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“Really successful people say no to almost everything” (inc.com)
350 points by Oras on Oct 2, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 214 comments

I've been thinking a lot about this a related topic lately -- how much of our lives and the things we find ourselves doing are tasks that are imposed upon us by others. I'm trying to come up with strategies to minimize this, which I guess is related to "saying no" to a lot of things. But I'm not sure the ideal path. Let me give some (non-work) examples:

I flew back from Europe on Wednesday, and the airline misplaced my luggage. To get it back, they've imposed a ton of steps on ME. "Here's your reference number. Call our customer support in 24 hours. Follow-up every day until you get it" is what I was told (and what I'll have to do).

It seems unfair that an act that was 0% my fault results in at least several hours of tasks for me. I have to follow-up. I have to wait on hold. I have to spend time thinking and wondering if my luggage will ever show up.

How do we avoid this? Getting angry doesn't work (trust me, they've been yelled at). Ignoring it doesn't work - no luggage will show up. So I guess the only real solution would be to have a personal assistant or otherwise hire someone to deal with situation like this for me? That seems out of reach for most people.

All sorts of things are like that -- if someone sues you, they've imposed literally dozens of hours of work and thousands of dollars of expenses on you entirely without your say. You can delegate as much as you want to a lawyer, but you'll still need to gather documents, think about strategies, and of course pay your lawyer.

So how does one really truly say "no" to things & delegate undesirable tasks unless one has enough money to afford such delegation? I'm not sure I have a good answer to this one yet.


This question, with respect, has nothing to do with the article. The piece about Buffet applies to all the people on here who have a zillion side projects. What Buffet means by saying no is- same thing Jobs meant- don't do those things. Have a strategy and use the slow brain (Thinking Fast And Slow) to make decisions that are about going deep, not broad. Similar in part to Deep Work.

For annoyances, or things imposed on you, as described above, various Zen practices come to mind. Life is full of suffering, and obligation, and the most at peace simply acknowledge and fulfill them. The koan of the novice experiencing anger after the master disrupted a practice with a seemingly trivial action- with the master pointing out that he left it behind, it was the novice who carried it around, etc. Practice not thinking/worrying about whether you will get your luggage back. Make the calls, wait on hold, but don't worry. It will either happen or it won't. Objects are so commodified now, if you truly need a lost object, you can just buy another. The psychic angst is not worth it.


How do you know which project to focus on?

It seems Buffet, Jobs, Gates and anyone who got lucky early can say whatever they want, but they are also trapped in their own success, just like Google. Nothing else they do seems like "success" compared to their one big hit (Berkshire Hathaway, Macbook + iPhone, Windows, and of course the search-ad engine).

Sure, having a strategy is great, but usually for most people that should be try a few things, see what sticks, fail early, fail often, get into groups where network effects will carry your project/startup.

100% relate to this and I have joked to my wife that I need an assistant. My wife is an essential worker whose job stayed in-person and got busier with COVID. I’m the software engineer sitting at home. Within a month I’ve had car problems, appliance problems, mortgage problems, student loan problems, health insurance problems etc etc etc to the point I can’t even remember them all. Most of them not by my choosing. It feels like calling banks and contractors is my full time job and I check my work Slack as a hobby. It shows that the American way of life is pretty shitty even for the upper middle class. You either earn 7 figures or you struggle to some degree.

How is this an American problem? Seems like that’s just life to me. And having lived in Germany, I’m certain there are worse bureaucracies out there.

My German AirBnB host was a city employee who was able to take a two week vacation abroad. This was a job that required no experience.

Meanwhile, I went to college to better my life and ended up a slave

Germans with a more cynical outlook might tell you that the German bureaucracy is gobbling up staggering amounts of taxpayer money for doing barely any job at all, and basically leech off value creating jobs to fund their generous benefits. That is, if you want your job to be actually impactful in some way, you'll end up a "slave" funding some civil servant's lengthy yearly vacation as well.

I'm not quite there yet though.

Worker conditions are certainly better, but life is expensive and bureaucracy is annoying here too.

Certainly not exclusively American but inequality here is bad and getting worse. To an extent it’s “just life” but it’s depressing when we make a lot of money and somehow can’t save much of it. Makes one appreciate how hard people who earn absolute shit wages have things. Six figures in student loans if that helps show what’s different.

> it’s depressing when we make a lot of money and somehow can’t save much of it.

I obviously don't know your situation nor how you handle your finances. If you have the time to spare though, The Millionaire Next Door is a interesting read on exactly this topic (how some people with high incomes don't seem to be able to save a lot of money, while some others actually manage the inverse). Not saying that it'll fix your situation, but it might provide an interesting perspective. Best of luck to you in any case, I'm sure you'll get through it.

Appreciate the kind advice! Overall we are very fortunate and have a net income in the black, which is sadly rare for millennials. I’m only focusing on the negative in these posts.

Glad to hear that. Cheers!

Come to Europe, the weather is fine! (don't come for the weather)

Yeah, there's something really discouraging about any sort of inversion of work that businesses push onto customers.

Self checkout lines. Dealing with interactive voice menus. Waiting on hold. Whatever.

