Do you want to reach the absolute highest (i.e. global maxima)? I can tell you that it might be impossible, because you might have landed at a bad starting point! Some people try that anyway, but I found that's not really my style. Instead, I try to reach some local maxima and be happy about it (depending on your situation or upbringing). It's quite doable. Every day you nudge yourself to a slightly better point that is reachable. Sometimes you want to choose a steeper slope which is harder but also gains a lot. Rinse and repeat. It won't get you to some remote place like Mt. Everest, but hey, a nearby hill can be still pretty good! What's important is that you get an actionable plan instead of a vague and seemingly unachievable goal. Here's my favorite quote which put it quite nicely:

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. - Theodore Roosevelt

"it never feels like its having enough impact on me actually growing"

Then you aren't outside your comfort zone enough because when you are, there will be NO DOUBT you've grown.

Do you know what the difference between a shitty golfer (like me) and a slightly better golfer (like my brother) is? Maybe 25 rounds of golf per year. If I played 25 MORE rounds of golf, I could beat him solidly.

Do you know what the difference between say Tiger woods and the very best Amateur golfer in the world is? A thousand rounds of golf. Ten thousand?

Point 1: Down here in the land of the unwashed masses of basically average developers like you and I, you can make noticeable strides by just consistently working a little harder. You can make leaps and bounds by consistently working A LOT HARDER.

Point 2: Once you start advancing past people, it gets harder and harder to advance past people. There's only so much room at the top, in every possible hierarchy. Check out some Jordan Peterson on Competence Hierarchy.

And I guess....

Point 3: The only real way to be successful is to be comfortable in your own body. I have some bad news for you buddy, this part of the article is complete horse shit.

"The most successful people I know believe in themselves almost to the point of delusion. Cultivate this early. As you get more data points that your judgment is good and you can consistently deliver results, trust yourself more."

Cultivate what early? Delusion? Self confidence? \eyeroll

Success means actually liking yourself and nothing more. Some people call this CONFIDENCE. Same exact thing.

How do you become confident? Achieve. How do you achieve? Apply your knowledge. How do you get knowledge? FAIL AT THINGS How do you fail at things? Try new things.

By the way "success" is such a stupid word. I have worked very, very closely with someone who has $100M in the bank. I was his computer guy for all his properties around the world and guess what? He's jealous of another guy we know with $1B in the bank.

Success != Money Confidence != Money

Success == Confidence

OH and guess what shows up when you have confidence?

Only everything you want.

You need objective metrics of two kinds: absolute and relative.

Relative metrics will show if you really are better than most other people. Absolute ones will show whether or not you can, in fact, do X to some standard.

I do not suffer from Imposter Syndrome. That's why. I find measures that show me what I can do, and to heck with all the sturm and drang from most people.

OMG, you've been working for 3 whole years and haven't done anything ground-breaking?! Seriously though, maybe you aren't 'great', whatever that means exactly, and I doubt it's necessary for you to believe that, whether it's true or not.

You might find (books like) Albert Ellis' New Guide to Rational Living useful - I did! It's about observing and recording your recurring thoughts, particularly ones that make you feel bad, and replacing them with more accurate, helpful ones - stopping the self-sabotage. It's amazing how mean we can be to ourselves without noticing. We're trained to be nice to others, without including ourselves in that. I used to do a lot of extremely negative, paralyzing self-talk - saying nasty things to myself I'd never dream of laying on someone else; sounds like you do this too, maybe. This falls under "How to love yourself", something I had to learn to do. Louise Hay has a great 12-point list of things under that heading, stuff like "Treat yourself like you'd treat someone you really love." Then as you get older, you realize you aren't so terrible, and others aren't so great..

I think 'self-belief' comes naturally with untangling that stuff, and otherwise isn't always a good sign, e.g.

"Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world; they rely altogether on a few cynical maxims which are not true. Once I remember walking with a prosperous publisher, who made a remark which I had often heard before; it is, indeed, almost a motto of the modern world. Yet I had heard it once too often, and I saw suddenly that there was nothing in it. The publisher said of somebody, "That man will get on; he believes in himself." ...I said to him, "Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums." He said mildly that there were a good many men after all who believed in themselves and who were not in lunatic asylums. "Yes, there are," I retorted, "and you of all men ought to know them. That drunken poet from whom you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed in himself. That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a back room, he believed in himself. If you consulted your business experience instead of your ugly individualistic philosophy, you would know that believing in himself is one of the commonest signs of a rotter. Actors who can't act believe in themselves; and debtors who won't pay. It would be much truer to say that a man will certainly fail, because he believes in himself. Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness. Believing utterly in one's self is a hysterical and superstitious belief.." - G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


I am sorry, but this list does the exact same thing that a thousand Vogue or similar magazines do for whatever topic is trending. Substitute "successful" with "sexy" or "slim" or whatever and you get the same packaging.

It does feel like shoehorning people into fitting some particular "pattern" that the author believes to be the "secret" to obtain said goal.

I always find it surprising that such short (relatively) articles, choke full of relatively difficult to apply advice gain a mass following and plenty of readers.

It does remind me of the rather stupid advice that depressed people get every day: "pull yourself up!" Amazing how we do seem to forget the complexity that riddles our minds.

> It’s not entirely clear to me why working hard has become a Bad Thing in certain parts of the US

Most people don't have any real access to capital, and most people's labor is totally alienated from its actual value. For most people, advice to "Work Hard" amounts to "Sacrifice More So Your Boss Can Get Richer".

Also, as far as "working hard", Americans are an extreme outlier: https://20somethingfinance.com/american-hours-worked-product.... Maybe if Sam is hearing pushback against "Work Hard" as good advice, it's because Americans already work harder than other people in advanced economies for a lower quality of life (meaning less access to healthcare, less paid vacation, less self-reported happiness, etc).

Sam's a smart guy and knows all of this already, so it's baffling why he would include such a stupid throwaway line in this essay.

Because he'd love for more fools to work hard and make him richer.

Yes, it's true.

1. Write articles about huge success. 2. Inspire people to loose their lives trying to get rich. 3. If some of them start getting lucky by pure chance, convince them to share a large part of their business for small amount of money. ... 5. PROFIT!

IMO, this would be an order of magnitude more impactful if each point were illustrated with vivid examples, although I understand that would take more time to write. There's a vast gulf between saying, eg., "take more risks" in the abstract, and doing some specific thing that seems dangerous right now. Past risks that worked out always seem justified in retrospect, so it would be super cool to go into detail on eg. just how crazy SpaceX seemed back in 2002.

I have to wonder who the target audience for this article is. The advice just doesn't seem particularly actionable. A statement like, "I think the biggest competitive advantage in business—either for a company or for an individual’s career—is long-term thinking with a broad view of how different systems in the world are going to come together," sounds great in a TED talk, but what the heck is anyone supposed to do about it? It's shallow.

I think the article could be improved by considering more carefully who the advice is intended for, and tailoring the advice to them. The advice for a bright young college graduate should be different from the advice for a five-time failed entrepreneur or someone who has plateaued in middle management at 50.

