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People Who Are Obsessed with Success and Prestige (bennettnotes.com)
378 points by _davebennett 44 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 348 comments

From David Brooks:

"I’ve been thinking about the difference between the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being — whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.

Most of us would say that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé virtues, but I confess that for long stretches of my life I’ve spent more time thinking about the latter than the former. Our education system is certainly oriented around the résumé virtues more than the eulogy ones. Public conversation is, too — the self-help tips in magazines, the nonfiction bestsellers. Most of us have clearer strategies for how to achieve career success than we do for how to develop a profound character."

Maybe we'd all do better to be focused on those 'eulogy virtues' rather than obsessing over our external success. For me at least, it's a constant battle to hold back the pull of the weasel trying to measure myself against external validation.

Cusins. By the way, have you any religion?

Undershaft. Yes.

Cusins. Anything out of the common?

Undershaft. Only that there are two things necessary to Salvation.

Cusins [disappointed, but polite] Ah, the Church Catechism. Baptism and —

Undershaft. No. Money and gunpowder.

Cusins [surprised, but interested] That is the general opinion of our governing classes. The novelty is in hearing any man confess it.

Undershaft. Just so.

Cusins. Excuse me: is there any place in your religion for honor, justice, truth, love, mercy and so forth?

Undershaft. Yes: they are the graces and luxuries of a rich, strong, and safe life.

Cusins. Suppose one is forced to choose between them and money or gunpowder?

Undershaft. Choose money and gunpowder; for without enough of both you cannot afford the others.

Cusins. That is your religion?

Undershaft. Yes.


As someone with a seminary background, this hits too close to home

"Cusins. Excuse me: is there any place in your religion for honor, justice, truth, love, mercy and so forth?

Undershaft. Yes: they are the graces and luxuries of a rich, strong, and safe life."

I hold the old view that justice is a source of strength rather than something bought independent of it.

There is honor even among thieves. For example, a just group of thieves splits the bounty and return to steal together again as a team with improved skill, trust and cohesion. Sure they are scoundrels to their community, but they are just with each other. If they weren't, they'd in-fight and become weaker. This is true of militias and painfully obvious when two groups of forces lose faith, trust and a sense of justice with each other.

So I think justice is a virtue, and I think it's safe to say virtue is a source of strength.

Average-wise, would you think majority of humanity fits within this view?

I was born in a 3rd world country, grew up there and now live in a 1st world country. I think in many 3rd world countries, a lot of small time criminals and prostitutes did that because they have no other choice. They have no good jobs, or any jobs. They have no home, no family, no means to pay for their sick children or families. Not saying that people who have those still won't steal.

Interesting play!

Cusins [in a white fury] Do I understand you to imply that you can buy Barbara?

Undershaft. No; but I can buy the Salvation Army. Cusins. Quite impossible.

Undershaft. You shall see. All religious organizations exist by selling themselves to the rich.

Cusins. Not the Army. That is the Church of the poor. Undershaft. All the more reason for buying it.

Cusins. I don’t think you quite know what the Army does for the poor.

Undershaft. Oh yes I do. It draws their teeth: that is enough for me — as a man of business —

Cusins. Nonsense! It makes them sober —

Undershaft. I prefer sober workmen. The profits are larger.

Cusins. — honest — Undershaft. Honest workmen are the most economical.

Cusins. — attached to their homes —

Undershaft. So much the better: they will put up with anything sooner than change their shop.

Cusins. — happy —

Undershaft. An invaluable safeguard against revolution.

Cusins. — unselfish —

Undershaft. Indifferent to their own interests, which suits me exactly.

Cusins. — with their thoughts on heavenly things —

Undershaft [rising] And not on Trade Unionism nor Socialism. Excellent.

"We are counted as sleep for the slaughter; for thy sake we are killed all the day long."

Wikipedia on Shaw's admiration of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin:

""" Shaw's admiration for Mussolini and Stalin demonstrated his growing belief that dictatorship was the only viable political arrangement. When the Nazi Party came to power in Germany in January 1933, Shaw described Hitler as "a very remarkable man, a very able man",[1] and professed himself proud to be the only writer in England who was "scrupulously polite and just to Hitler".[2] His principal admiration was for Stalin, whose regime he championed uncritically throughout the decade.[3] Shaw saw the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact as a triumph for Stalin who, he said, now had Hitler under his thumb.[4] """

[1] https://www.jstor.org/stable/40682385 [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bernard_Shaw#CITEREFHol... [3] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance... [4] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance...

on the other hand: rich people is the most corrupt without honor group of people

Was David Brooks dumping his wife of 3 decades for his 2-decades-younger research assistant and then writing passive-aggressive columns in the NYT about how people abandoned by their spouses should suck it up and stop bothering them an example of résumé virtuous or eulogy virtuous?

Following your heart is a virtue. Writing about it bluntly, doubly so. Is one not free to leave a spouse for someone else? Regardless of age (assuming everyone is a consenting adult!)?

I give credit to those who live their life intentionally. You only get one. If you’re unhappy, pull the sails and head towards happiness. Valid point to not be a dick about it though (I haven’t read to know if these articles you mention are passive aggressive in tone). You can be direct but still kind.

>Following your heart is a virtue.

No, that's a modern misconception.

"Following your heart" is just an action with no moral value in itself. Whether it's a virtue depends on the contents of your heart.

All kinds of scumbags and horrible people who hurt others "followed their heart" in doing so.

Who cares about virtue? All we should really measure is destructiveness. If following your heart isn't destructive, then go for it. Make your own virtues out of something else.

It is really hard to invest in this line of thinking, but to live 'intentionally' is something admirable.

Maximize your happiness while minimizing the suffering you cause. You will cause suffering, even if unintentional, this is the human condition. “Mindful hedonism” if you will.

Life has many chapters. Celebrate the joy, happiness, and success there was, mourn your losses and failures, then move on. This too shall pass.

E.g. Newt Gingrich.

Food for thought: People live as they live, and can have great thoughts, insights and advice without adhering to your interpretation of their words or actions.

Food for thought: People can publicly express half-baked thoughts, banal “insights”, hypocritical advice, and horribly wrong predictions for decades without ever admitting their mistakes, and can pretend independence where convenient but unfailingly fall in line with their assigned talking points when directed, but still be treated as worth taking seriously because of their social position.

I knew about the wives, but did he in fact write such columns? I read the NY Times, but seldom Brooks's columns.

Thanks. A handy reminder why I seldom read his columns. Is that what it's about?

Thing is, by the time your eulogy is written, you're already dead. I prefer to leave my kids with a tangible legacy than a beautiful story of a guy who was too kind to be a dick when he needed to.

Besides, words chosen for your eulogy depend on the influence you managed to build while still living.

"...a tangible legacy than a beautiful story of a guy who was too kind to be a dick when he needed to..."

That is the shortest, best description of Machiavelli's ideas that I've ever seen.

> a beautiful story of a guy who was too kind to be a dick when he needed to.

This is a narrow and incomplete view of what's being talked about.

> words chosen for your eulogy depend on the influence you managed to build while still living.

Assuming there's anybody at all around to choose them, and assuming that they are honest, I'd say they depend much more on what sort of person you were.

Maybe the influence you built will have a large effect on who hears them, but if you weren't "obsessed with success and prestige" in life then you would probably have been fine with a smaller crowd at your funeral anyway.

To each their own interpretation, but I definitely did not read that to imply people should be overly kind. To the contrary, I think someone failing to "be a dick when he needed to" is probably a moral failure. As to your last sentence, it probably falls under the quality of the relationships formed that he listed as a 'eulogy virtue'.

I would also argue that if legacy is your goal, a legacy of specific ideals can last longer than most tangible artifacts.

The idea is that the eulogy talks about how you lived your life and what kind of person you were. The way Brooks is using it is just as a tool to grant some perspective; the eulogy in a literal sense is a convenient proxy for something deeper: consider how it would feel if the only honest nice things people could say about you at your funeral were that you were ambitious and successful. Most people would be strongly displeased by that—and yet it's all too easy for the same people to fall into a trap of living their lives in such a way that the values of ambition and success take precedence over everything else.

“You’ll care less what others think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”

But you'll care a hell of a lot about what other people think of you when that thinking is the difference between having food on the table for your kids, or seeing them go hungry.

That's generally why people give so much of a shit about resume values.

But this is such a false dichotomy. The daily choice is not between providing for your children or being a jerk to your fellow man. There is a balance that ought to be struck between not caring about what other people think of you and caring deeply about how we treat other people.

It's only a false dichotomy, in the sense that it was presented by Brooks.

Nothing about chasing resume skills precludes you from being a decent human being. But there's also nothing shocking about people focusing on employable values, early in their lives.

>The daily choice is not between providing for your children or being a jerk to your fellow man.

You'd be surprised. People think so because we rationalize all kinds of bad behavior (e.g. not speaking up when a colleague was wrongly fired or abused, or working for a company that runs sweatshops, or does all kind of damage). As long as they don't do it directly (and just "follow orders" or "doing their job") they think it's OK.

But it's still a daily choice, and the other option to being principled is often not putting food on the table.

This is anecdotal, but I experienced a tectonic shift in both my personal success and happiness when I refocused my attention on the "eulogy" virtues. In my experience if you live those honestly the others fall into place rather organically.