It's like any time support doesn't fall neatly into one of several predefined buckets the burden of dealing with any ambiguity falls onto the consumer.

Maybe it increases their profits. Maybe it decreases our quantifiable costs. But it's exhausting.

It's not directly analogous but software folks often talk about the merit in using external libraries for anything that's not a core business concern. But I'm curious what grocery stores or airlines would consider their primary business. Are they in the service industry or are they trying to just be food or airplane logistics players who lament their current requirement for a customer-facing physical presence.

I love self-checkout lines. I love self-service being available on my terms.

This shouldn't be the only option; "self-service or no service" is not my goal, but I appreciate the fact that 8 self-service lanes can allow a lot of customers to check out without waiting and in an affordable fashion. (Customers are paying for all the labor in any enduring company.)

The checkout-free store (like Amazon Go) is of course even better than a self-checkout in terms of customer experience.

I love self service in European grocery stores because I hate the stress of the cashier basically expecting me to put away groceries at the speed they are scanning them.

Here in southern Germany the checkouts are always very slow and crowded and always understaffed. Basically a normal situation is to have 20ppl wait for a single checkout. Then they begrudgingly open another, take 5 customers and close it again only to have the same thing repeat. I'd be happy to even pay extra just to have access to a speedier checkout self serviced or not and not have to waste half of my day waiting for this world's worst service.

I don’t know how it’s in Germany but Lidl in Spain basically have no grocery packing area at the end of the checkout so they are more or less throwing the groceries at you.

Dpends a lot on where you are. In France self scanners are far worse and slower than in the Netherlands. Also, cashiers are superslow in France compared to the Netherlands. I saw an Auchan once boast an average customer handling time of 2 mins (may have actually been 3). Meanwhile, Dutch Albert Heijn are proud the brought it down from 30 to 25 seconds.

Sounds like these may be multiple startup opportunities - one for each industry or mode of dealing with businesses.

Of course, those businesses that are reasonable or customer-centric are less likely to make these kinds of choices.

I fear that it will get really bad in our lifetime. Customer-facing businesses are getting bigger and bigger, and with that growth comes the need to scale customer service and to diffuse responsibility.

Worst of all, more and more systems are built by a small segment of like-minded middle-class workers. They are blind to the peculiarities and the struggles of other cultures.

With those firmly established factors, I expect this to get much worse.

When you said “yes” to flying on that airline, with checked baggage, you said yes to a chain of other sub-yeses that could result in a given situation.

Learning the consequences of your “yes” for various things and what you’re willing to accept is how you can manage this in the future.

This is a great perspective. Thanks.

And in fact this happens a lot with a lot of situations - people forget (including me!) that very little “happens to us” without our input. (Obviously some things are totally out of our control, but I’d argue less than we might think.)

This reminds me of a kid I met years ago. He always seemed to be in some bad situation or another - a personal injury lawsuit, a fight with a client, a fight with a boss, etc. He always framed it as bad luck - lots of bad things just happened to him and he was pretty melancholy about his lot in life.

It wasn’t until I spent a week with him on a group trip that I got some more perspective - he made a lot of bad decisions. If someone called him a name, he wouldn’t walk away - he went in and started yelling (made the personal injury lawsuit make more sense). If one of his clients had a request, he didn’t just adjust - he fought back and argued.

The whole thing was eye opening for me. It wasn’t that bad things happened to him - it was that he regularly made choices that put him on a path to bad things happening. He just never quite realized that and, of course, never reported those parts of the story.

Google has a new feature on their android phones that will wait on hold for you and connect you when the agent finally picks up. Having waited 40+ minutes for zipcar twice in the last few months I'm somewhat excited about it. It seems like a gimmick, but also seems like a good form of automation that works in a lowest common denominator situation like telephone lines.

Wondering if this and things like it will help you address the automated assistant issue one problem at a time.

> I have to wait on hold. [...] How do we avoid this?

Hold really is awful. And it's gotten so much worse during covid. Re how do we avoid this: for starters, there should be laws against companies putting people on hold without providing a callback option. As far as I can tell there's no reason not to offer a callback option except to screw over your customers who aren't willing to wait on the phone and listen to their awful hold music for an hour straight to save some money on customer support and prevent your unwilling customers from cancelling. (BTW while we're at it, there should also be laws allowing anyone to cancel a subscription service online. California partially does this by requiring an online cancellation option when the subscription was started online.)

This isn't by any means a solution, but I've found I can reduce the annoyance of being on hold by hooking up my phone to a bluetooth speaker and then just going about my work like I normally would (sans listening to music) until I hear someone pick up. This might not work if you have other people around making noise, but it reduces the hassle a decent amount if you're alone or in a separate room.

I do similar but using wireless headphones, to get on with other tasks without being so affected, or affecting other people.

Even then, I find myself semi-paralysed by the anticipation. It's hard to focus on something else, in case I don't notice the pick up and then they hang up. A callback would be much better.

I think you are dismissing another avenue you could take (even if I doubt it would be successful): bill them or send them an invoice.

- bill for your time at a reasonable (previously established), rate. This is if you want to get your stuff back. - send an invoice for the missing luggage (itemized even). This is for the case where you don’t care about the stuff and just want to be compensated.