Having read the title of the post, and browsed its contents, I went and ordered an autobiography of Gandhi with the hope of reminding myself what real success is.

Points I learned:

- Work hard

- Have your sales point ( why should they do business with you and not with someone else, who does the same. The sales point doesn't have to be related to the thing you are selling / consulting on. They have to improve your overall image. Nothing else). I seem to be able to sell better in person, than anyone i ever saw ( but the work takes time...).

- Grow your network or know people who have the network

- Filter your network. Don't spend time on people who will never be in your niche. I filter it to simple: business. ( doing computers in the past, they were the most understanding clients) and no websites ( personally, i only create them for friends)

- Take risks

- Spend money when you can outsource, because your time is expensive.

- Have a long term plan, which niche are you growing into. If you have been "doing everything and nothing", than what has been the most profitable with the least amount of time spend.

- Prioritize, because your time is expensive

- A plan can take time to come together. Sometimes links ( helping someone out 2 years before, pay out later in the future). Don't be afraid to help them remember, when you helped them in the past.

- Don't be scared to drop clients. Especially if they are extremely rich/have no good business, they will consume all of your time and question every invoice you send.

- Don't partner up for doing a cloud application for "free"/"low-fee" in return of being a partner. Most cloud applications fail.

- If you are a developer, your "online-business" will probably fail in online marketing ( the chance is big). Get a plan how you would grow the business, before you have clients. Don't count on online marketing for it.

- Solve problems or iterate on solutions for existing problems

- Money earns money, if you use it

90% of the advice here is solid, and if you are certain that high-risk high-reward businesses are what you are built for, and you have a safety net, then by all means join sama and the crew.

But there are other good ways to be an outlier success than just being a businessperson. I was reminded of Hamming's "You and Your Research" which offered similar advice for academics. (Ironically, a copy is also hosted by paulg. http://www.paulgraham.com/hamming.html)

There are many points of similarity, so many that I start to wonder if sama was intentionally recasting its advice for businesspeople.

- be an independent thinker

- be courageous

- work is like compound interest, you need both hard work and talent

- work on small things that could grow to be big things and where you have some angle of attack

- have a network of people.

- be connected to what your colleagues do, but not a trend-seeker

- be emotionally committed

- be a good salesperson

- know your strengths and weaknesses


But there are some points of difference, like

- you'll do better work in spartan surroundings

- tolerate ambiguity. Believe in your idea enough to go forward, doubt it enough to consider alternatives

- make your work something that can lift others up to do more than you did

- Use the resources of the organization, don't fight it

- Don't be too rebellious or outwardly nonconformist

I find it hard to read those kind of posts because they all boil down to "have a bunch of variables you have very little control over in the correct state and you're pretty much set"

If you're lucky enough to be born with a good wetware and an advantageous set of mental characteristics, you can tweak something here and there, build on top of it and become "successful". If you're nowhere near, there's very little you can do to change it.

Take "be internally driven" for example. This shit is almost impossible to intentionally cultivate unless you're just lucky enough to be born this way.

You can call it "loser mentality", but even that is ultimately defined by your genes.

It's very common to over-analyze and generalize the specific behaviors of successful people, rather than acknowledge the stark reality of what truly separates them from others. There's a tendency to focus on the "symptoms" of their success rather than the root cause.

An accurate description of reality is both less flattering and seemingly less useful to others. But it does at least have the virtue of being real.

IMHO there are three major factors in changing the world:

#1 High general intelligence and ambition (genetics)

#2 Highly educated well-off parents (environment)

#3 Support of powerful people (opportunity)

You probably can't do much without at least one of these factors. Most people that do big things have all three working in their favor.

This is a well written piece. However IMHO, one cannot lay down a path for success. Moderate success, yes - but huge success no (which is what this alludes to). Success doesn't refer to a rule book before manifesting. There are lot of great nuggets one could take from the article and apply - but I see them as little breadcrumbs that might lead to success. Even if it did, we have no way to prove or disprove success factors.

Best thing is to take the learnings, enjoy the journey towards potential success and try not to become emotionally invested into the end goal. It's super hard I know.

1. Be born to a wealthy middle class family and go to an elite school.

The biggest reason I'm excited about basic income is the amount of human potential it will unleash by freeing more people to take risks.

Until then, if you aren't born lucky, you have to claw your way up for awhile before you can take big swings. If you are born in extreme poverty, then this is super difficult :(

It is obviously an incredible shame and waste that opportunity is so unevenly distributed. But I've witnessed enough people be born with the deck stacked badly against them and go on to incredible success to know it's possible.

I am deeply aware of the fact that I personally would not be where I am if I weren't born incredibly lucky.

What basic income will most likely do is send vast swaths of average people to entertainment and drugs. It's already happening, as social nets get bigger and wider.

This is a huge concern. I have known several people who, when they lose their seasonal jobs, coast on unemployment insurance until the very last minute, sometimes even going as far as welfare and couch surfing before a new job finds them (they won't go looking for it themselves).

All they want is beer, weed, porn, and video games. They don't seem to want relationships, work, friendships beyond smoking buddies... it's saddening, honestly.

I worry that UBI will enable large swathes of these people, permanently stunted in their personal growth, incapable of acting as real adults. Meanwhile, UBI itself may not be a sustainable system; if it results in taxation that cannot be borne by those who keep working, the result will be that it will eventually be cancelled. What happens to all those who subsist on UBI if that happens? Nothing is guaranteed...

Like you say, these stunted people already exist. They already do everything in their power to minimize their work time, including trying for disability or welfare. UBI won't create more of them, and it won't end the ones we have, but it may add stability to the working poor.

How do you know that UBI won't create more of them? It's a common refrain, like with legalization ("anyone who wants to smoke weed is already doing it"), and I know several people who didn't smoke before it became legal, and are now smoking regularly. It seems reasonable to think that UBI would enable some class of people who would otherwise exert themselves, to no longer bother.

Because there's already social safety nets those people can use. And yes, absolutely, there are probably going to be groups of people who are barely working now that will stop, but given there's already means to not work, I can't see this being a huge group, and really, this is an optimist / pessimist face-off, which is sad, because that's how we probably see the possible outcomes too. The only way we can know if it'll work or not is for someone to try it - which, thankfully, YC is.

Not sure if you've ever used those social safety nets, but they are not easy to qualify for and/or sign up for, so only the stubborn and/or desperate actually take advantage of them. There are also disincentives, like misinformation, run-arounds, and social shaming. From what I've heard, these reasons are exactly why UBI is a better strategy than those social safety nets--and why we can expect more people to take advantage of them.

The modern welfare state (post-1930) did create a huge number of these stunted people. UBI will create many more, and it'll be a generational compounding effect, as the stunting increases through generations and we develop familities where no ancestor has worked for 3+ generations.

Just reflect for a moment on how many of such stunted people existed in 1925, compared to today. Now apply that difference again a few more times, to a segment of the population with above-average fertility, and guess how many generations such a system can last.