Note also that the "eulogy" virtues are actually possible for the vast majority of people.

I’m not sure they’re entirely separate. To phrase things in a way that you shouldn’t, and taking my perspective as a reasonably junior guy: you need one letter of reference from your job. If you have the “eulogy virtues” and are reasonably competent, probably you’ll impress one guy with a combined display of competence and good character. It doesn’t really matter that much if everyone else thought you were a moron. You’ve got the bullet on the resume and one glowing rec. Now I believe this only holds to a point, but I think that point is a bit further than most people would put it.

Thanks for that. I think it's a great way to express how we should not lose sight of the bigger picture.

The eulogy virtue is what we need to make the society a better place. A resume virtue is what we need to sustain ourselves. One is closer to ideal, one is closer to reality. Balance is the only thing we need for a healthy and happy life.

Mr Money Mustache said in his YC interview, “don’t start a blog, start a cult.” This sounds like the sort of (positive) cult to found. Using peer support and reinforcement to better enable success in living a virtuous life.

A positive cult is either a contradiction in terms, or a religion, depending on your perspective.

But I get what the quote is saying - to aim to inspire passion in others.

I prefer to focus on the virtues that bring happiness and joy to my life while I'm alive. Money is one of those things. I don't care about what people will say at my funeral because I won't be there. If being brave and honest makes you happy and brings joy to your life then go for it. If the challenges of becoming a billionaire is what makes you feel alive, then go for it.

I think Brooks would probably push back on the hedonic idea of "do whatever makes you happy" somewhat. He seems to advocate cultivating moral character over chasing "happiness".

In The Road to Character he writes,

"All human beings seek to lead lives not just of pleasure, but of purpose, righteousness, and virtue. As John Stuart Mill put it, people have a responsibility to become more moral over time. The best life is oriented around the increasing excellence of the soul and is nourished by moral joy, the quiet sense of gratitude and tranquillity that comes as a byproduct of successful moral struggle. The meaningful life is the same eternal thing, the combination of some set of ideals and some man or woman’s struggle for those ideals. Life is essentially a moral drama, not a hedonistic one."

What makes that last line so powerful coming from Brooks’ pen is that he wrote it as he was having an affair with his research assistant, for whom he later divorced his wife of 28 years. That must’ve been so morally joyful!

Do you know the circumstances of his divorce? What led up to it? Or are you just saying divorce is immoral?

Holy shit, that seems to be actually true!! Man, how hiprocate can people be?!

> I don't care about what people will say at my funeral because I won't be there.

Sorry, that's just stupid. Having people (honestly) say something nice about you at your funeral is not the end goal, but it's a _symptom_ of heaving lead a life that brought your closest people joy over a long time, and that is the end goal.

But those virtues make one likable, and sometimes people give people they like things like investment capital. Or party invites where you can have fun and network.

Of course in today's world you get the social butterflies/climbers who fake all that shit to get the same stuff, and to get, as the article says, status and prestige.

It's pretty hard to become happy by focusing on what you don't have.

Not really. Learning new things really makes me happy. Some people spend their entire life trying to solve a problem or find a cure for a disease. It's all about finding something that you enjoy. That could be spend time with friends or family but that doesn't mean it's the same for everyone.

This post also resonated with me, especially the quote from /r/cscareerquestions

> Got an awesome internship at an interesting company? Well, it wasn’t FAANG, so who cares? Got a FAANG internship? Well it wasn’t one of the good FAANGs, so if you really think about it, you really didn’t accomplish anything. Got into a “Good FAANG”? Well, the other intern works on his own startup idea when he goes home. Why aren’t you working on your startup idea? Do you even have a startup idea? Are you even trying?

It's absolutely not limited to new engineers. Take a look at the replies to the "Levels.fyi Annual Report" here on HN.

> You can't move to the US/SF/NYC? Good luck eeking out a living. You didn't get an offer from a FAANG? Well, you don't really belong in the bay area then. You got a FAANG offer but you didn't negotiate 400k+ total comp? Good luck ever getting a raise. You made it to the top of your salary band? Well, they'll never move you up, better plan your exit now.

The tech rat race mentality is very real and very pervasive.

I've noticed something about subreddits that focus on lifestyle design and center around advice: they all start to converge on fairly narrow groupthink. /r/personalfinance is all about super frugal living and passive investing. In /r/backpacking, the general advice is to go as light as possible and spend money reducing weight. /r/cscareerquestions is about the leetcode grind and getting into FAANG. /r/malefashionadvice only really recommends a narrow range of personal styles and is not helpful if you don't want to look like that.

Now, the advice is often pretty decent in those subs, but it's not helpful if you don't want exactly what they recommend. And they put way too much emphasis on the narrow range of things they think are worthwhile.

Anyway, back to commenting on the article:

> So why are we all doing this? Why do so many smart people fall victim to this trap of chasing success and prestige purely for the sake of it?

Survivorship bias. There are a lot of smart people everywhere living quiet, normal lives. They don't necessarily seem that different unless you know them well, because they're not trying to rock the world with their brilliance.

In fact, what we think of as "smart" does not correspond to "has high natural ability." "Smart people" are people who have decided to make their identities center around being smart. They've worked hard at it.

My brother and I were from a normal middle class background but both went to fancy private schools. My uncles apparently all got tested high IQs and they have thick Texan accents, they like handball and guitar and fishing. They're normal people. Their Facebook comments aren't even all that articulate. But you can tell they're intelligent because they seem to "get" things and they don't say dumb stuff.

>My brother and I were from a normal middle class background but both went to fancy private schools.

I find that people tend to either over or underestimate the "middle class"iness of their upbringing.

My dad worked for city government as a planner for a small suburban town and my mom worked part time as a bookkeeper. My childhood home's estimated value is like $185k.

My parents were smart and had a little extra cultural capital but yeah, we were pretty middle class. Maybe lower-upper-middle class.

>Dad was in a managerial, if not directorial, position not threatened by industry collapse, and made enough so that his wife only had to work part time.

I mean, that would do it. I suppose it depends on when and where you grew up. Suffice it to say that this kind of upbringing sounds unusually high-end compared to the actual American middle class for the past 30-odd years (where you would likely find both parents working, home ownership a tenuous proposition, and private schools out of the question).

I point this out mostly because we're sorely in need of a reexamination of what's "normal" and what should be normal in this country.

Seriously, these two things do not go in hand in my mind.

Scholarships are a thing?

Nah, I didn't even need scholarships. The financial aid was really good for Stanford undergrad.

My brother went to a state school undergrad, then got grad degrees from Harvard and Georgetown. He's almost done paying off an assload of debt, but it's meant he's had to work as a consultant these last ten years.

I think everybody thought you were talking about "fancy private" elementary/high schools, which is definitely not a middle class thing. Private college/university is a totally different matter.

They have scholarships for private k-12 too. I went to one 6-12 and my family was at no point ever more than lower-middle class. I got what amounted to a full ride almost my entire time there. And even as the family made more still didn't pay much.

>In fact, what we think of as "smart" does not correspond to "has high natural ability." "Smart people" are people who have decided to make their identities center around being smart. They've worked hard at it.

I would also argue it's the combination of smart and naturally outgoing or extroversion. Being extroverted seems to be naturally correlated to being successful or being a successful leader for most people. It doesn't make sense to me, other than I guess if you're your own cheerleader you're more likely to find opportunities.

It's easier to hit the ceiling of how successful you're going to be when you're working on your own. If you're someone other people want to work with/for, there are a lot more opportunities that can be taken advantage of.

Until recently, I agreed with you, but I just read a book called Quiet (by Susan Cain) [1] about introversion, and in the book they give evidence that shows that many of corporate history's most successful leaders were introverts.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who thinks they're an introvert, manages introverts, or has introverted family members -- it helped me understand/be happy with many of my own personality traits that I'd overlooked or misunderstood. (And, after reading the book, I realize I'm an ambivert, not an introvert.)

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Quiet-Power-Introverts-World-Talking/...

Not sure about that, at least in my workplace some of the people considered the smartest and best engineers are very quite, almost shy.

I have the opposite experience. I work in higher education, at an institution full of very smart, very talented people. There's a mix of both extroverted and introverted. The extroverts are all moving up the chain, while the (generally more talented) introverts stagnate earlier in their careers.

I'm sure there's something there to study, but I'm also sure I don't know what it is.

Keep in mind "extroverted" does not mean socially skilled.

My fiancee is a social ace. She knows how to make everyone feel good and always has a big smile. She connects deeply with people.

But when she's done she has to spent the next three days binge watching The Wire to recover.

A lot of introverts are very socially skilled, they just require time to get their energy back.

So maybe the Gervais Principle applies beyond just corporations:


Depends on how you classify "smartest" and "best".

At some point, the top-tier IC positions are going to require the type of skills that are commonly associated with extroverts.


>I’ve chosen to cultivate a path for myself that enables me to dig into complex technical and product problem spaces and help lead technical and strategic direction for my organization, as an engineer but not a manager.

Like it or not, if you ever want to escape the delivery trap, you're going to have to be able to effect change that cuts across multiple organizational entities in your workplace, and that's going to require selling yourself and your ideas.

>I've noticed something about subreddits that focus on lifestyle design and center around advice: they all start to converge on fairly narrow groupthink.