If I screwed over a company, they wouldn’t hesitate to bill me. I wish we as consumers would do the same instead of freely spending our time.

There is bound to be a certain amount of hassle involved in flying across continents. Seems like you've got extra this time but you can still trace it back to your decision to say yes to doing it.

You are a software engineer, so you can reasonably price your work at 200 usd/hr.

Collect evidence for the exact amount of time you spent on this issue, then have a lawyer write a lawyer letter. If they don't pay, sue them.

Companies don't care about their minons getting yelled at. They care about getting sued.

Obviously my advice doesn't pertain to your main point, but as a person who's been to 80+ countries, and very experienced with this, my advice is only use carry on, it's not worth the risk. Buy the biggest bag you can that's allowable as a carry on and use that. I've had only a carry on whilst travelling for 7 months straight, and it worked out fine for me, pack light and wash your clothes at your hotel/airbnb.

Be one of those travelers that tows a manageable-sized wheelie cart behind them and puts in in the overhead bin.

You know, like the flight crew you see walking in the airport.

I guess there are things that are inevitable, the trick is not to try to completely eliminate them as that is impossible. However the optional ones could be eliminated if one has some practice of doing the trade-off analysis and perhaps deliberate poverty practice, and with some luck could become wealthy enough to be able to delegate even the most difficult to eliminate tasks to one's assistant.

I lost my luggage flying Lufthansa in Europe. I gave them an address at the airport, they found and sent it next day at the hotel.

You don't

"are you available for coffee?"

"no, i need to call the airline about my luggage"

And now to have an extra hour or two in your day

More power to consumer organizations.

Chalk this one up to several lessons learned:

- avoid flying - avoid checking bags - avoid putting items in checked bags that you care about

These are all subtle ways of saying “no”.

Clothing is so cheap now that if you’re taking a 2-week trip you’d be better off buying clothing at your destination and throwing it out at the end instead of paying for checked luggage on your flights.

> buying clothing at your destination

Buying a wardrobe of clothes at my destination would take much more time than dealing with lost luggage (which only rarely happens)

Donating it

I own a business. If I was to do a full inventory, I would probably find I'm in the possession of tens of thousands of items. I'm currently in the situation where something breaks daily. It has forced me into being very picky. I no longer buy things, if I can avoid it. Every thing I buy has the potential of being a problem down the line that will require time and attention. Even disposing of broken things can be a big hassle. If I do buy something, brand new, I will take a close look at it and think about how it will fail. And try to reinforce those failure points. Minimalism is definitely a valid strategy, at large scales.

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

-- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Airman's Odyssey

I'm looking forward to my final perfect iPad being just a slab of aluminum. It will be perfection.

See also: As simple as possible, but no simpler.


Looks like you attach ground effect lights, pen holders and some form of computation. Wireless, always on, potentially waterproof with rite in the rain paper [1] (great notebooks btw)

[1] https://www.riteintherain.com/printer-paper-20-pound

A la 2001's obelisk

I think it's "monolith".

Yes! Doh.

"Simplify, then add lightness"


This advice applies directly to software. Bring in more dependencies, bring in more custom tooling, and you're bringing in more maintenance burden. There will be bugs. Make sure you really need that shiny new framework.

"All code is garbage" - Techlead.

Yes once you own too much your possessions starts to own you.

Yes so true. The golden toilet in Trump's 5th bedroom, has no practical utility to him. He never even uses it. In fact, its a liability. It will likely fail and flood his mansion eventually.

If it serves a purpose, it is to be symbol of his wealth and power. Like a juggler, that juggles a sixth ball. To wow and impress.

There is a point where all possessions become a liability.

This is why I think rich people are sometimes caricatured as Scrooge McDucks. Every new possessions is a problem. So some overreact, and would rather just hold onto money to an extreme.

A local billionaire patches his rusty international bridge with wood beams.

Extremely rich people fascinate me, because their psychological faults, and inherent human pathology has the fuel to really flower.

Great reminder, if you have a house with Too Many Toilets, go check on them now. And any other uncommonly used water fixtures.

I agree with your point. In regard to this comment:

> it is to be symbol of his wealth

If this week’s papers are any guide, the symbolism has become more complex.

I have a very, very different definition of success than Warren Buffett does.

I say yes to as much as I can, and my life has been extremely fun and interesting as a result. If I could do it again, I'd say yes more and I'd say yes faster.

I totally agree with this. I have 3 kids, 2 jobs... But, I find that taking an "abundance view" towards time truly makes me happier. I have way more fun and do better work. I do rush and hurry for deadlines.. But I don't feel harried in my day to day.

I see way too many people limiting their own growth because they see themselves as focusing. I personally think playing around is critical — and that we have way more time than we think.

Related: why is it that we think we don't have time to work out, but almost always, whenever we do exercise, the efficiency of work skyrockets?

Same goes for meditation. People will say they don't have time to sit for ten minutes a day. The longer you sit, the more time you seem to have. A paradox.