If there were no stunted people, why did the welfare state get created? And do you have any evidence of this increase, or did it just codify the problem that already existed?

>>All they want is beer, weed, porn, and video games. They don't seem to want relationships, work, friendships beyond smoking buddies... it's saddening, honestly.

Honestly, this says more about your need to judge those people, than those people themselves.

What is wrong with wanting nothing other than beer, weed, and video games? Seems like a nice, simple life. If it makes them happy, why does it make you sad?

Is it because your happiness is shackled by some utopian (or rather, dystopian) dream where everyone "realizes their full potential" or some such nonsense?

I have no problem if all someone wants out of life is to get high and jack off. I do have somewhat of a problem being forced to pay for it.

Again though, why do you have a problem with other people doing things that make them happy?

He doesn't.

He just feels it's not his responsibility to enable it, and that the government forcing him to is violating his freedom of choice.

At least, that's one of the things that bothers me about it.

Civilized society is all about trading individual freedom for group stability, and perhaps UBI is on balance a good idea.

I'm not sure myself, but I tend to be skeptical of claims that "X will solve society's woes."

Giving people wealth doesn't change them, and it has really fouled up some places - look at what happened to Haiti after the earthquake when all the aid poured in. Local farms largely died out because they couldn't compete with free food, and as a result the country became less self-sustaining and wealthy.

So, yeah, I guess I have similar concerns for UBI.

My uncle is a perpetual slacker and alcoholic. Last winter he got frost bite on his feet so bad that they ended up amputating both of them. He couldn't be bothered to get up and stoke the fire.

Some people are defective. It's just the truth.

this is my little brother :(

>this is my little brother :(

It's all of our little brothers. It's an entire generation of lost souls spending their lives on World of Warcraft and Fortnite, feeling like they are accomplishing something by earning another loot crate. When fantasy becomes more compelling and stimulating than real life, it's no wonder.

There is very little evidence that this is true.

In the past those people would have loitered around shops (remember when that was a thing), spent afternoons in fishing holes, or just gotten drunk all day, or spent all time reading low-brow fiction.

Escapism is a fact or life and there's not much evidence that people are doing it a substantially higher rate than before. Or, that escapism is actually any worse than being forced to work miserable jobs until you rot away.

Where are you living that social nets are getting bigger and wider? It seems to me that the modern idea, since the 1980s, has been to constantly cut them back.

There will be people that go to entertainment and drugs as well as people that take that money to add to society. The question is what the net effect is.

Basic income solves the problem of how to get spending money to consumers. This is an important problem. If consumers don't have spending money, then the economy won't function properly.

It is true that, in today's economy, we try to get spending money to consumers in other ways. Are these alternatives somehow more effective than basic income?

For example, should we be making up unnecessary work for people to do as an excuse to give them spending money? Should we be distorting the labor market by "creating jobs" or artificially boosting wages?

A big part of what a properly calibrated basic income does is that it allows the labor market to be efficient.

You're certainly right that we don't want people to become miserable blobs. That's not a happy life. But what's the best way to prevent this? Is it to withhold money from them and force them to work at unnecessary jobs? Or can we do better?

I also have a hard time buying that. Wouldn’t that mean that high tax countries with more welfare would be more probable to have big drug problems? E.g. Sweden does not have a bigger problem with drugs then the US. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_prevale... (and of course you are not saying that social welfare is the only parameter)

I think it can be balanced by the amount of UBI. UBI should just be enough to make sure no one goes hungry or has to sleep out in the cold. That, in addition to public health care and education and access to libraries and opportunities for self-growth. Anything more can and will be misused. Anything less makes it too risky for people to experiment and fail. At least that's the theory I have in my head. How exactly to determine this amount fairly? I don't know.

Even assuming you had any facts to base your assumption, why is that a bad thing? There is nothing holy about work, especially work for the enrichment of others.

I, an i suspect many people here, get paid handsomely to move bytes from one place to another and this funds either our ambitions or tastes. I think it's hard to argue that your general well paid tech employee is contributing to society moving bytes around appreciably more than a stoner chilling out on the couch.

It will probably do both. "There are people who will take risks that they otherwise wouldn't be able to with a basic income" and "there are people who will do nothing of value to anyone besides themselves if they have a choice in the matter" are not mutually exclusive.

Where is that?

I don't know why I couldn't upvote you but this absolutely. Also in India where there was universal basic income one of the positive side effect was that it reduced domestic violence as it gave financial freedom to women.

What most people don't understand is that UBI is not about giving free money. It's about giving the poorest of the poor a fighting chance to survive and shine in this unequal world.

Sure a certain percentage of the crowd will take advantage and be a "dole bludger" but these are persistent even in unemployment benefits schemes.

It is unlikely UBI will enable average person to go to an elite school, because by definition elite implies scarcity.

Yup. But there's no reason why we can't provide everyone the level of education that today can only be attained through an elite school.

I know there's a lot of people for whom BI would help them do great things: I think this is a small minority that we in HN community are familiar with.

But I grew up in a bad neighborhood, and I know a lot of people, who wouldn't be so benevolent and wouldn't be using those funds in the way you imagine. I personally know people who would leech the system dry before they ever contributed anything meaningful anywhere.

This is right. I'd just add that we're currently forcing most people to spend their time in ways that do not contribute to society.

By giving people the freedom to spend their time how they choose, they'll at least have the option of doing something useful.

We can probably do even better than that, but basic income can at least help us clear this low bar.

> Until then, if you aren't born lucky, you have to claw your way up for awhile before you can take big swings. If you are born in extreme poverty, then this is super difficult :(

Some would argue that is what builds character, and the grit to succeed. Not saying extreme poverty is “good” necessarily. Just that the jury is still out on whether or not humanity as a whole is better without suffering (specifically if it leads to a decline in the human race).

Universal basic income has been suggested and to some extent tested for thousands of years. None of succeeded, but the devil is in the details and perhaps soon the machines will take care of us.

For reference: I came from a poorer background (not extreme, but enough I noticed). I view it as my greatest strength, as it forced me to learn faster, specifically taught me the importance of relationships, community, hard work, determination.

Is there a way to build character and the grit to succeed without forcing people into extreme poverty?

Or a broader question is what do we want out of people? What values do we want them to have? What's the most efficient way to teach them those values? Poverty is pretty expensive. Is poverty so important to our society that it's worth paying the price?

This is a recent blog post I wrote:


"For example, sugar tastes sweet because we evolved in a world where calories were extremely scarce. Sex feels good because children are the continuation of humanity. Work seems important because, throughout much of history, we benefited from having more labor. But in modern times, we have artificial sweeteners, birth control, and hobbies."

How can we hack human society to take advantage of what we evolved to feel good about?

I can appreciate your intention, but unless you really believe that 10,000 monkeys can type the complete works of Shakespeare, the "big swings" you envision have to be informed by some level of education, morality, and social sensibility. Basic income alone is not the solution.

Won't basic universal income give rise to more inflation and negate the benefits in the first place?

A basic income will only cause inflation if the amount is too high.