To me, this is a novel insight, thanks :) I have been wondering what has been causing my frustration towards these kind of subreddits. But this makes it clear that the problem is a lack of actual discussion and no challenges made against the assumptions of the in-group.

I have noticed this is a broad trend on a lot of the internet; the internet has a lot of data, but most of that data is repeated a lot. If you want new and interesting information you often have to look elsewhere (e.g. books).

A particularly annoying example to me is the ausfinance subreddit which is obsessed with a housing market crash that they seem to think will definitely happen tomorrow. Anything pointing in that direction immediately gets extrapolated as the horseman of the Australian housing market apocalypse, nevermind the fact it was trending the opposite direction yesterday.

I find myself looking things up on the internet a lot, and it occurs to me as a surprise to realize a lot of articles on "how to X" or "what causes Y" contain no real content at all.

Why? Because all of those articles are written by people paid a small amount of money to do quick research and write something in less than half a day. Most of them probably even haven't even read a single book on the subject.

It's so much better to read about something and get that broadband information, to encounter an obscure fact that sheds new light on something or makes the whole thing click.

The most important thing I've done for myself recently is to start breaking away from the social streams by doing my own aggregation with Fraidycat. Besides letting me assemble a lot of sources, it dampens the noise because it doesn't let a single feed drown out the rest: that Twitter account that can't stop shitposting every two seconds in between the real insights is thus tamed.

And so there's a distinct "lack of addictive qualities" when I open it, followed by some very rewarding content. It does take a little time to put together but it helps that we have social streams now to sample from, since so many of them ultimately link to a slower-moving source of real content like a personal blog.

Wow fraidycat is fantastic. I couldn't get it working on firefox but it does run on chrome well.

There are challenges to the groupthink. They are downvoted into oblivion.

For particular groups, where it is a place to discuss things amongst themselves, that's defensible, but in r/news, r/politics? Today, in r/technology of all places, there were some utterly disgusting hate being spewed because Ivanka Trump is going to CES for some reason.

Oh, the default subs are absolute trash. Don't expect anything worthwhile from them.

And some non-defaults are pretty toxic, like /r/mfa or /r/bodybuilding. They'll straight up mock you there for legitimate questions.

However, the great thing about reddit is it's highly subreddit dependent, and you can always find a new, better community.

I find the Hacker News comments section depicts similar traits to the subreddits.

Reminds me of this:


Though a parody, it's close enough to reality that it's hard to tell. Which means it's a fairly good parody.

Wanting to be engineer #5549383 at a big company is a fools errand if you want recognition and reknowned. It's like trying to get famous working as the guy who bolts the doors onto the frame at the Belvedere assembly plant.

The lion doesn't concern himself with the opinions of the mouse.

All of the people cited in the article (Gates, Musk, Jobs) eschewed "prestige institutions" and worked on what they wanted to work on.

They're incidentally famous because of their success in other areas.

The Kardashians are famous for being famous.

Which do you really want?

Of course the risk is that working on what you want to may not ever put bread on the table. There's heavy confirmation bios in play here as you only hear about the Gates', Musk's and Jobs'.

The optimal approach for most is probably to do their level best at their day job and work on what they want to in their spare time. And perhaps, with luck and time, the knowledge and skills developed in the spare time can be leveraged to put bread on the table.

Gates Musk and Jobs all came from rich families and were able to work on what they wanted to work on.

The people going for prestigious institutions may actually need a job and and are optimizing for the best possible outcome.

Also, I think Jobs is the only one who could really be said to eschew prestige institutuons. Gates went to Harvard and Musk went to Wharton (and Queen's, which is the Canadian equivalent of ivy-league).

Queen’s is far from the Canadian equivalent of “Ivy League.” You must be from Queen’s.

Ha, far from it, I went to Waterloo. Not that I bought into rivalries, but if we had one it was Queen's

The comparison in this context was that Queen's has a reputation for attracting status-seeking people banking on a management consulting career path.

I didn't mention their schooling. I only care about where they didn't work.

Gates did. Not sure either Musk or Jobs had rich families. You may want to check that.

Doing your homework for you: Jobs had an unusually international background; was born to highly-educated parents who made sure he went to a suitable family when they put him up for adoption; grew up in a relatively wealthy, highly-educated community that was the hotbed of a nascent industry; and was able to do drugs, an experience here considered life-altering, without being arrested or sent to jail.

I know the word "privilege" is anathema here, but it applies, even if neither his biological nor adoptive parents were necessarily rolling in dough.

Yes, doing drugs in the 60s was a real privilege. He almost didn’t get adopted because his adoptive parents weren’t well educated enough. And he dropped out of college because he was burning his parents life savings.

He had a wonder years middle class life.

He was born in 55, so I imagine we're talking more about the 70s. And yeah, not being arrested for doing illegal drugs is a privilege. And according to his wiki article, he ended up with the parents he did because they promised to send him to college; education was at the heart of the decision-making there.

>He had a wonder years middle class life.

In the middle of the tech revolution's ground zero. In fact, being on a lower rung of the upper-middle class ladder might have been protective, in that he had access, but not too much access. In other words, enough resources (that most Americans of the time did not have) to get off the ground, without being tracked into less risky, more conventional, still lucrative work.

Musk 100% comes from wealth [1].

In America, there's the whole mythos of the rags-to-riches American dream. Some people whose story is really riches-to-more-riches present their success as the former.

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/elon-musks-dad-tells-bi-abou...

Elon recently confirmed that this store is not true on twitter. It's inside a reply thread so can't find the source at the moment.

Musk's family owned an emerald mine in south africa

Nope, that business insider article had no sources, and according to Musk is false

>Not sure either Musk or Jobs had rich families. You may want to check that.

Doesn't that mean you should be the one checking?

>The lion doesn't concern himself with the opinions of the mouse.

This is from game of thrones. Also, former FL Sheriff Scott Israel used that quote in a courtroom after a judge had called him negligent.

No, the game of thrones variant was the opinions of sheep. Which is foolish because the lion should care about his food.

It's also not originally from thrones. It goes back to Aesop. Thanks for playing though.

Neither, thanks.

To be fair my calculation is if you’re not at near peak TC band when you enter top tech companies it’s hard to impossible to catch up, so the anxiety is warranted.

That's precisely my point regarding the rat race - what is one trying to catch up to? Is there economic or social anxiety at 350k/yr which evaporates at 400k/yr?

Absolutely. Purchasing real estate (or even a Tesla, etc) is out of reach for people like me, and likely will be for 10+ years from now.

Say someone makes 150% or more of what I make (ergo are valued 150% superior in a fair labor market) and they can save far more and build a their net worth significantly faster even with a more luxurious lifestyle.

But the person earning 150% more than _them_ isn't purchasing a Tesla. It's a Lamborghini or a Bugatti. It's not a 3br home in SF - it's a summer home in Napa, or a chalet in Tahoe.

The person earning 150% more than _them_ is coveting the latest Bell Jetranger, or Gulfstream G700.

The obsession for more is the same at all levels.

You know I hear this argument a lot and I don't buy it because it ignores a baseline at the lower end.

I think there are a lot of people that are not concerned with the luxuries you reference but are deeply concerned with their base needs and random setbacks life throws at them. They basically want to save for a rainy day so as avoid stress when they encounter bumps in the road.

It's like asking someone who works for minimum wage why their worried about moving up to a salaried position because compared to the people in Sudan, they have a life of luxury.

No one is denying a baseline. Its just _much_ lower than most think, and certainly doesn't include anyone who is a software engineer.

I think the point is about working out when you have enough.

No matter how much you have, there is always the opportunity to be envious of others who have more. Acquiring more will not stop the envy or satiate that need.

But you can decide that you have enough right now. Or you can set a goal and say "that is enough for me". That goal might be really high, or it might be really simple, that doesn't matter. The part that matters is deciding that you have enough at some point.

I've been homeless, and having a warm safe place to sleep was enough. Now my sights are somewhat higher, but comparing myself to a friend who exited a few years ago is a constant source of misery. I have to keep reminding myself that I have enough at the moment, and to be grateful and enjoy what I have.

I think the baseline becomes irrelevant at around 50k, maybe up to 100k-150k in some areas, but in those areas it's not hard to make 150k as a software engineer.

I make 75k and save almost half my income while having all the material items that I want. Granted I don't want a lot, but I actually believe quite strongly that not having that constant desire for more and nicer material items makes me much happier than those who are stuck in that cycle.

Not to sound douchy but I think that kind of materialism that is so extremely common across all levels of society seems to me like such an enormous and obvious problem that most people fall into for some reason regardless of how smart they are, and they would almost all be significantly happier just not caring about such sh*t. It's a crutch and prevents people from finding real meaning and happiness and for most it lasts their whole life or at least until they are too old to change.

I know this isn't a novel idea, any slightly rebellious teenager can and will point out the obvious harm of this kind of mindset, but that only makes people disregard it even more. It's such an obvious problem, and most people even agree when you point it out, but then those same people live out the rest of their lives without doing anything about it.

I blame social pressure and peoples tendency to not wander to far from the norm, combined with some conditioning and of course the addiction-mimicking dopamine effects

You're completely correct, diminishing returns of income on happiness is well established, and I would be surprised if people here were not aware.