"You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday - unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour." - Dr. Sukhraj Dhillon

I read Altered Traits at the behest of someone here. All I got of it was "I studied meditation for months to reduce my blood pressure, it didn't do anything, so I took some pills, and that was great, but you should meditate."

It seems that all evidence toward any purported positive effects of meditation is extremely speculative, other than "willpower gains" as preached by Kelly McGonigal. The thing is, those can come from focusing on something useful or cardio too.

I can recommend The Mind Illuminated by culadasa. He has a PHD in neuroscience and gives you a very comprehensive framework of how the mind works (with focus on attention) and what kind of improvements meditation brings.

The truth is we just don’t want to exercise, and all the other things that we would rather do, including productive things that we really do need to do, therefore push the exercise to the side.

Even though we know in the abstract that exercise will make our time more effective, we let ourselves be persuaded that we don’t have time because we enjoy working out mentally more than working out physically.

I'm the complete opposite in this regard. I currently spend 2 hours a day training for boxing, spend time on weekends mountain biking and wish there was more time! At some point I'll be financial independent where I will be able to devote even more time.

With that being said, would it help people to view exercise as play time? If you go play basketball with a group of guys, are you exercising or playing? For me it doesn't matter, I'm going to be out there either way but for others would the mental shift make a difference?

finding a sport/activity that you enjoy is a great way to shift exercise from the work category to the fun category. I had some success on this front with indoor climbing pre-pandemic. unfortunately, my gym now has a ton of restrictions that make it much less convenient to use, so I'm afraid I haven't gone back yet.

I don't think sports can fully substitute for a deliberate workout regimen though. with the possible exception of swimming, I don't think there are any sports that really give a full-body workout.

As children we didn't focus on a full-body workout. Though most children, at least when I was growing in up in the 90s are in far better shape than most adults. Sure a 12 kid couldn't help move an oak dresser but they are better overall physical shape. If adults were just active playing sports, I'd suspect obesity and related health issues to decrease with mental health improving.

I know there are many here on HN that will loathe the idea of playing sports.

> If adults were just active playing sports, I'd suspect obesity and related health issues to decrease with mental health improving.

I don't disagree. whatever form it takes, some exercise is better than no exercise. there is some risk in developing certain muscle groups while neglecting others though. you can injure the weakest link doing something you simply wouldn't attempt if all your muscles were equally weak.

Probably this is really it, I would just rather spend my play time futzing with code on a computer.

VR Workouts have unlocked this for me.

I'm pretty sedentary but playing beat saber for 1 hour is a lot more moving than I'm used to.

Deadlines stress me out and I dread impending failures, and I have a very broad definition of failure. I would definitely feel harried. Am I being limited by worries? Are you having some misses in targets here and there but you're trucking right along, or are you really good at meeting what sounds like many many targets?

Maybe this will help. It's a TED Talk entitled "How to make stress your friend":


I miss many targets and it's amazing how little it matters. The key is creating space to be truly passionate about something, that ends up protecting you and sustaining you

I've done the opposite with an equally rewarding outcome. I used to say yes to so much just because of FOMO and social pressure. I then realized I actually didn't want to do any of that stuff and didn't have to. I'm finally happy and content with life.

The above two parent comments' anecdata suggest that for different people, saying Yes to almost everything, or saying No, can have the same result: to be more sastified with how life is going.

What's common between Yes and No is that they're both a deliberate act of choice, of having agency in deciding what happens.

For myself, saying No and sticking to my preferences have yielded great results. For example, I hate phones and insist on emails - it's impractical, I know, but by giving firm No's, people respect my communication preference at work and personal life.

On the other hand, there are some directions that I'd like to say more Yes to, to consciously open up possibilities.

I suppose it comes down to knowing when to say Yes and No, and to act on it.

This. “Agency,” also called “ownership of decisions,” is really what all this talk of “saying yes” and “saying no” is all about. The can even include ownership of the decision to “just go with the flow and do whatever in the moment,” but the intentionality of that decision is essential.

Agency and control over time and decisions is probably also the essence of the regular HN debate over working from home or working from an office. Both can be best depending on the person.

This exchange highlights the uselessness of pithy one-liner self help remarks: they're interpreted according to what people have already experienced, and they're highly contextual.

I wish your comment was at the top.

Money as metric for success leads to destruction.

Someone who helps a stranger is successful.

I wish more people would understand that everything that devides us as humans leads to destruction. Everything that unites us leads to good things, which I call success.

Warren Buffett's definition of success is not purely money -- if you look into his life had cares much more about teaching and giving back (both with the giving pledge and one of the largest philanthropists of all time). He just happens to be good at and enjoy making money -- I don't think his advice is less relevant if you see the context behind it, but many just take it out of context.

For me, saying no much of the time has changed my life for the better.

I was constantly doing things I didn't want to do because I didn't know how to say no to friends and family, eventually becoming a little resentful at being dragged to too many events and having no time for myself, even though it was always my fault for saying yes too much.

Chances are you are splitting your life into two categories.

You are saying "yes" to people, which I applaud.

You are not saying "yes" to non-people stuff.

Yes, upvote this.

Practice "yes and."

Hold on. Here's what he said:

"The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything."