The problem is that the economy won't produce what consumers don't have the money to buy. So we need a way of getting sufficient spending money to consumers to activate the economy's full sustainable productive potential.

A properly calibrated basic income is exactly the amount that would get us there. It allows consumers to receive the full potential benefit of what the economy can provide for them.

Inflation occurs when the level of consumer spending outstrips production. If you set your basic income too high, then you'll get inflation until the level of consumer purchasing power falls back in line with the economy's productive capacity.

But the full benefits of the basic income are still there. The fact that we underwent a period of inflation doesn't change the fact that the economy would now be producing at its full potential for consumers.

The general price level in the economy is arbitrary. In the end, any price level is just a redenomination of any other price level. What's disruptive to the markets is when the price level changes. So the challenge is to figure out the level of basic income that's consistent with our current price level. This will allow us to transition into the smoothly.

We can't know the optimal amount of basic income ahead of time. It's also true that the economy's productive potential changes over time. So the only sensible way of determining the appropriate level of basic income is to continuously calibrate it algorithmically. You can know you've reached your optimal level of basic income when you get to a point where the central bank won't be able to keep prices stable if you increased it any further. In other words, we reach the limits of monetary tightening.

Depends where it comes from. If it's just printed by the government, yes. If it's taxed and redistributed then in theory no, but accounting for all the incentives that taxes create on both sides of the transaction is tricky and the result in most cases is "unintended consequences."

The idea that a tax will prevent inflation is an intuition that a lot of people have, but it's not correct. If your basic income is going to cause inflation, then a tax is not going to help. What matters is the level of consumer spending and the level of production that the consumer spending is chasing.

If you're curious, I've written a few blog posts about this:




I'm glad that you noted this in the comments, but I think it'd be helpful to see it in the blog post.

Any chance for an edit?

added as a footnote

awesome, thanks sama!

I have to admit, I was going to post this - but it's probably a very polarized opinion.

The thing is, people do love the idealistic idea of every man creating his own luck - or that if you just work hard and smart enough, the sky is the limit.

When I went a top business school for my MBA, I'd say that 70% of my peers had the same upper middle-class upbringing. Back then, the vast majority went into consulting or banking, and are by every measure successful.

Ten years later and I now work in the startup industry, and it's mostly the same type people I went to b-school with. Not _wealthy_ people, but in the upper echelons of middle / upper middle-class.

I'm not even talking about the "small loan of a million dollars" or trust-fund babies, but just being born into a financially secure family, that pushed you to get a good education, which in turn led you to a good job, and a decent network.

I've lost count on how many ex-McKinsey, Bain, and BCG consultants I've met in the startup scene. People have this idea of entrepreneurs as your garage hacker, or avg. HS / College kid that came up with some neat solution - but from what I've seen, it's mostly kids from top schools, or ex-technologists, bankers, consultants, etc. from top companies, with the same socioeconomic and academic backgrounds.

Not at all disputing list that Sam wrote - lots of the people mentioned above do share these - but I think it's healthy to point out that some people have a clear advantage over others, even in the allegedly _meritocratic_ world of entrepreneurship.

For sure - you have connections to money which can help fund your startup.

The funny thing tho is that creating a successful startup actually involves for the most part actually being good at doing it, and following the right process.

I once interviewed at a startup which was created by a rich kid and he couldn’t even explain what the company did... I’ve also worked at a startup run by an ex big company CEO where she clearly had no clue what she was doing and was used to shit talking.

I could tell pretty quickly that both these companies were going to fail. They are going to spend a lot of their money and a lot of their connections money and waste a lot of people’s time...

So in a sense you can actually see it as a redistribution of wealth from those that have the money to those middle class IT workers who a lot of the time simply take these as opportunities to learn and upskill on the job.

Just because you do a startup doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful - and that’s going to be more true than not. There’s a lot of people with money out there but it doesn’t mean they know how to spend it correctly.

So enjoy taking Ubers with their promo codes and knowing that you cost them money for every ride that you take!

>I could tell pretty quickly that both these companies were going to fail. They are going to spend a lot of their money and a lot of their connections money and waste a lot of people’s time...

This is what really gets to me. Those companies will go bankrupt, the investors will lose out, the employees will get laid off, and the founder will have paid himself $300k/yr for those 5 years of fiddling around with nonsense and playing with other people's money, as he goes off to the next venture and spouts platitudes of success. There's absolutely no connection anymore between actual business success. Gaining "funding" is seen as the end all be all goal, and anything after that is just whatever.

And I think the reason you see less diversity here comes down to a class divide in moral values. No working class person can possibly even comprehend thinking like that. It comes off as completely sociopathic. Yet there is a class of people who are perfectly comfortable doing it, and we just let them for whatever reason. It starts to make you understand where class based revolutions have come from in the past.

Don't get hung up on the investors, aside from the f&f's class (who should know better to never lend money you can't afford to lose). Most investors know the risks, spread it appropriately and get tax advantages so that a loss results in a financial hit equal to small proportion of that loss. If anyone feel sorry for the tax payer, but then again you're paying for job creation, so swings and roundabouts.

A far from incidental detail. But is there sourced information available about his parents' actual income level?

We do have this quote from the Esquire interview in 2014, which is rather telling:

For my eighth birthday, my parents got me a Mac LC2. And, you know, it was like… It was, like, $2,200 in 1993 dollars. It was, like, this horrifically expensive thing, that was not that good. 40 MB hard drive. And then we put it in my bedroom, and I remember about it, it was this dividing line in my life: before I had a computer and after.

The New Yorker interview said his mother was a dermatologist, so I would tentatively assume his background is upper-middle-class. That's obviously an advantage, but then, most children of such families don't become rich and famous either.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Altman does list his high school, which is very expensive.

Yup - another corroborating factor.

Agree with this point, it really makes things so much easier. Imagine having student debt, struggling to get a job out of college, and then

>Once you’ve gotten yourself to a point where you have your basic obligations covered you should try to make it easy to take risks

that could easily take 10+ years?

It definitely takes years. I went back to school 6 years ago and graduated 3.5 years ago, I optimized for financial security (went to community college followed by the cheapest 4-year available, worked 40+ hours a week throughout, went into a high-paying field), and I've only recently gotten to the point where I'd consider myself financially secure enough to easily take risks. 4-5 years is probably a reasonable lower bound in those cases - you could maybe get there a bit faster if you somehow land a job at a FAANG out of school, but good luck with that.

not disputing that privilege is a thing, but don't you think that if this were true, all people who are born into a middle-class wealthy family and go to a nice school would achieve outlier success?

it could be that the privilege is a pre-req to outlier success, but there are counter-examples.

and then, if you observe that both groups (the counter-examples and the people who satisfy the pre-req and achieve outlier success) share a bunch of commonality, wouldn't you want to share that commonality with other people?

not disputing that privilege is a thing, but don't you think that if this were true, all people who are born into a middle-class wealthy family and go to a nice school would achieve outlier success?