This community skews very hard towards high earners though, so people here probably view that as something that goes without saying, but that isn't within the purview of this particular discussion about the rat race in tech.

Among this community, it's probably true that a significant raise wouldn't significantly change their day to day lives, although obviously that is less and less true as their baseline income goes down.

Diminishing returns of absolute income on happiness, or of income relative to some cohort?

I think 350k is a safe "lower end" baseline from which to build a rainy day fund, though.

Is this a joke? $350k annual income puts you in the top 1% of earners in the US. Surely you don't believe less than 1% of people in the US can live comfortably and have a safety net, do you?

Going through the realization right now that I need to go “FANG” or get out of the Bay Area right now. Just got engaged and I have been looking at costs. I thought I could make a small family work here on $170k. That’s dead wrong. I would need at least $300k to make a family of 4 comfortable here. My wife and I both want her to stay at home and focus on the kids and she makes non tech money anyway. Even at this amount we are looking at a an uninspiring life thats most about paying interest on a way too expensive house and not having enough for retirement or sending the kids to college.

Startups in tech aren’t paying close to family raising salaries in the Bay. FANG does albeit reliant on stock continuing to grow like it did last decade. I am personally studying math/algos/leetcode and getting good at interviews. Its sad because it takes up all of my free time that I could spend building. It sucks to make $170k and feel like you can’t make it somewhere.

I finally had a breakthrough with my fiance last night and we are talking about moving to Salt Lake City! My current job would allow me to go remote and there does seem to be a scene there. $170k is more than enough.

>That’s dead wrong. I would need at least $300k to make a family of 4 comfortable here.

The Bay Area has a combined population of over 7 million, with a mean household income of $137k. It sounds like you have unreasonable expectations if you need at least $300k to live comfortably.




A lot of these people got into the housing market before the explosion in prices over the last 15 years. Also, that stat also doesn't tell you if people on those incomes can afford their houses or how soon they can retire.

It sounds like you either don't live in the Bay Area or you make about what I make and haven't realized if you don't make $300k and your options aren't very pleasant.

I don't know if you came from an extremely privileged background, but I find it ridiculous that your minimum standard of a comfortable living starts at over double the median household income for that area.

I grew up in the Rust Belt in rural PA. Mean salary where I am from is about $22k. You either haven’t lived in the Bay Area or can’t do math if you think what I am saying is crazy. Anyway check this out https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnbc.com/amp/2019/09/11/you...

My wife and I went through the exact same thing back in 2006 and I can tell you while fear of the unknown is real, it might have been the single best decision we ever made.

Also, Phoenix is pretty reasonable cost of living wise and they have a growing number of opportunities tech wise. June 15 - Oct 15 suck but you get used to it.

Thanks, I will check out Phoenix. Assuming you are a little older since you moved in 2006, do you feel like the top end of your career has been held back at all by not being in one of the major tech hubs? What does your role look like now.

Not at all. In fact there's quite a decent tech scene being built around ASU in Tempe; Amazon among others are there.

I was surprised to see that Amazon (Twitch) is in SLC as well. What sort of paycut would I be expecting. I think my current gig would probably make me go from $170-$150k if I went remote. I assume the top end wouldn't be what it is in the Bay Area but maintaining > $150k is reasonable with 10+ years of experience?

If you can find stable remote work that you enjoy that's surely something to consider. If you are flexible on where you can live you can really skew the relative compensation in your favor. I think for most situations you'll find the decrease in pay is more than compensated for by the decreased cost of living compared to the left coast.

San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA Metro Area:


Median household income: $108k

Owner-occupied dwellings: 55%

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnbc.com/amp/2019/09/11/you... CNBC saying you need $350k a year for a middle class life in SF and NYC.

Now do people 25-35 that are buying in todays market. That might take you longer than 30 seconds though.

> Startups in tech aren’t paying close to family raising salaries in the Bay.

They are mostly hiring fresh grads anyway, who won't be raising a family anytime soon, so it's not a huge problem for them.

I'm including series D companies under the term startup. I agree with you about early stage companies. Jobs at non FANG that don't IPO are not that sustainable imo.

It's helpful to remember that the Bay Area is extremely expensive, and even more helpful to remember that some people have large families.

I could pretty comfortably raise a family of 6 on $100K in a midwestern city, or a family of 6 on $80K in the rural midwest/south. Without sufficient retirement savings, mind you, and my safety net would be non-exisent. I'd need at least another $30K-$50K on those numbers to build a strong safety net (remember, it's a safety net for 2 parents + 4 kids, not for one person...).

Doing the same in SFBA would probably require at least $250K. Maybe more.

> Surely you don't believe less than 1% of people in the US can live comfortably and have a safety net, do you?

The number is larger than 1%, but probably still smaller than you think.

The average American definitely doesn't have a sufficient safety net. IME, the average American raising more than 1 or 2 kids almost certainly doesn't have a sufficient safety net.

So, no, you don't need to be in the top 1% of earners in the US to have a safety net. But if you have a large family, you probably have to be in the top 10% to live comfortably and have a safety net and retirement.

> Doing the same in SFBA would probably require at least $250K. Maybe more.

Why? Each child might consume, generously, an extra 5k of food and 2.5k of clothes and other inputs per year. This is an increment of $30k on top of housing. For housing, you could add one or at most two bedrooms for four children. This does substantially raise housing costs, but there are still places in Sunnyvale for $1M or just above that that have three bedrooms. They may not be the nicest houses, but they would do.

So, before you have kids, save your downpayment. On a 250k salary, this would take one to three years if you're thoughtful about it. Then buy the house and start popping out babies. Times will be tight if you need to pay for childcare, but that's a defined and short period of the childrens' lives. You're not going to be taking lavish vacations, but if you wanted those, you wouldn't have four kids anyway.

Cheap homes in the Bay Area have terrible schools. You’ll need to factor in private school if you go that route. That’s $25k per kid per year.

Or, be involved with your school board, and raise up the schools you can afford to send your kids to?

Ego seems to be at play here, a bit. No one wants to admit that they're in the same boat as the people sending their kids to "those schools," but they are. The numbers don't lie. Looking on the bright side: admissions look at class rank. An outstanding student at a mediocre school has better odds than a mediocre student at a "good" school.

... And your kids at those 10/10 greatschools schools will be stressed like hell and end up with crazy self worth issues.

There are plenty of houses listed near $1M on Zillow that have acceptable school districts. They aren't the best in the Bay, but I'm not a buyer on the premise that you need a 10/10 school for your child to have a good opportunity at success and happiness.

What exactly is a "terrible school"?

My elementary and middle schools were 4/10 and 5/10 on "Greatschools" in North Carolina.

In the Bay area?

Judging by this subthread, it's a school where people who 'merely' make 170k/year send their children to.

You really don't want to get your kids mixed up with that kind of hoi polloi. /snark

Sounds like the Bay Area is a horrible place to live.

Strictly in my case, even 4 or 5 levels of these jumps is still FAANG total compensation, so no Lamborghinis or Summer homes.

Ultimately the super-rich that can afford those things are still orders of magnitude richer than people that just save/conservatively invest.

Depends on where the home is. With admonishments from every corner for my not squirreling away $100/month out of my ~$1800 take-home pay, someone making $250k a year should be able to easily put away the linear equivalent of $10k a year. 5 years of that is a down payment on something decent, somewhere decent.

Of course, my bread costs about as much as their bread, so they could probably getaway with a bit more. It's all about making good financial decisions, right?

Just to toss out another example. I make about $150k. I'm a single father. I put the legal maximum into my retirement account every year, which I think is $19k this year. I have 6 months of expenses saved up in my emergency fund. We take a nice vacation every year and have luxuries like season passes to Broadway. Yes, I think it's all about making good financial decisions.

*after you're paid enough to make financial decisions of any sort.

When I was making $35k/yr I was putting 10% in my retirement plan. I just had cheaper vacations, older cars, and fewer luxuries. People don't like to hear it but most financial problems are a character problem more than they are an income problem. The good news is that character flaws are not permanent. We all have them and if we can be self aware enough to acknowledge them, we can address them.

Let me get out the list...

>Before or after taxes?

>What year?

>Where did you live?

>What was your monthly rent?

>Did you rely on your family/friends for ANYTHING (including something as innocuous as "storing your childhood possessions")?

>Did you have any chronic or acute health issues?

>How far did you have to drive for work?

>Did you have friends or family you were obliged to support, even occasionally?

>Did you have a side hustle?

And so on.

Broadly-speaking, making $35k before taxes in 2020 in any major metropolitan area is a tightrope walk at best. The best way to encourage saving is to pay people enough money that they feel comfortable charting out a plan to save. That's a sliding scale, but I would say you hit 80% around the median wage, which is not $35k/yr.

IME the people giving this advice have a critical misunderstanding of either costs or the value of cash relative to when they started out.

>Before or after taxes?

Before, median household income for my city at that time was mid-50ks. Of course median household income is with 1.5-2 workers. I wasn't married, but I did split rent on a house with friends... so adjust accordingly I guess.

>What year?

circa 2005

>Where did you live?

A 2nd tier major metro. Not NY/SF/LA, but a city you've definitely heard of.

>What was your monthly rent?

I don't remember

>Did you rely on your family/friends for ANYTHING (including something as innocuous as "storing your childhood possessions")?