That's very different. This is a message that is useful to hear for extremely driven ambitious people who are already successful - that it's better to spend all the time you spend working on a few carefully chosen things. It should not be interpreted as advice for people who are not extremely driven to not do things. The baseline assumption is that you already spend a substantial amount of time working on potentially productive things.

The submitter correctly rewrote the title, because the article's own is linkbait. (From the site guidelines: "Please use the original title, unless it is misleading or linkbait" https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html)

The submitted title was "Warren Buffett says the most successful people say no to almost everything", which seems reasonable to me. The word "most" conveys what you're saying—in an abbreviated form, but that's how titles work.

However, I've changed the title to the quote now. We often do that when the article is a quote.

...and the article seems to directly contradict this point:

"Whether he meant saying no in the investment sense is not so important; what is important is that his advice, in whatever context, can apply to anyone arriving at the crossroads of daily decision-making."

Adding to your point, an underlying assumption is that you have excellent "deal flow," to so speak. If you are bombardment with great opportunities to invest your time, money or effort into then choosing selectively is optimal. If you are limited by enthusiasm, and/or availability of great opportunities (most of us are) then this is not optimal.

This reminds me of top athlete's advice, often totally wrong for the average person. A top athlete might say that avoiding overtraining, and focusing on recovery is the most important thing. To them, getting really good regular workouts in is a given. To the average person, maintaining discipline, enthusiasm and not quitting are by far more important.

Yep, Warren Buffet has a level of deal flow second to none.

The average person who feels that deals are few and far between doesn't feel like they are in a position to say no.

There is a chance that Buffet could say "no" to a deal just because he felt it was rushed.

“I call investing the greatest business in the world,” he says, “because you never have to swing. You stand at the plate, the pitcher throws you General Motors at 47! U.S. Steel at 39! and nobody calls a strike on you. There’s no penalty except opportunity lost. All day you wait for the pitch you like, then when the fielders are asleep, you step up and hit it.”

I've found that with most things (not everything), rejecting artificial urgency is a good heuristic. Sure, there are exceptions when you really do have to act now, but most exploding deals aren't worth taking.

He also didn't claim it was advice, nor that there is any causal relation between saying no and becoming really successful. It could have just been an observation about everyday reality he's facing.

It's just the writer cherrypicking more or less fitting quotes to the opinion article they would have written anyway.

The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.

This seems like a restatement of the explore and exploit cycle in evolution. You start off with very little, so you have nothing to lose by exploring every opportunity. Eventually, one or more of those opportunities pays off, and you become successful. Now the odds favor exploitation, since new opportunities are unlikely to be better than the profitable ones you've already discovered. You're better off leaning into those than you are to go off exploring again. Of course, this also means you could get stuck in a local maximum. But life is finite, and the chances of achieving a higher max are low.

How do you have the assumption chances of achieving a higher max are low? That seems arbitrary and like it'd be a coin flip as I don't know all the possible successes in the world and how they compare to mine.

If you make the assumption that the frequency of opportunities is inversely proportional to their potential (ie, the bigger the opportunity, the less frequent they are), then in the short term you're going to be better off expending your energies exploiting an existing opportunity rather than chasing a new one.

If the distribution of opportunities is fat-tailed enough, then given a long enough baseline I concede that continuing exploration might provide greater expected value. But in practice, most successful founders are in their mid-40s, and most businesses take years to grow to fruition. So I think Buffett's advice is good in the real world.

This is an important point. You can say no to everything but video games, marijuana, and junk food. You’re unlikely to be successful in life even though you’re extremely focused on just a few things.

What matters is saying yes to the right things and no to almost everything else. Perhaps then what it is that makes the most successful people of all is the judgment (or luck) to say yes to the right things and the fortitude (or stubbornness) to say no to everything else.

I spent 15 years thinking I had fortitude. Turns out I was just stubborn. Pretty much ruined my life.

"Winners never quit, and quitters never win. But people who don't win and don't quit are just stupid."

I landed on my feet. Others won't be so lucky. (Ironically, I was only able to be stubborn for so long because I had so much good fortune elsewhere. If I'd had less support, I'd have quit much earlier, and maybe it would all have turned out better.)

The moral of the story: it's better to be lucky than smart.

This is probably good advice for founders of a tech company, but horrible advice for workers like me. I need fortitude to survive. I need to get up every day and believe I have what it takes to push through the work. Maybe I'm smart, maybe I'm lucky, but fortitude is what I tell myself I have to finish projects and get stuff done.

Same. Got a masters and doctorate out of stubbornness rather than real love of the subject. In many respects, wasted decade. At least I have better self-knowledge now, I guess.

On the other hand..

There's a good argument that attaining that self-knowledge takes at least a decade under any circumstances -- and if you can do so while getting a masters and PhD on the side, you've wasted less than most. :)

I think you might enjoy this blog post "intelligence is adaptability" [1]. It's not heavy of facts or references, but I like the inspiration. It also sounds a little like what you shared you learned as well.

[1] http://www.actinginbalance.com/intelligence-is-adaptability/

Perhaps it's better to be wise than smart.