No; rather the correct question is "if this were true shouldn't we see a greater fraction of privileged individuals achieve higher success rates than we see in less privileged individuals?" Statistics isn't about all-or-nothing outcomes. And the answer to the question I posted is "yes", and the data seem to back that up in numerous contexts from educational attainment to financial success.

The movie Gattaca covers this concept quite directly - I think ironically because it frames the problem as one the individuals involved had no original say in.

Am I the only one who finds the concept of privilege resentful?

It is shifting the reference point downwards, defining being disadvantaged as the standard and everything above as privileged. In my opinion that's a terrible idea as striving to become better has to be good and not something that you eventually should feel bad about.

It just plays into the classic class warfare theory that seems to be common these days.

It basically boils down to essentially being if you are successful then it directly because of your privileged class...not from your hard work or skill. If you are unsuccessful or poor then it is because the privileged class is holding you down and preventing you from being successful.

In the end though it only hurts those who believe in it because those who believe in it also believe that it is a waste of time to work hard, be innovative etc because it will only lead to failure. So they never try. People also use it as a way to justify why they are poor or unsuccessful...not their fault...it is the privileged that made them poor! Their other political views will mainly focus on "economic justice" like more regulations on successful businesses, higher taxes for the rich, welfare programs for the poor (basic income basically a dream come true in their eyes) and so on.

Seems to be a very popular view these days among young people.

> It basically boils down to essentially being if you are successful then it directly because of your privileged class...not from your hard work or skill. If you are unsuccessful or poor then it is because the privileged class is holding you down and preventing you from being successful.

This is a completely incorrect idea of what people are arguing privilege means.

Privilege is a step up on the ladder. It doesn't get you the whole way, and someone without that bonus step can still get up the ladder, but it changes the difficulty somewhat.

The idea is not to "feel bad about" being male, or white, or having four functional limbs. The idea is to recognize that these characteristics - which others can't "strive" towards - may give us advantages that aren't earned.

If I suddenly became black, and nothing else about me changed, studies have shown I'd likely be treated differently by police, potential employers, medical facilities, etc.

Recognizing that fact may make it easier to combat. Perhaps the next time I interview a woman I might be more conscious of the fact that what I'd perhaps have seen as "assertiveness" or "confidence" in a male candidate is being noted as "pushy" or "bitchy" in the female one, and back off from that assessment somewhat.

The concept of privilege doesn't mean you're automatically successful, nor does it mean it's impossible to become successful without it.

That helps.

Andrew Carnegie, a Scotish Immigrant, was born in a one room cottage; in the last 18 years of his life he gave away more than 300 million

But yeah, being born with some wealth to sustain you is a huge help.

I downvoted you because obviously if you come from a successful family success is much easier. That's not what the article is about.

The vast majority of people in this category are not successful by the standards Sam describes.

Also, there were 18 mentions in the article about "success". Just 1 mention about "failure".

Survivorship bias at its best: https://xkcd.com/1827/

I'm curious to hear about people that:

1. worked extremely "hard" for 20 years 2. sacrificed relationships/family/living life 3. found moderate/average success, but never caught a break

Yeah, I really would too. It always irks me when some highly successful businessman gives a talk about "do what you love and you will find success". As if billions of people before him that weren't particularly successful hadn't already tried that.


I mean, being born poor is a serious shortcoming.

True, my comment was more about the elite school part than middle class.

These are such low value comments.

Have daddy and mommy spend $1.7 MILLION to get you through school https://www.msn.com/en-sg/money/finance-education/wealthy-fa... and then back you until you "succeed."

Sure but just being wealthy is more than enough and if you can get VC money that kinds of covers your base.

Almost all of startup success is due to money: Amazon got money from pooled funds, Bill Gates mentioned in his reddit AMA that his success can be attributed to his position, Elon Musk's own father is a millionaire..

Money is not important, it is EVERYTHING. And that's the unintended upside to Universal Basic Income. It allows "Bill Gates and Einstein's" from third world countries to shine on solving big challenges rather than "What will I get to eat tonight?"

Good article. A lot of this stuff seems to come down to will (or maybe desire).

The power of sheer will is underrated imo. A long time ago, before technology (beyond sticks and stones) people did some incredible things to survive. They must have because we are here. I mean, chasing down deer for days, surviving in extremely harsh conditions, undergoing hunger and pain and injury and coming out the other side alive. We still have that capacity to some extent but most people don't believe this and stop at first discomfort.

Will seems almost magic sometimes, at least in my limited life experience. We do have incredible capacity to bend the world to our vision but it usually goes unfulfilled.

I wish I could will great success for myself but alas, although I think I'd enjoy being FU wealthy, it really seems like more trouble than it's worth. I don't want to deal with managing a bunch of resources and people. Don't want that sucking down my life. Don't want the responsibility, it seems a bit like a prison. So I do what interest me in places I feel good about until it doesn't anymore and usually skate by in relative comfort. I'd like to change this and reprogram my approach, but not sure how to go about it. I don't know if it's nature or nurture or what the situation is but I've noticed some people have incredible drive to materially succeed and best everyone else around them. However I like smelling the roses and casually enjoying my time on the planet. Maybe there's a pill I can get for this?

> "You also want to be an exponential curve yourself—you should aim for your life to follow an ever-increasing up-and-to-the-right trajectory"

ugh.. I guess this comes down to what you define as "successful" but another option is to be content in the present, and not anxious and desperately wanting the future, when you imagine everything will be better than it is now. When you treat life this way, it becomes just a means to an end, instead of an end in itself.

I can't speak for the author, but in my opinion if you treat this as a checklist to follow instead of a set of observations, you will probably be intolerable to most people and will probably fail at your goal of being successful.

I think this is like a checklist for people to follow on their on volition. There cannot be a single recipe for success that applies to everyone. Hence the "Independent Thought" point in the post.

Sam, how does "consistency" play a role?

I'm all over the place in my work over the past 10 years. I've worked on projects in several different disciplines (biotech, accelerators, consulting, environment). I tend to make forceful starts, but then drive myself off course either running out of money and getting a job or lack of a long term vision.

How do I resolve this?

What sort of careers can be considered "compounding" in the way Altman describes it?

Economist? Engineer? Lawyer? Doctor? Dentist?

I'm an economist, and i've always wondered if people with 2 years of experience can be better than those with 20+ years - if they're smart enough.

I might be wrong (too lazy to check; on mobile), but I don’t think he is talking about compounding careers per se, but rather advices to look for opportunities that compound.

1. Be Healthy

Regularly get your vitamin levels checked and make sure to get adequate Vitamin D3

Regularly get your hormone levels checked for any imbalance.

Exercise, breathe, sleep well, and eat healthy.

I'm successful and I'm lazy as shit. These lists are always coming from survivor bias.

The bit I struggle with is the contradiction between "try ideas out cheaply and fail many times until you hit on the right one" and "believe in what you do and keep going come what may". How do you pick between the two?

Measuable growth. If something is working it will be self evident if youre looking in the right places. The airbnb way is probably nonoptimal.

>> It’s not entirely clear to me why working hard has become a Bad Thing in certain parts of the US

What does he mean by this?