No. My parents did have my childhood possessions but I grew up in an abusive household and never went back to retrieve those items.

>Did you have any chronic or acute health issues?


>How far did you have to drive for work?

30 mins

>Did you have friends or family you were obliged to support, even occasionally?

Yes, I helped friends pay rent a few times if that counts.

>Did you have a side hustle?


IME people will look for any excuse not to face their own personal failings. These are all the wrong kinds of questions. Instead of seeking an excuse for bad behavior, the right kinds of questions are about strategies for achieving better outcomes.

No, I think you've proven my point. $35k in 2005 is roughly $43k in 2016, which I'll use as a point of comparison because it was when I was myself making roughly $32k before taxes.

I'll just stop now to point out that this would be enough alone to allow you to drop 10% - and then some - into retirement savings, without living any more or less comfortably than I did. As I said before, the best way to encourage saving is to increase pay.

I assume you were paying less than my $900/month in rent (a studio price in a similar market to the one you describe), between your having the privilege of being able to split rent, and dealing with rents that were ~5% lower on average. This, again, would allow for a hefty savings rate compared to my baseline of losing roughly $100/month on necessities, even without the higher pay rate.

Considering all of this, I have to conclude that you were actually a poorer financial steward of your income than I was - again, even though I was losing money every month. Living under circumstances similar to yours (higher pay, lower rent), I could easily have put away 20%+ of "my" earnings - you only managed 10%. However, the truth is that we lived under different circumstances, yours much more forgiving of carelessness or mistakes.

A huracan seems like an achievable car after a number of years at a job like that. A Bugatti does not.

Ooo I hadn't seen that they'd announced the 700. Been holding off on the 650 waiting for a refresh.

> valued 150% superior in a fair labor market

Dropping all this nonsense about the labour market being "fair" will help you deal with the reality of it. Interviews have a huge arbitrary element in them of personal preference, and end up selecting for "looks and sounds like the interviewer" or "went to the right school" far more often than they would like. And remember the era of noncompete agreements?

Lol that's not how getting rich actually works. People get quickly used to new income, a bit better phones, clothing, cars, vacations etc. Plus 50% increase doesn't actually translate to 50% net income, taxes % go up in most western world pretty steeply, so the jump is not that big.

This isn't valid for 100% of the folks obviously, but say 90% fall into this trap one way or the other. It is paradoxically easiest for folks already burdened with ie mortgage, because usually the motivation to pay it back sooner trumps the need for some extra gadgets and to show off.

You know what's funny? Their overall long term happiness and life satisfaction doesn't improve a bit. In fact, in many cases it goes down due to ie extra worries about good investments, plus you earn cash by doing extra work.

Myself I increased my net income compared to my first full time IT job more than 20x in last 15 years, and I can tell you happiness comes from different place. Money just help a tiny bit on the path to it, that's all. Some folks, especially those competitive that article talks about, will never be truly happy. Of course is you live in like US with utterly broken healthcare, in some cases money can actually mean saved/improved life, but that's a bit special use case.

I think there's another thing going on.

Let's say that I'm getting by, but only just. There's things I'd like to do - take a vacation, or replace the carpet, or trade up to a better car - but I don't bother thinking much about them, because there's no point. Those things I can't do bother me a bit, but I don't dwell on them very much.

Now my circumstances improve. Now I can take that vacation, or replace the carpet, or trade up to a better car. But note that I said "or", not "and". I can do one of the things I want, but only one. Now each of those things is realistically possible, and I can seriously consider doing it. But in the end, I can only do one of them.

In this way, it's possible to have more money, and therefore more options, and still feel worse about the things you can't do because you don't have enough money.

Unless you're just doing the passive index fund thing, which there is obviously nothing wrong with, I don't think many understand the stress levels that come from trading. Insane highs. Insane lows. Lows you will eat at you for years.

Nothing with trading, I don't have mentality to thrive there. Still doing IT, still +- same job, just started low and gradually moved to much better place. Plus (I would like to think that) I know how to negotiate salary during hiring. Or maybe just luck, can't really say.

Not even self-employed, which is great but goes opposite to stability, and some goals I have in life are not financial.

Weirdly, I've never made more than about $130k/year, didn't inherit that much, have more real estate than I strictly need, don't particularly want a Tesla (although I've been considering a 5 or 6-year old luxury car lately, as I'm old and fat and tired of crawling in and out of the 2004 Corvette) and I find the "I have to have an initial offer $400k/year or I'll never be able to afford a car or a house" completely inexplicable.

Pro tip: I am a negative example; don't do what I did. If you are success and prestige oriented, do not chase hard problems. Go after easy problems that are well compensated. Hard problems run the risk of failure, from which it is difficult to "catch up", and typically aren't all that well paid.

Say someone makes 150% or more of what I make (ergo are valued 150% superior in a fair labor market) and they can save far more and build a their net worth significantly faster even with a more luxurious lifestyle

That person thinks the same way about someone who earns 150% more than them... this cycle never stops

If anything it seems to get worse the further up the pyramid you are....

I probably make < 10%, I'm just fine here. My mind is my own.

>Nobody cares if you can make pasta from scratch and it’s not going to make any money

I don't live up to other peoples expectations, their expectations are irrelevant to me. I have my own expectations.

I did learn to make the macaroni and perfect it. Since perfection is personal preference it's better than the fancy restaurant.

The horse is behind the cart. We make the money to buy the macaroni. I go straight for the macaroni. There is no money in learning to tie your own shoes or make your own bed? ha-ha

Lol that's not how getting rich actually works. People get quickly used to new income, a bit better phones, clothing, cars, vacations etc. Plus 50% increase doesn't actually translate to 50% net income, taxes % go up in most western world pretty steeply, so the jump is not that big.

This isn't valid for 100% of the folks obviously, but say 95% fall into this trap one way or the other. It is paradoxically easiest for folks already burdened with ie mortgage, because usually the motivation to pay it back sooner trumps the need for some extra gadgets and to show off.

You know what's funny? Their overall long term happiness and life satisfaction doesn't improve a bit. In fact, in many cases it goes down due to ie extra worries about good investments.

Nah. That's just sour grapes. Saying that more money leads to less long term happiness and life satisfaction. It's not true. It's not hard at at all to find good investments. If you have some money, and are willing to take some risks, your investments will grow. The rich get richer. It's a law of nature.

>To be fair my calculation is if you’re not at near peak TC band when you enter top tech companies it’s hard to impossible to catch up

I'm not sure I understand. What is the point you're making? Why is it hard to catch up? What's stopping someone in a mid or low TC band from switching to another company and increasing their TC?

Switching usually means a downlevel or a lateral level transition (extremely rare that someone uplevels from a switch) which limits the upside. You'd always be tied to your prior TC in some way and the effects compound.

So? Is the point you're making that you won't be the highest paid employee in a company?

Your TC is tied to your prior TC, which is tied to your internships and college, which is tied to your high school performance. Might as well take it down to kindergarten.

If you're not a child prodigy, then you won't be the most talented, highest-paid employee.

I'll never understand this mindset.

Fortunately, there are still some places to work without such drawbacks but shhhh - they're a secret.

Can you tell me? Asking for a friend

My friend would also like to know

Can forward your PM to my friend(s).

The rat race mentality keeps employers honest.

For every person who negotiates top-decile compensation, there are nine people who don't.

There are too many employers offering $100k for a senior dev with 10+ years of everything, leadership experience, and a winning smile.

Awesome internships wont be paying well and wont be at a FAANG hey will be places like tier one rnd, like NASSA JPL CERN etc.

And in no tech careers probably because daddy or mommy put in a god word

> She would say, “Dave, you only got one award this year. Remember when you won seven last year?”

> If it wasn’t that, maybe it was also because I am gay. My mother was never really happy about this

Ah, the absolute pinnacle of neurosis parenting. That's a solid one-two punch to the child's psyche, which gives them a drive to please while at the same time ensuring it can never be met. Well done; you ensured your child would work hard forever by guaranteeing that no matter how hard they work they won't actually be happy, because they can never meet your standard for approval.

> She would say, “Dave, you only got one award this year. Remember when you won seven last year?”

I've had stuff like this from parents.

Nothing is ever good enough, I have a friend who is massively more successful than me that I've been friends with since we were children. Went to same nursery, school and university.

When I told my parents I got a bonus one year, instead of great, well done. I got asked how much, followed by asking what bonus did my friend get (them knowing his position, that his bonus would be a couple of orders of magnitude more), seemingly, just to put me down.

I've been told by my dad, despite me having my own place and what I consider a decent job, that I failed in life as my friend has so much more money than me and a better title.

I now just don't care what my parents think.

I feel you. My parent are same way. The constant comparison and criticism has driven me anxious and depressed. I am from Pakistan, and this is pretty common for our community.

The worst part is that they went above and beyond for our education. So now I constantly hear about how they sacrificed their pleasure for us and how we are so ungrateful. They complain that I cannot take a little bit of constructive criticism. Which makes me feel even more guilty. Perhaps I am too sensitive.

I am pretty successful, more successful than most people my parents are actually friends with. I support them financially more than most of my friends. But, of course, that's not good enough for them. Lately, my mom stopped talking with me because I defended my son against their criticism.