You'll never know if your "no" answers were a false negative though. Rich people say no to a lot of things because they get a lot of opportunities and there's only so much time to spend.

If you have a lot less opportunities and far more time while starting near the bottom, a false negative can be a more significant miss for you.

That's part of it but I think it's more complicated than that. For instance I have heard b2b sales described as a diagnostic process. If you know exactly what you can deliver and it matches exactly what the customer needs you encourage them to say yes. It will likely go very well and then the relationship will grow over time. Otherwise you thank them for the opportunity and move on.

The same arguably applies to all business deals and doesn't have much to do with your current level of success. If you pursue the right opportunities you will do well. I know people who have struggled for years because they consistently went after the wrong opportunities. The difficult part of course is being able to tell the difference!

Interesting point about B2B as a diagnostic process. I reached a similar conclusion organically but didn’t have that language for it. Essentially, I’ve found that saying “based on your description of your challenge, the product I have today isn’t a good fit” buys you a ton of credibility for when you DO have a good solution available.

The distinction between extensive practice (an opportunity-rich world) and intensive (sparse, or highly specialised).

Some have the luxury of choice. Some take what they can get.

Yah the this Article can be summed up by Barry Schwartz and a conversation I’ve heard on Joe Rogan from a psychologist and many others. “The richer or more renown you become, the more your opportunities increase, and the more you have to optimize the selection of opportunities to become more rich or renown.”

Yes. I know a company which has done five acquisitions and a huge spinoff product, all of which failed. Meanwhile, the core moneymaking product is now a decade behind the competition. Buffett's message is addressed to CEOs in that position.

This seems to be a vice of CEOs who focus on "deals" but are not good at operations.

Advice from rich people is useful for other rich people.

The important thing to keep in mind here is that Buffett is talking about "saying no to almost everything" when you are already successful. Not when you're actually still in the process of becoming successful.

The rules are different there, although of course Jobs' quote about focus, I think, applies to both situations, to some extent.

EDIT: Grammar.

He does not just "no", he know his time is finite. As long you have (free) time, then yes, you might say yes to something more. But as more you climb the ladder up, the more people come to you with all kind of things. And then even if you would like, there is not enought time and energy in a person to do everything for everybody. I guess, thats a reason why people burn out. Even when people work so hard, if you say yes to everything, there is no chance ever to finish your many many tasks. Learning to say "no" is very important.

I think this is misleading advice. I'm sure it's true that when you have amazing opportunities thrown at you at every turn, it's important to stay true to your mission and be deliberate in choosing which ones to pursue. That being said, if you're just starting your career and have limited options and someone gives you an opportunity that is good but perhaps not in perfect alignment with what you ultimately want to achieve / do, you should probably still say yes.

In other words, I would say that you should start your career saying yes to everything and end your career saying no to everything with some type of smooth interpolation between the two states.

I think it's important to note that when a 25 year old talks about their career, it's almost all 'beginning'. Even if they are precocious and got promoted, they have only barely made it into what other people might call the middle of their career, it's still the beginning for them (unless they settle). You talk to a guy who has been working for 50 years and 'most of his career' looks very different than most of your career, even if you follow the same arc. Because all of your career is just the beginning of his.

I feel like he is missing the part where if you're a relatively passive person and you keep saying no to everything, you end up alone, bored, and broke. If you are going to say 'no' to people, it's because they are offering you options that might not be the ones you'd choose or make for yourself. So you should demur and work to create your own options.

The best way to predict the future is to create it.

I think this article slightly misinterprets Buffett a bit. In the broader context of his values and beliefs, I think this "rule" is about focus.

Buffett (and Bill Gates) have cited focus as the single most important factor in their success.

See also Buffett's 25/5 rule (he did not give it this name).

Basically, Buffett's belief is that by not having extreme focus, you dilute your most important asset, time, to a degree that you are unable to accomplish something meaningful in any one area.

His views on time and focus are pretty well captured by the snowball metaphor (with apologies to those who have never lived in colder climates):

"Life is like a snowball. The important thing is finding wet snow and a really long hill."

In other words, w.r.t. this discussion, it doesn't work to be changing hills with any frequency.

Sure, but if you haven't even started your snowball yet, it may not be in your best interest to deeply scrutinize the length of the hill and the wetness of the snow until you find the perfect setup; it may just be better to get started with a snowball and then iterate as you're rolling it down the hill.

I definitely think there's value in the entire "say no to almost everything" philosophy, it's just that I see it regurgitated without much thought all over the place. I'll meet someone who wants to be the next Bill Gates / Steve Jobs / ... / Elon Musk and who deliberately says no to everything been though they have no other options. They're just waiting for that perfect fit which may very well never come.

That may be, but it may not be a causal difference.

Steve Jobs may have had to say no a lot, but that may be because he was presented with a lot of opportunities; opportunities that are less available to less successful people. I also imagine Steve Jobs didn't have a lot of time available.

And I've read his biography. He didn't strike me as a man that said no very much when he was younger.

Perhaps... say yes to everything so that you can learn what to say no to?

These pithy rules and sayings make for clickbait. But nobody seems to give good examples of when they said no to focus.

VCs like to brag about the "deals they missed" just to remind you that they were in the room where it happened, but then left the room.