I assume he means something like the Moritz's article about China's "996" work hours expectation and its negative reception in silicon valley press.

Game developers, Amazon warehouse workers, UPS drivers...all those people who complain about working long hours?

i.e. the work-life balance ideology touted by dhh

Make sure to also check out Michael Cera’s video “Impossible is the Opposite of Possible”:


This is the most important point in the whole post: As your career progresses, each unit of work you do should generate more and more results. There are many ways to get this leverage, such as capital, technology, brand, network effects, and managing people

That goes straight to the concept of scalability. Usually we talk about it in terms of businesses scaling or benefiting from economies of scale, but this is talking about scalability on a personal level. Not to be understated.

Lists like this implicitly assume some baseline good health, an assumption that really is baseless. My health issues are a huge factor in my lack of financial success and public recognition. I'm very good at some things, but my health issues take a lot of my time. It's a huge barrier to accomplishing things, compounded by the poverty it fosters and other factors.

I think most of these are true. Here are two of my own that I generally don't see emphasized as much.

1. Do something wrong

Remember that you have to be exceptional to reach outlier success. You won't be unusual if you do what everyone thinks is the correct path. When you feel strongly about something, be unwilling to change or compromise. If you're not doing anything that's considered "wrong", you won't be exceptional, and you probably won't succeed.

2. Have many advantages

Have a high IQ. Have the ability to easily work hard. Have at least reasonably favorable social conditions (no debt, some money from family). To be exceptional, you need every advantage you can get. If you don't have many advantages, then you should really consider whether you can compete with people that have them.

I don't think it's right to encourage everyone to try for outlier success. By definition, you need to be an outlier to reach it. On the other hand, if you have reason to believe you are an outlier, then the odds are better than you might think.

I find these types of articles/blogs to be relatively pointless because the market/economy/country/etc has room for a select few successes.

Imagine if Obama wrote "How to Be a Successful Presidential Candidate" and every 2016 candidate read it and adopted it to a tee. We'd still have dozens of failures and only 1 success.

If success were really a formula, then we'd all be successful. We can't all get into harvard, we can't all be wealthy, we can't all be movies stars. We can't all win the game of musical chairs.

It's like the "how to become a millionaire" books. If we all followed their advice, nothing would change because the market has only room for X number of millionaires. And if it worked and we all became millionaires, being a millionaire would become meaningless.

At the end of the day, hard work, contacts and luck leads to success. The older I get, the more I realize that the latter two is far more important than the first criteria.

I disagree with the idea that the market has room for a finite number of millionaires.

See Paul Graham's essay on wealth, specifically the subject about the pie fallacy. "...although there may be, in certain specific moments (like your family, this month) a fixed amount of money available to trade with other people for things you want, there is not a fixed amount of wealth in the world. You can make more wealth. Wealth has been getting created and destroyed (but on balance, created) for all of human history." [1]

[1]: http://paulgraham.com/wealth.html

For money that's true (and of course being a millionaire is about money), but for "success" it isn't. Success is a relative term, which does seem to act a lot like a 0-sum game. That is, I'm only successful if other people around me aren't.

While we might all become richer collectively, we will never feel more successful unless we have someone to compare ourselves to.

It depends on how you define "success." By your definition, it necessitates seeing someone else fail in order to feel successful. But I think that's a narrow view of it, and fewer things are zero-sum than people often assume (though plenty of things still are, yes).

A few examples come to mind. One is the craft beer scene. Microbreweries often adopt a collaborative business model with other breweries in their area, rather than being cutthroat and trying to run each other out of town. When a town becomes known for having a thriving beer scene, it attracts more customers in total, to the benefit of all the breweries there. It widens the proverbial pie. Thus, by association with that scene, all the individual businesses become more successful than they would have been otherwise. And in that case I'd say success is about more than money - name and quality recognition, and building a dedicated fan base would probably factor into it as well.

Of course there are limits to that model, such as a local market becoming too saturated, but I think it's a good example of success being a more nebulous term than only being dependent on defeating others.

Disagree. Success isn't really transferred. If I help you do something I know and you help me do something you know we are both more successful. Wealth on the other hand can't really be shared without losing it.

> unless we have someone to compare ourselves to.

Couldn't that someone be one's ancestors, or even one's past self?

There is absolutely a limit to the amount of unique ideas/efforts which make a return across a large percent of the population. That population has an upper limit on spend and time spent adopting said product. They don't have an unlimited amount of time and that's exactly what companies have been hammering on to extract more of. Facebook, for example.

It's time we stop pushing this STUPID narrative that software can make you rich if you are just willing to throw your user's interests out the window and "work harder". That is not how this works.

Wealth is finite at any given moment and it so happens that growth does not affect everyone equally.

On top of that developed economies tend to grow slower - we may all be millionaires by early 70s standards with our fast cars and air travel, but I don't think in 50 years we will be millionaires by today's standards - there simply won't be that much growth in the future.

> Wealth is finite at any given moment

Investment supposes this is not true because wealth is not an evaluation of liquidity. The hardest thing to realize is that that's poor people thinking and you're already behind if that's how you operate (ie the vast majority of the world, including me).

Investment is a promise, or actually a hope - it only gives a perception of value. It's not actual wealth.

To illustrate my point: can you imagine everyone living off passive income today?

I always found the whole idea to be contradictory. They say that the pie isn't fixed, then go on to explain all the risky things you need to do get a larger piece of the expanding pie. Which does in fact mean the pie is finite, just not definite. Because outside of these texts online, success rate is a real limiting factor.

A presidential election is zero-sum, since there can only be one winner. There is no fixed number of millionaires; every middle-class American is very rich compared to what Romans or Persians or Carolingians expected.

There definitely is a limited number of millionaires that an economy/population can support. Also, comparing across time is rather deceptive. The north korean military is much more powerfully compared to khan or alexander's armies. The comparison is pointless considering the north korean military isn't traveling back in time to fight the mongols or the greeks. Saying middle class americans are rich compared to romans, persians or carolingians is just as meaningless. You could argue that a homeless man with a smartphone is "richer" than napoleon since the homeless man has access to more computing power, better medicine, better everything. But that's meaningless and no solace to the homeless man since he isn't traveling back to the early 1800s with current technology in his pocket. If we follow your logic, a north korean starving in a political camp is wealthier than Caesar. I guess that could be true, but meaningless and empty.

It's also a deceptive tactic people use to compare apples to oranges. We have to compare today with today and even more importantly, we have to frame money within the zero-sum context of power. Money and power are interchangeable and viewed in this context, wealth is a zero sum game.

I don't agree, because there certainly are some objective measures of well being, such as access to nutrition, clean drinking water, life expectancy, exposure to violence etc. that hold true across any age in time. Most of these measures have in general increased in the course of humankind. So a homeless man im 2018 is most likely still better off than a homeless man during the Roman empire.