In our culture, parents and elders are like God, we are not supposed to say anything back. From childhood, they start programming our heads with stuff like children owe so much to parents, there is heaven under mother's feet, and a lot other such sayings.

I have been to therapists for this and they all recommended that I distance myself from my parents but this is something I just cannot do. They provided food, shelter, the best education. They were there, it is not like they abandoned me. So how can I leave them.

There is a lot of support and literature about parents who abandoned their children or were physically abusive but you don't hear songs about parents who emotionally abused their kids. I don't know how to deal with this.

I drew the line with my dad when he looked down my girlfriend’s shirt and said he could see why I liked her and when he made anti-Semitic remarks about the faculty at my brother’s graduation. (I’m not Pakistani by birth but my mother was and my dad’s grandfather migrated). It started with that sort of behavior you describe as well as misogyny. If you don’t nip it in the bud now there’s no telling where it will end up. This isn’t the pind in Punjab (where his grandfather was from) where you can scratch your balls in public for eternity and no one will say anything.

Instilling ambition and an optimistic hard working spirit is a good thing many children don’t have, but if they are never willing to congratulate you, especially when you are happy about an accomplishment that sounds like borderline abusive behavior.

I would recommend getting a lot of long-term distance and lowered communication to discover your own mental space (german word „abnabeln“).

I've seen this type of thing with my son's friends. Hyper-competitivity in 2nd graders is bizarre to me. I experienced another extreme. :)

End of the day, parents do wacky things, usually in an attempt to protect their kids from their own insecurities, regrets and failures. Both sets of my grandparents were immigrants who experienced both incredible highs and dark low-points. That experience manifested in a bias for risk aversion. After I graduated from college and started my first job (at a bank), my grandmother would mail me application packets for civil service exams for the NYC Sanitation, NYPD, etc. (Note that I didn't live near NYC at the time at all) Her argument was that the stability of a civil service, union gig, close to the nest, was very important.

I try to hold my kids to a high standard of performance, but focus on doing the work and improving, not on some preconceived notion of outcome. In my professional experience, 95% of people focused on getting awards are bullshit artists, so it's not something that I encourage or discourage.

This is it. When we're young and the main/only positive feedback we receive is due to our achievements, it becomes part of our identity and source of self worth. Such a common trap for the combo of smart kid and anxious or narcissistic parents.

After a bunch of therapy I eventually realized that many of my similar behaviors to OP were driven by a false belief that anything less than stellar success would result in annihilation. I felt like I had no worth if I couldn't achieve/succeed/impress. And of course I would feel that way because that's how I derived all of my worth as a child.

At the end of the article the author mentions considering therapy. I really hope he does it.

The author is very deliberate about blaming his mother for negative outcomes in his life. Despite the likely case (guessing here) of the mom loving him unconditionally, but wanting to imbibe ambition in him.

The phenomenon of disliking one's parents for being too harh is much more prevalent in the West. And yet, parents in China and India are harder on their kids, while those kids are growing up to loving their parents more frequently, than being distraught.

My point is, there is some social conditioning in the West that is leading people to dislike perfectly good, well intentioned parenting. Wanting and preparing one's kids for generally accepted notions of success isn't bad parenting, it's love, because it's easier to simply not put the ground work into imbibing a culture of success

> And yet, parents in China and India are harder on their kids, while those kids are growing up to loving their parents more frequently

Got any evidence for that? Those cultures place a stronger emphasis on duty and obedience to parents. That's not the same as love though. It's possible to dislike one's parents but still take care of them in their old age because it's what society expects of you and you'd be considered a bad person if you did otherwise.

> The phenomenon of disliking one's parents for being too harh is much more prevalent in the West

Citation needed.

If you look a few comments up you'll see some people not from the West discussing harsh parents. They're also affected negatively.

Your idea that people complaining about how they weren't parented is them simply disliking their loving parents is not well thought out.

As another gay man that was raised this way, I couldn't agree more. The worst thing you can do to a child already doubting their self-worth (by being in an invisible minority) is to quantify it with impossible standards. Please don't do this to your child, no matter their orientation.

“People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory, passed from one to another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out.”

Marcus Aurelius

"19. You may be unconquerable, if you enter into no combat in which it is not in your own control to conquer. When, therefore, you see anyone eminent in honors, or power, or in high esteem on any other account, take heed not to be hurried away with the appearance, and to pronounce him happy; for, if the essence of good consists in things in our own control, there will be no room for envy or emulation. But, for your part, don't wish to be a general, or a senator, or a consul, but to be free; and the only way to this is a contempt of things not in our own control."


The Aurelius quote is a bit ironic since Aurelius is still remembered despite the passage of many generations.

On a long enough timeline the memory of Marcus Aurelius will extinguish.

That's a strong claim given that we don't yet fully understand the laws of physics.

It's a pretty open-ended claim, I'm happy to hear your rebuttal though if you think Marcus Auerlis will be remembered 1,000 to 1 billion+ years from now.

If humanity survives, which isn't guaranteed but has some chance, then I think it's almost certain that there will be people who care about early writers, in the same way that classicists exist today.

“On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”


> If an individual entity endures a fixed probability μ < 1 of disappearing (”dying”) in a given fixed time period, then, as time approaches infinity, the probability of death approaches certainty. One approach to avoid this fate is for individuals to copy themselves into different locations; if the copies each have an independent probability of dying, then the total risk is much reduced. However, to avoid the same ultimate fate, the entity must continue copying itself to continually reduce the risk of death. In this paper, we show that to get a non-zero probability of ultimate survival, it suffices that the number of copies grows logarithmically with time. Accounting for expected copy casualties, the required rate of copying is hence bounded.

What if the universe repeats itself?

"What we do in life, echoes in eternity"

“On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”

Yes, but would you listen to someone who wasn't?

one of many great lessons in that book. happy to have finally read it after it came up on here a few times.

I have found it a real slog (challenge), and gave up after chapter 3. I think the lack of context made it a bit dull for me. Maybe I should try an annotated text to see if holds my attention better!

i found the 1st chapter to be a bit of a slog as you say, but after that it picked up for me. and there were hints of what was to come in the 1st chapter.

but 100%, it was a little challenging to get into initially.

i also took breaks reading it as i read other books. it can definitely be digested piecemeal as it's a collection of thoughts.

It's something to dip into. It's remarkable that it survived at all, seeing as it was just his personal "notebook".

Heh this is only a very mild version of status obsession. To a degree it's actually a good thing to want, so long as you stay committed to doing the actual work of getting successful.

What amuses me to no end is when I see a rich guy who wants to keep being in the news. As if to say "see, I actually deserve all this wealth". I've seen several of these people over the years. Somehow the media keep calling them to comment on all manner of things unrelated to their field of expertise. One guy I've seen has articles about how he's a great art lover. Then one about how his wife worked so hard to help him. Then commentary on how startups work. Then he buys a sports team. And another. And another. Everythings he does has to be in the news. Another guy is a little bit wiser about it, but also sticks his comments in where he really isn't an expert (economics, politics). Sprinkle in a bit of bragging about expensive wines and restuarants, and it just looks like an old child doing the "look at me" routine.

I really don't get it. I suppose that external validation is a huge factor for some people, something similar to substance addiction. People can't see it, but they are swapping dignity for attention.

Dignity is really, really undervalued in the present era. Perhaps because it's hard to monetise.

Dignity is fragile and difficult to measure. We live in an age of obsessive measuring. Unrecorded experience has become an object of dread and suspicion. I would say dignity is almost an offense to the spirit of the age.

"People can't see it, but they are swapping dignity for attention."

Nice observation, though in rare cases not necessarily true.

The thing is, as you point out, status does actually bring potentially huge benefits; People start to come to you with proposals, rather than the other way. Success/Status attracts opportunity. So to some extent we're hardwired to strive for it.

What does that have to do with dignity? Dignity can mean choosing to starve rather than take $10 to buy a meal if the person dangling it demands you do some trick like a trained dog for his amusement. It's about choosing your actions on your own morals rather than on someone elses.

The people I'm talking about are beyond needing proposals. The only point of getting proposals at this point is to get more flattery. This is not to say it isn't useful for society to have some guys floating around funding new projects, just the point of it for them does not seem to be to find interesting projects to help. You can help people quietly.

A friend of mine who was visibly successful in his business told me he got to the point where he would say no to every proposal. Something he thought would be a benefit quickly became a burden.

I think you are underestimating the promotional value of media coverage. It may not be about them at all. They may simply be leveraging their reach to get the word out about something they invested in.

"People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory, passed from one to another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out.

But suppose that those who remembered you were immortal and your memory undying. What good would it do you? And I don't just mean when you're dead, but in your own lifetime. What use is praise, except to make your lifestyle a little more comfortable?"

- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Ironic that that quote comes from someone who died in the year 180. If I got 2000 years of fame, I'd be pretty satisfied.

"If I got 2000 years of fame, I'd be pretty satisfied."

Actually, you'd wouldn't... be.

Marcus Aurelius is asking exactly how will that be of _use_? (Even when you’re alive)

Feeling better about yourself is not useful? Influencing a large number of people is not useful?

Marcus Aurelius being a writer on stoicism, I feel I have to point out that stoicism would suggest that you control how you feel about yourself and are only tying your feelings to external factors. You can feel good about yourself without external validation.

Influencing others is only practically useful in your lifetime, so posthumous fame doesn't really do you anything.