"Most successful people have one common behaviour: disseminate advice based on survivorship bias all the time."

>These pithy rules and sayings make for clickbait

Internet comment sections hate nuance and critical thinking (yes, even HN, we just put lipstick on that pig by being polite and kicking out snarky comments) so it's not surprising they love rules of thumb (which are nearly the polar opposite of applying critical thinking and considering nuances).

"say no to X"

"say yes to X"

"always do X"

"never do X"

Etc. etc. etc.

Steve Jobs was asked for an example at the D conference, and he said PDAs.

If you read anything by Jason Fried, or watch some of his talks, you’ll get plenty of concrete examples.

I can barely recall a time in my life where saying 'no' to an exploding offer resulted in regret.

I'm not sure when I learned this 'power'. I don't think it should be a power, but I know way too many people who don't have it, and watched a number of them go through a bunch of bad excitement followed by regret.

If it's not someone including you in a spontaneous social activity at the last minute, just say no. They know that if you have time to think about it you'd realize it wasn't that great, which is exactly why they aren't giving you time to think about it. It's an attempt to evoke the same feeling of scarcity you experience when your buddy says, "Hey there are only three beers left. Who wants one?" to a room full of people.

I am one of those people who struggle to say no. Just this year, I consciously started saying "no" to people more frequently because I was getting overstretched with commitments and knew I needed to stop.

So far I have never regretted saying "no" to something (even though I suspected I might regret it at the time). But I have frequently regretted saying "yes" to something.

By saying no to more things, it allows you to have more time to do a good job at the few things you say "yes" to. Plus there is a power in taking your life by the reins and not letting other people dictate what you do because you blanket accept everything they request of you.

Exploding offers... yeah. They come as "limited time offers" all the time. "Deal of a lifetime", even. It's amazing - once in a lifetime offers come every six months.

Just because someone says it's a once in a lifetime offer, it's still the exact same offer. The words "once in a lifetime" do not change the offer whatsoever. If the answer is no, it shouldn't become yes just because someone says "once in a lifetime".


Sometimes exploding offers are exploitative. Sometimes they are simply “You are plan A, and we are going with plan B if you say no. Plan B is not an evergreen option for us, so we have to put a time limit on our offer to you.”

Seems it should often be possible to tell if the deadline is real or artificial. Perhaps by asking a question or two, but if it's something like "we're planning to start a major new project soon and we want the new head (i.e. you) to be there at the start", that seems likely to have come up early in the discussion of "what would I be working on".

Also, the larger the company, and the less specialized the role, the higher is the likelihood that "if you're above their competency threshold, then there's some team somewhere that needs more people even if they hire someone else for this role".

> They say no to superficial networking events in which people swap business cards and never hear from one another. Why? Because successful people don't network. They build relationships.

I've felt for a long time that there is no such thing as "networking" as its own activity. You build a network by just having life experiences and interests- hobbies, clubs, other parents from school if you have kids, religion, volunteering, side projects, alumni associations, and of course people you've worked with in the past. These relationships need to have some sort of basis other than you wanting something like a job or opportunities.

I'm not saying this is definitely intended, but it kind of bothers me that this title seems to imply "Saying no to almost everything might make you successful".

Which is the opposite of what a lot of successful people do right - they take loads of risks. It feels as though when you take risks and put yourself out there you deserve the rewards (but I would say this isn't really true either). If you have millions of opportunities like Buffet does of course this statement makes a lot of sense.

I don't think applying Warren Buffet's aphorisms to life is a replicable strategy for success. Like most things making your own path is more important than even being successful in the terms that are important to Buffet or whoever really.

Reminds me of an old interview with Scott McNealy

    You don't have time in real life to be perfect at everything, and you'd better get a lot of things done.

Really succesful people have enough power and f*ck you money to say no to almost anything.

On the other hand, I've met a bunch of really average people who think saying no all the time makes them the next Steve Jobs. It's very annoying.

As a people pleaser I find this very challenging. But also very true I've seen the damage this has done to my own career.

This is mostly about saying no to yourself, not to others.

The most difficult part of dedicating all your efforts to one objective is to accept that you are giving up on all the other things you might achieve.

Worse, you need to accept that most people that did that and pursued one single thing were not successful and they simply sacrificed everything else.

The few that succeeded are the ones we know about. We think they chose the right strategy in life, while the truth is that they took the wrong strategy and were very simply lucky.

Taking advice from those people is lime taking advice from wingsuit flyers: not something that smart people should do.

The question is: do you really want a life similar to Warren Buffet or Steve Jobs?

If you are a people pleaser, probably not.

I'm more in the successful category, but it meant that I gave up having a social life. Most of us have to choose.

I find I give up my social life to work long hours as a people pleaser. Also I end up doing the low visibility low reward tasks that no one else wants. Just to be a team player. Then appear as a low performer compared to the guy that refuses to do anything that doesn't praise.

Have you talked about it with your manager?

If he/she doesn't help you, the best thing is to switch teams (start talking with other people who you helped outside your own team). If that's not possible, start interviewing with other companies without mentioning it to your current colleagues.