I understand that human society has progressed over time. That's not what I'm disputing. What I'm pointing out is that it's meaningless to compare current situation to the past. A homeless man in 2019 is better off than everyone in the roman empire - including the emperor and the homeless. So what? How does that help the homeless man in 2019. A slave in the 1800s was wealthier than the anyone in the roman empire. So what? People in 2019 or people in the 1800s weren't living in the roman empire. The north koreans in political camps are wealthier than the emperor of roman empire. So I guess that means everything is great? It's such a deceptive and insincere comparison. People live within their time and their "wealth" should be compared within it. And more importantly, wealth should always be viewed within the context of power because ultimately, that's what wealth is.

Your opening statement is incorrect - wealth can be created, indeed that’s exactly what (good!) entrepreneurs do.

"Limited" means something very different than "fixed".

> we have to frame money within the zero-sum context of power.

You can't just throw this out there. Why? In what way is power is zero-sum?

I don't really find your example of homeless people with smart phones all that convincing. Everyone knows being homeless is horrible.

It's not even that I entirely disagree with what your saying. I'm somewhat firmly planted in the vague middle area right now. But I would like to see the arguments better supported.

Given the means by which they obtain and protect their wealth, I suspect that the people and companies at the top do view wealth as a zero-sum game.

It is very unrealistic that technological level and political organisation of Ancient Rome or Persia could create the conditions that could produce and sustain a significant part of population with the level of life somehow comparable with current Western countries.

Just because the pie is growing at f(x) doesn't mean at any given moment the pie isn't limited by x. This is why I think the zero sum vs growing pie arguments are silly, both are true.

hyperinflation can easily make everyone a millionaire!

Millionaire...Zimbabwe made me an overnight trillionaire!

Your mentality is the mentality of failure...as in why bother trying because the odds are stacked against you. I see this very common among peers and ultimately...it only leads to failure. So why even bother having this mentality? You are better off having optimism that success can be achieved.

In regards to Sam's advice. His advice is correct but people are interpreting it too strictly. Sam's advice is basically the baseline rules...as in you need to do this stuff AT LEAST to have a chance at being successful. This writing is not "do this stuff exactly and you will be successful 100% guaranteed".

The truth is....execution is the hard part and that's why most people fail. Building an amazing product that people love is hard. It really comes down to that...but if you want to be successful then that's what you need to do.

Of course the odds are stacked against you. That's what makes success a wonderful thing.

And I disagree with your sentiment. When people think that X, Y and Z will lead to success and they do X, Y and Z and they fail, that produces a mentality of failure and frustration and why people give up.

Understanding what success really is and how hard work, contacts and luck play a role in it actually frees people to take risks and try again and again. Unbridled and childish optimism is why so many people fail and that leads to a mentality of failure.

And no. Sam's advice isn't necessary nor sufficient for success. There have been plenty of successful people ( extremely successful ) who didn't follow his advice.

Like I said, it is the baseline rules not an absolute. There will always be exceptions to every rule but the baseline rules still hold true. Most people who are successful have the traits that sam is talking about.

Also lets think about where sam even got these ideas from...he basically sits down with a bunch of other YC partners to discuss what they've notice as being "success traits". I don't think sam is just pulling these ideas out of his head so he can write a best selling "success in a box" type of book.

I've read a lot of Sam's work and I think he is 100% spot on and honestly I would consider him to be one of the few people giving advice on startups that is just the straight up truth about how to be successful. You need to have a genuinely good idea, convert that idea into a product that people love and monetize it (eventually). Execution on this is hard of course but if you do manage to do it then you will be successful.

While this blog post is much better than most, there is a huge market for "how to be successful, be good at business, etc" and a lot of it is misguided, empty motivational speeches, or hand waviness. There's a lot of survivorship bias and fluff. You can spend a lot of time and money you could otherwise spend on making a better product.

So I don't see the response as the mentality of failure, but more of a warning about the "How to Be Successful" market that's out there. While I agree poor execution is abundant, I think "hard work, contacts and luck leads to success" is spot on. A lot of timing is just luck. If I could perfectly execute a model-T or Amazon.com its doubtful I will be successful because that's yesterday's problem and being first to market has many advantages.

I'm from the US but currently living in Asia. I observe that in many places outside the US, the cultural context of many stories, themes, and values is scarcity, whereas in the US it is opportunity.

For example, in many Asian novels, power, wealth and opportunity is seen as an often vicious 0 sum game. Clans only have enough resources to put into 1 person. The throne of the kingdom only has enough space for 1 king, and it's a vicious fight to the top. There's only 1 space left for the exam and there's millions of people applying.

In the US, there is always the theme of you can find something better out there. Just move west. Opportunity is out there. You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

One thing Americans take for granted is the vast number of undeveloped resources and new opportunities America has had for the past 300 years that has shaped their thinking to be the way it is. Opportunity and exploration was abundant every century of US history - 1700s with the pilgrims, 1800s with the move west, 1900s with the reset of the world economy due to both world wars. You can make a claim that the least opportunistic time of the US is the modern era, which might be why we currently have so much complaints and unrest.

In contrast, I think China's relatively well developed historical and social maturity (it's at least 5000 year rich history) has embedded the thought of the 0 sum game into it's culture. Western Europe also seems to have similar themes. Would love if people from those backgrounds could share their perspective.

Grew up in a very traditional Chinese household - never thought of it that way - somehow connects the dots with how my culture values being conservative, being stable, not rocking the boat - because there isn't much to go around in the first place.

I grew up in Asia and currently living in US. I had never thought of it that way, so I will need more time to connect the dots with this particular view point.

My view is different: the number of people who are willing to truly do evening this post recommends is just small. But those who are willing to pay the cost of success have a real chance of getting it. It's just that most people likely conclude that success is not truly worth it.

If you do nothing else, in my observation you can go a long way by just following this advice:

you need to own equity in something, instead of just selling your time

Even if it's just owning some index funds, equity in things that grow and compound over time is the easiest way to wealth I can think of.

It’s interesting that the GP says ‘success’ and you’ve said ‘wealth’. One of those Freudian slips that belies true intention. More often than not, wealth follows success, not the other way around. But to be 100% clear, success and wealth are not one and the same.

I feel like you're arguing there's an efficient market of advice - any advice that can be widely understood has already been turned into money, and also there's a limited supply of money to go around so no advice can raise all boats.

I disagree on both counts. To use an overly relevant analogy, the market is not so efficient that successful startups cannot be built (and planned in advance of becoming successful), and it is possible for everyone in the world to become more competent and skilled and for this to just make everything better (e.g. better products for everyone).

You can have new insights that are generally true, and everything isn't zero sum.

While you are right that the market only has room for 1 president every four years, this isn't true in economics. Startups create wealth (at least they are supposed to) so while there probably is a limit to how fast the economy can grow, we certainly are not hitting that limit anytime soon.

> I find these types of articles/blogs to be relatively pointless

As opposed to comments like yours which are completely pointless. Yes, not everyone can be in the 99th percentile. But the people who do, didn't just get randomly picked out of a hat. They got there by leveraging as much advice/wisdom as they could get your hands on, and then executing on it. And that's exactly the audience this article is targeting. Completely free of charge.