But it does other people good after i die, and i care about other people even after i die.

but that's a different perspective - stoicism addresses the hedonism treadmill and how to get off of it (as well as how to respond to misery) - it isn't in opposition to charity or altruism. It's a totally different thing to try to have a great influence for posthumous fame and recognition, versus just trying to help people whether they know it was you or not.

Feeling better about yourself must never be a primary concern. It's true that you can't help but feeling good about your actions if they do good, but your ego should be be supressed as much as possible.


Frankly, a stupid quote.

"What good is praise except to make your lifestyle a little more comfortable"

That sounds pretty darn good to me.

And the fact that your memory and work can be passed down and influence a theoretically infinite number of people.

What good will that influence do you?

Right. It’s like some companies tell you they can’t pay you but it will be great “exposure” or whatever. At some point you need to convert whatever that is into something you can actually use.

Depends. If I care about others, and my influence does them good, that increases my happiness/joy/contentment/whatever, while I'm alive.

I have the opposite problem. I have zero drive for status & prestige, but rather follow my passions no matter how unfashionable they are.

And it hurts my career. I don't have twitter followers who fall over themselves to offer me a job the very second I enter the job market. I can't shame a company or other big entity for behaving badly. I have very little leverage for many important career-improving opportunities because I lack the social clout to take advantage of them.

You NEED to attain some status and influence if you want the best control over your destiny. I'm trying to do this now, but it's hard because it doesn't come naturally.

I hate the idea that developers should have blogs. I see the advantage in using it to market yourself, but I write code for a living not blogs.

There isn't that much information that I feel the need to share with the world, and for the things I do (that would be career related), I don't usually have the time and motivation to write them up properly.

I'm not a good or efficient writer, but I'm sure glad there are programmers who are. I've gotten a lot of value from developer blogs. For example, Raymond Chen's New Old Thing is a wonderful resource for Windows stuff.

> I hate the idea that developers should have blogs.

I hate the reality that developers can't easily develop a portfolio of work because generally their work is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the companies they work for, and can't be legally shared outside of those places.

So we have github, but even that is suspect and many potential employers don't look at it, unless you are some well known contributor or founder to one or more open-source projects. Even then it can be a crap shoot; I've read on more than one occasion somewhat famous developers of tools being turned down for positions at companies that use the very tools they developed. It is somewhat maddenning.

You can just about forget it if your repositories are for your own personal projects, but that's better than nothing - and that's also where a blog has some influence. Basically, as a place to show something of your coding ability and knowledge, and the value you can bring as a new hire.

But honestly, that can get tiring; sometimes when I go home from work, I'll do something interesting - but many times, I just want to relax and not think about coding or other projects too much. I've found myself becoming more this way as I've grown older (currently approaching 50).

I've been an SWE for over 25 years now, but every time I find myself looking for a new position, it feels as though my previous experience counts for nothing. I can't show any future employer what I worked on in the past (and in many cases, that work is long gone along with the previous employer), they rarely want to look at my github or (back when it existed - I really need to restart it - sigh) my personal blogging site. It feels like every such interview and encounter I am starting fresh.

It sickens me. I don't know of any other kind of career where this kind of thing is the norm, except software development and engineering. If you aren't extremely famous and known, or you don't have a deep and wide network, or whatever - you can't just drop your resume, have a decent conversation about your past work and skills, and be given a chance. Instead, you are more often than not forced to jump thru a variety of ill-conceived hoops (many of them on fire, too!), which in the end might get you the position, or more often than not, you are rejected without any explanation or reasoning that might help you to understand what you need to work on in order to be more successful the next time around.

It's fairly absurd when you are on the younger end of the scale; now imagine you are old enough in some cases to be the parent of the person interviewing you, and still being questioned in such a manner, after likely being employed in the past longer than they've been alive.

It's almost Kafkaesque.

I think that is the reality for most professionals, not just developers and engineers.

Your HR technician, your barber, your baker, your supermarket team leader, aren't going to be able to show more than their CV either.

> their work is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the companies

As benhurmarcel says, this isn't unique to software development. It's the norm.

The most obvious exception that occurs to me is research, where your life's work is published (albeit often paywalled).

> we have github, but even that is suspect and many potential employers don't look at it

I'm not sure it's really 'suspect', is it? I suppose it's subject to Goodhart's law: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

As for employers not looking at it, I think that's a separate issue.

> I've read on more than one occasion somewhat famous developers of tools being turned down for positions at companies that use the very tools they developed. It is somewhat maddenning.

Yep. Here's the one that springs to mind: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15713801

I hate networking and don't play politics well, but you can take advantage of strong social networks just by being nice to people and showing interest in them.

My advice is to not worry so much about status and influence, but just go around making more of an effort to connect to people. It doesn't have to be Machiavellian -- that just sounds exhausting.

One caveat -- you DO have to know how to stand your ground, and self advertise a little. If you do well, make sure that everyone knows, and if someone tries to make you look bad, calmly assert the facts.

But that's pretty much it. That will get you pretty far unless your goal is to climb to the top of the ladder.

I'm the same way, but what I've found is that as I've gotten more experienced I'm good enough that people remember me, and I've grown a network from that as a result.

I actually do my best to stay relatively anonymous online. I do things like use fake middle initials everywhere so if someone does google for my name specifically, if something pops up they may not realize it's me. I vastly prefer the relative anonymity of the internet.

To the point that I had a direct manager once tell me he couldn't find anything about me online, but I got hired due to the strength of my references. A VP was in the room at the time and she made a comment that was roughly "good, it means we'll keep him".

About 1-2 months after that this same VP told my direct manager to write me up over questions I asked to on an email chain to a department that was using the software I was working on. I had work w/i 3 days, put in my 2 week notice, and basically told them in no uncertain terms that they're not going to keep good talent treating them like that.

Just be really good at what you do, treat people well, and maintain the relationships you DO create.

Do your passion projects have some sort of tangible output you could show people or talk about? Have you acquired/mastered skills to do said passion projects? You probably have more to offer employers, or to put on your CV, than you think. Social clout is nice, but not at all a prerequisite for career advancement, nor even the best route there.

What sorts of opportunities have you missed?

Oh yes, I have plenty of good skills and products from my passion projects (all on github, like a good boy). I'm not saying that I'm at a minus there. I'm a craftsman; my technical chops are top notch, and have both breadth and depth. It's only my social capital that is lacking, and that has often left me as the odd-man-out whenever politics happen at work, for example.

Take comfort that extra control and maneuverability from social exposure is mostly moot if you already know and do what you want. It sounds like you're saying that better social media presence can improve job prospects, and that might be true, but a portfolio and experience is still king here.

If you're fussing over a blog regularly but hate it, you've included that in the destiny in question. That experience is not divorced from it. Just a question of what you're willing to compromise.

Thought-provoking article.

I got over my obsession with emulating others' success when I realized that a lot of supposedly successful people were successful primarily because they were also lucky. Once you accept that a big factor in whether you'll end up "successful" is just chance, it becomes easier to accept that it may not be entirely under your control and so there's no reason to obsess about it.

PG's advice, which in some ways is a restatement of the Bhagvad Gita's best-known verse, really speaks to me. Just focus on doing the best you can on the things that actually interest you. The rest will follow, and if it doesn't, that's okay. At least you'll have had fun doing your thing.

> At least you'll have had fun doing your thing.

Whilst working 40+ hours a week for someone who was lucky enough that "the rest did follow."

That assumes that running a business is your thing..

It sounds like you're bitter about working "for" someone else. This might be an ego problem and the solution is not to just be an entrepreneur because that won't solve the root issue.

Maybe entrepreneurs are in part driven by ego. Taking on huge risk takes motivation.

> Should I learn to make pasta from scratch? No, that’s crazy. Nobody cares if you can make pasta from scratch and it’s not going to make any money.

I think the author got it wrong here. He mixes the words "successful" with "fame". By learning a skill like making pasta from scratch, you can make yourself and other people happy. And if you go deep into the field, you can even make money on it, if that's important to you :)

I started baking pizza and obsessed at making the perfect tomato sauce, the perfect dough, the perfect crust. Basically, the perfect pizza. I do know that perfect does not exist, but I got to a point where I make a pretty damn good pizza. I like my pizza better than most pizzi I can get in a restaurant. My next step is to build my own wood-fired outdoor oven, so I can reach the temperatures I need to get the pizza even better.

Being able to make this amazing pizza makes me so happy. It makes people around me happy. And I learn my friends and family how to make proper pizza. I smile and laugh and dance when I make pizza.

This is true success in my opinion.

And after I learned the baking skills, success kind of started snowballing in other areas as well.

Why are famous people successful? They do what makes them happy :) Why am I starting to be successful? I do what makes me happy :) How can you start to be successful? Do what makes you happy :)

If you think going down a certain path for happiness might seem a little crazy, that's a good sign.

Perfecting, or at least very gooding, already perfected tasks is an important component to becoming successful in areas that are not so established. Highly successful people are very good at other tasks that don't make them any money. They might make world class pizzas, be a competitive Tae Kwon Do fighter, have sailed boats around the Great Lakes, shred on a guitar/piano/violin/theremin, etc.

If you become great at becoming great, then your odds of being highly successful improve dramatically.