If you aren't interested in being in the 99th percentile, then don't read articles like these. Why waste your time writing comments that contribute nothing of value whatsoever. It's the equivalent of me walking into a sports bar and yelling at everyone about how pointless sports are.

The vast majority of the 99th percentile didnt leverage anything outside of being born to the right family.

Their comment isn't pointless, it's posted for discussion and ideas.

I understand your thinking and do agree somewhat. That said, Sam Altman is a bit of a special case. To begin with, in this article he goes out of his way on several occasions to clarify that there are significant tradeoffs. I enjoy his writing in particular because it takes a much more sober approach. In this essay he begins by writing that much of this advice will apply best if one has already reached a certain level of wealth and success. He mentions the value of working hard many times.

I don't read this as a guide on how to be wildly successful as much as sober insight on how to reach a high level in your specific domain.

> At the end of the day, hard work, contacts and luck leads to success. The older I get, the more I realize that the latter two is far more important than the first criteria.

Extremely well-said. Skill and hard work are (typically) necessary, but not sufficient conditions for major financial success. You also need a strong network or luck, and usually both.

As I grow older, this becomes more and more evident. I wish that I had spent more time as I was younger expanding my network. As for luck, well, that's out of my hands...

Hard work will get you contacts, 100%. No one can control luck, but hard work and showing up will guarantee at least a comfortable level of success. Yeah, the rest is luck.

You're defining success in non-scalable terms. Sure, not everyone can be millionaire but what if just being "financially solvent" is considered a success? What if maximizing financially solvent people is a definition of success for a society?

I'd like to see this blog post written by a 2007 Sam Altman, or a 2006 Obama. Once you achieve your goal, your post-hoc analyses are not necessarily correct. From your example, you may ascribe your success to all of the hard work you put in, but not think about the initial meetings that were set up by a friend of the family.

One solution is to simply refuse to participate in winner-takes-all situations.

So true, I think people come to this conclusion after years...

> At the end of the day, hard work, contacts and luck leads to success

Did you read the blog? This is essentially the tl;dr without a defeatist attitude.

These are very uninteresting to read. The first 3 points don't really explain how to successfully achieve them. They all come to 1 single point, you must be very skillful at multiple things to achieve them. And I think you're defining money/finance success, and not other kinds of successes.

“Also, learn how to evaluate what people are great at, and put them in those roles. (This is the most important thing I have learned about management, and I haven’t read much about it.)”

Finding and accentuating strengths was a big focus of my previous employer, Rackspace. They used a program based on Strengths Finder [1] to determine your “strengths” and even had them displayed on your corporate ID badge. Their management philosophy was based on putting people in positions based on their strengths.

It seemed a bit hokey at first and it had its problems but it was pretty refreshing compared to the typical corporate environment that espouses working harder to overcome your weaknesses.

[1] https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/

Great post Sam! My two cents is to try and compete against yourself: quantify your actions with some set of metrics and loop your measurements of those metrics into a feedback loop of improvement. That way, you never feel left behind and have your improvement cycles interrupted or lost, and you gain a good deal of self-introspection, which is invaluable in a world where people nudge/push you around. Your understanding of yourself has to be the ground truth where all other personality traits, habits, and higher-level tasks evolve from, and these combine to generate high-quality work and personal roadmaps.

> My two cents is to try and compete against yourself

This. With social media so ubiquitous it's hard _not_ to compare yourself to others. I, personally, find internal motivation so much more of a driving force than external motivation. As long as I do better than I did last time, I'll be happy.

For example, if I can improve my 1600 meter run time by 5 seconds, that's a great success for me. And if I'm able to consistently see improvement over time, I'm successful. On the other hand, If I compare my 7m5s 1600m time to my neighbor's 5m30s time I feel terrible. And depending on personality type, seeing such a stark difference between where you currently are and where someone else is, it might deter them from even trying to get better. "I'll never get down to 5m30s, so why should I bother running at all?"

I'm not saying _all_ external comparisons are bad but I think it's important to know when to compare yourself to yourself (to ensure daily incremental progress is being achieved) and when to look up and see where you are relative to others (to see how your incremental progress is summing up in the big picture).

Own things: I agree with this.

The best way to own things is to leave Google/Facebook: What??? I know this is an entrepreneur blog, but what happened to the sentence ,,If you want to be rich don't start a startup''?

Most of my friends who are rich are working (or worked) at Google/Facebook and just accumulated assets over time (until they had enough money to stop working).

All you need is start accumulating assets as early as possible and get to 15-20x of your salary (at most 10 years if you're really frugal, more if not that frugal). Don't be afraid of not having much cash left if you have a stable job.

I embody all of these traits. I don't have a prototype or traction, I'm by myself, working the same idea for many years. I've applied to YC 8 times. never got any feedback.

I'm sure this is to my benefit. If suffering comes, I chose to use it to make myself stronger, more determined and focused. i close to learn. and instead of rushing to optimize for their objectives, I get to really create my vision.

Everytime they reject me, I like to think about how I will make a point of how much of a broken system I think it is, when I eventually get successful.

I have no idea what it takes to be successful – whatever success even means, although a reasonable definition would run along the lines of good finances + family/friends + health + sense of purpose + luck – but I'm willing to wager you could significantly increase your chances of being successful by:

0. Being curious

1. Thinking for yourself

2. Thinking about your thinking

3. Tweaking your thinking in the light of new discoveries

4. Associating yourself, as much as you can, with people who they themselves follow 0,1,2,3

The world is very complex. No one truly knows what they're doing. Our models of the world are just local approximations

I agree with you.

All these books and essays ultimately boil down to "what worked for me, plus a million other things I'm not mentioning because they're not as glamorous, and a ton of luck: it could happen to you too!"

Yes there is hard work in becoming successful but a ton of it is luck: being in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing, with the right people... This talk, peddling luck, expresses what I mean: https://vimeo.com/53494258

Lucky beats smart :)

> It’s not entirely clear to me why working hard has become a Bad Thing in certain parts of the US

What is this a reference to? What parts of the US? It's not backed up by a citation.

This is not the first time Altman has dropped a not so subtle cultural/political jab without any data to back it up.[1]

[1] "It seems easier to accidentally speak heresies in San Francisco every year." http://blog.samaltman.com/e-pur-si-muove

An incredibly great post. Thank you for sharing. I have always wanted to take risk to found a startup, but since I am in Myanmar, I will need to claw my way up for a while to build up safety nets before I can take big risks. It is a great reminder that I cannot lose myself in a comfortable & stable career/lifestyle. Focusing too much on short term gains will blind me for long term achievement. But the risk is real especially for people in developing country so I will need to proceed carefully.

Wish you luck.

I totally understand that not all places on the Earth are conducive to entrepreneurial ambitions. Some places are downright hostile. I wish we had some mechanism to help those from such places.

Oh really. This article has click baity title. All these motivational posts get repetitive. They have very little actionable content in them. Rather than reading advices from the privileged ivory tower of survivors, I better go and read "The dispossessed" by Ursula Le Guin.


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