> I think the author got it wrong here. He mixes the words "successful" with "fame".

Reading the article closely, the author is actually starting to understand this. The interactions with his mother, the obsession with approval and recognition. It's a profound fear of social ostraszation due to one's self worth being based on the perceptions of others (as instilled deeply by his mother).

Do you have a recipe? :)


Tipo OO flour (Caputo Classic), 63% hydration, 3% salt, 5% browning agent (sugar, syrup, malt, or something similar) and instant dry yeast or liquid sourdough according to how long time I got to rise the dough. I use PizzApp+ to calculate the recipe.

I did obsess about making the perfect pizza, and I did spend a year to make the perfect sourdough bread.

To recap it very simple, I think the recipe for success is having fun and enjoying what you do :)

Bread flour > 00 flour in a regular home oven. The guys over at the pizzamaking.com forum would agree

> And I learn my friends and family how to make proper pizza.

teach, not learn. Also in English one says pizzas not pizzi. Everything else is perfect idiomatic English.

"Also in English one says pizzas not pizzi."

But in Italian I believe the plural form is pizze :)

People like Bill Gates are just lucky they were born liking programming and accruing power as much as some other people are born liking video games.

> Should I learn to make pasta from scratch? No, that’s crazy. Nobody cares if you can make pasta from scratch and it’s not going to make any money.

I stared at this for a long time in complete disbelief thinking "But it's so delicious!" And I guess, if you do it for friends or acquaintances it will give you prestige, you will be the prestigious person who makes totally awesome pasta. Although personally I would rank doing something nice for people above the prestige you might get from it, so I guess the article is not for me.

I feel somewhat sorry for the author. He ends the post with the realization that the search for success has not turned out like he was led to believe, and then questions how he should proceed with life.

My advice would be to go make pasta and share it with a beautiful woman (or man in his case).

Well, I do respect that part, because they are open about it and it's never too late to recognize such a thing. And we probably all get some version of this problem in differing amounts. I feel a little conflicted making fun of the pasta thing in this light.

But the pasta still sounds delicious.

> (or man in his case)

Well, there is that saying, "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach".

OT, and possibly unpopular here, but this really gets on my nerves:

> In Paul Graham’s essay on, How to Do what You Love* he warns us about the prestige trap: (...) you have to like the actual work of novel-writing if you’re going to be good at it; you have to like making up elaborate lies*

PG's contempt for anything literary pervades in many of his essays, which may reveal some kind of unhealthy obsession, esp. for someone who brands himself a "writer".

But this quote shows a deep misunderstanding of what literature is. Literature is about the TRUTH. It may be the only way to gain an actual comprehension of human nature.

A novel can be viewed as an experiment: put characters in a controlled setting of your design, and then see what happens. This is the best tool we have for this.

Surely putting imaginary characters in an imaginary setting can only result in stories limited by the authors imagination. If the author does not know all that much about human nature in the first place, only unrealistic stories will be the outcome. Worse, as a reader it is not possible to discern realistic behavior unless you already understand human nature, which makes literature somewhat useless for learning about it.

I would argue that understanding of human nature is a necessary (but not sufficient) element of becoming a good writer, but writing in itself is not necessarily a good way to learn about human nature. As an aside, I'm a bit weirded out by the idea that reading books would be the best way to learn about human nature as opposed to going "out there" and interacting with people.

Events happen in fiction that can be rare and unpleasant to experience oneself IRL... Fiction is a magnifying glass, a condenser.

That made me think of the start of a recent talk by Charlie Stross (the excellent SF author and HN user cstross):

"Good morning. I'm Charlie Stross, and I tell lies for money."


This is especially good. Thank you.

Accelerando is a wild ride.

I also took issue with that line as it reminded me of a quote from Orwell: "Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."

I think he is just being brusque to make the point. If he had written "you have to like constructing fantastic worlds and intriguing characters" it would obscure the message. I mean, it seems unlikely PG hates literature.

Literature is a reflection of human nature, but only as understood by the author. It is not going to take you any farther in comprehension than than the original author had already figured out. So while it might be truth, and certainly holds value, it is sheer arrogance to say that it is the "only way to gain an actual comprehension of human nature".

Novels don't contain some otherwise ineffable TRUTH (in all-capital letters), they're just made-up stories for entertainment. Which is a perfectly fine thing for people to work on and to enjoy.

If anything this bizarre attitude that literature "may be the only way to gain an actual comprehension of human nature" might be an artifice of people's desire for success and prestige--puffery motivated by a personal insecurity about the significance of one's interests or work. You want to gain an actual comprehension of human nature? Read history. Go to the bar. Have some kids. Sit down on the curb and talk to a homeless person. Travel. Put yourself in extreme situations with other people (like joining the military or something). You'll learn a hell of a lot more that way than by reading novels.

I do have kids. Did they teach me something about human nature? Not that I noticed. I still go to the bar often. Do I learn anything about human nature there? A little, yes, but not much (in essence, that people act stupid when drunk. They can be very funny though). Do I travel? Yes. What does that teach me? Mostly, that there's no place like home.

I maintain you will learn a lot more, and a lot faster, by reading Shakespeare, or Flaubert, than by talking with any number of people.

It's likely that putting yourself in "extreme situations" will teach you something about yourself, and by extension, about human nature in general. But you may die learning. There must be a better way.

If you think novels are "made-up stories for entertainment", chances are you didn't read many of them, or many good ones.

Novels are literally made-up stories. If they actually happened, they wouldn't be novels, they would be memoirs or history or something.

We do disagree on whether the purpose of novels is to entertain or to deliver what you call TRUTH. Now, to be as generous as possible to your point, some writers can distill a lifetime of wisdom and experience into a work of literature in a way that expresses some meaningful sense or generality about the human condition. How do we tell those people apart from the ones who fall short of that? I don't think you can tell them apart by just reading their work. You'd need to have enough of a base of reference to understand whether the literature you're evaluating actually matches up to human nature. In other words, you have to already have some understanding of the human condition before you can accurately judge whether a work of literature actually contains the TRUTH about the human condition.

It's true that putting yourself in extreme situations will teach you a lot about the human condition. It's also true that you might die learning. It's especially true that most people who have actually been in those situations will almost universally agree that if you weren't there and you didn't experience it yourself, you will never actually know. You can tell because they write about it in their memoirs sometimes.

Between the base-of-reference problem and the nothing-perfectly-matches-up-to-the-real-thing problem, I just think it's bizarrely hyperbolic to write in all-capital-letters that novels are the only path to the TRUTH. That's an absurd and unrealistic expectation. Based on what you said, it would certainly imply that the best way to get even more TRUTH would be to have someone spend their life locked in a room doing nothing but reading fiction, and then whatever fiction they wrote based on that would really be the TRUTH. But that's not really how it works at all; most good novelists actually have some interesting real-life base of reference.

Capitalization really seems to have upset you! It was more shouting than praying, though. I meant to say NO! to the statement that novels are "lies". They are the opposite of that. Lies are meant to deceive and exploit. Novels want to help you find the truth, any which way you want to type it.

And to respond to your 2nd paragraph, I'm not saying that (good) novels contain wisdom plainly stated as clever observations every few sentences. That would be a kind of diluted essay and would be of very little value.

That's not the point at all. Novels are machines. They work or they don't. You don't need to have extensive wisdom to decide if they do, just like you don't need to be a mechanic to know if your car won't start.

When they work, they show you a true situation. They don't "deliver" anything. They show. They make plain. They are not a list of interesting tidbits ("10 hidden truths about yourself!!"); they are an experience.

> I'm not saying that (good) novels contain wisdom plainly stated as clever observations every few sentences

I'm well aware that you're not saying that, and I'm utterly mystified where you got that idea from. By "wisdom", I meant the basic understanding of the human condition. An author who understands the human condition can express aspects of it in literature by constructing characters, placing them in narrative situations, and so forth. And on that count, I agree that literary fiction can be a way to show the human condition.

But that's not what you said. What you said was that literature--in context, meaning fictional literature--"may be the only way to gain an actual comprehension of human nature". That's a ludicrous and hyperbolic statement and if you hadn't gone that far I wouldn't have bothered responding because otherwise I do, in fact, have some sense for what you're getting at.

> Put yourself in extreme situations with other people (like joining the military or something).

I don't disagree with your point generally, but for someone with no interest in being in the military, reading Hemingway is a perfectly acceptable way to understand the ugliness of war. He absolutely captures the human condition in his books.

I don't disagree with that; I'm just saying that when you read Hemingway, you're experiencing all that stuff second-hand and I suspect Hemingway himself had a much broader understanding of the human condition than anyone can ever achieve by reading Hemingway.

Additional support: Most good novelists lived interesting lives

You are being very dogmatic with your definition of literature. Literature, as practiced today, is written art. Most of it (and even the best part of it) is just tales created for the simple pleasure to tell a story, that's it. Yes, Dostoevski, Kafka, Tolstoy, et al had this supreme talent to express "truths" about the human condition, truths which perhaps belong to the fabled-Jungian "collective unconscious", but those guys are a minority. Even most of their works can be read and appreciated just as marvelous tales.

Literature, like any form of art, should be rated using the best works, not the worst ones, or the most common ones, or the most recent ones. Who cares if there are a million bad books. That's not the point at all.

I took it as an offhand joke.

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