I have a friend who was doing the same thing as you, went to another team inside the same company, and actually the same kind of thinking that you have (helping other people) helped him get multiple promotions, and he's a team leader with a nice salary, and his team loves him.

Also one more thing: he was using an old language, that's why he was afraid of switching teams. I suggested him to learn any modern language used inside his company to have leverage to be able to switch company if he wants...he just needed to get a bit outside his comfort zone, after that everything came for him (he's still with the same company, but he's happy now).

You just found out why only 1% can be 10-20X anything.

I used to work for a chip design company whose CEO would ask every for new product ideas at every annual sales meeting and said no to every one for 7 years straight. Now his product pipeline has run out of gas. His stock is in the toilet and new hires won't touch his company. Karma.

I say yes to almost everything. I’m massively unsuccessful. But I’ve had an interesting life.

good ending

Successful people like Buffett are presented with opportunities constantly. There's some truth here, but his circumstances are radically different. That's why for people at the bottom the advice is to say yes to more things!

Agreed, there may be a cause effect fallacy going on here. Sucessful people have lots of people asking for things so they are forced to narrow more where newer people trying to get established have to take what they can get

Honestly I think this is entirely counter-productive for anyone that's not mega-rich.

If you're Warren Buffet, of course you'll have a thousand offers and propositions a day and you have to say no to most of them and find that one gem.

If you're regular Joe (and, yes, that most likely includes YOU reading this) you can't afford to shut down most opportunities or you'll never get anywhere.

In general I think it's a bad idea to take advice from successful people. There's a thing that goes around, a piece by Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes[1], talking about how great it was to quit his safe job and become a cartoonist. Except... how many famous cartoonists are there? How many other people quit their advertising job and just failed? If each of their stories were circulated as much, would we see this swamped by a thousand heartbreaking memes instead?

Doing what Warren Buffett does works very well for Warren Buffett. The odds are good that it won't work for you. "Choose the right things" is pretty vacuous advice.

[1] https://highexistence.com/images/view/illustrated-advice-fro...

Bill Watterson didn’t just quit on a whim. He had been making cartoons for years and had received feedback that he was at least half decent at it. And at the time that he quit, “newspaper cartoonish” was an actual career too.

He wasn’t saying “bet it all and jump off a cliff and hope you’ll land”. He just said “feel free to stake your own path”. The quote you link also includes staking your own path as a homemaker.

The central takeaway from his advice was to try to find meaning and happiness in what you do. It worked out extraordinarily well for Watterson but his advice applies to far more pedestrian cases too.

*newspaper cartoonist

Bo Burnham says the same thing. He’s talented and taking advice from him is akin to following the advice of buying lottery tickets.

Context (Late-night interview link): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-JgG0ECp2U

The lottery analogy is quite accurate, yes.

Do you think being good at something and successfully selling or marketing your work is like buying a lottery ticket?

Sometimes, yeah. Comedy is one such example: it gives huge rewards to a few celebrities, while a lot of other equally talented people just never manage to be in the right place at the right time.

It's perhaps especially true for comedy. You can see it when you watch a comic on TV: they're much less funny than in person, because you're not surrounded by a lot of other laughing people. The same routine by the same person can get little more than snickers when done at somebody's open mic night -- unless somebody recognizes that they're famous. Celebrity reinforces itself.

Burnham is very talented and I'm sure he worked like crazy to market his work. But he will also tell you the names of a hundred others who are equally talented and worked equally hard, but you've never heard of them. The market for celebrity is very fickle, heaping huge rewards on a few, but drop off rapidly for people who aren't in the hump of the long tail.

Warren Buffett isn't profiting from celebrity in the same sense, but there's a similar effect where the biggest winners are lucky as well as smart. Their advice often doesn't take that into account, and it's important to measure that in your appetite for risk.

I think those are good points. I don't know much about comedy or entertainment but I get the same feeling that getting "chosen" matters more than your content.

On the other hand, great work doesn't happen by accident. Great businesses are a result of good management. Good products are results of good design. Those don't happen by accident, just like a great program doesn't write itself. You may not be a warren buffet, due to limited opportunities. But, you could leave someone like that penniless and nameless and i'm sure he could leverage his skills and knowledge to be "successful", even if not a mega-billionaire.

Marketing and sales is an important component which is left out (if you care about making money). That's also something you can deliberately work on and improve.

Absolutely. Talent, luck, and hard work. All 3 are required to strike it big. I've known extremely talented and hard working people who did well, but never got to the super star level.

It’s really not practically helpful unless you have full data.

I have no idea the rate of job quitters to successful cartoonists.

Or the rate of successful cartoonists who kept their job (Adams).

I still like to read this insight, but trying to make some axiom or judgement out of it is only useful for demonstrating that I’m not very smart for saying such a thing.

This happens quite a bit.

as always, relevant xkcd: https://xkcd.com/1827/

> If you're regular Joe (and, yes, that most likely includes YOU reading this) you can't afford to shut down most opportunities or you'll never get anywhere.

Anyone with software development skills gets tons of low quality app ideas from friends and family. And tons of other opportunities from recruiters paying below market.

It's hard walking away from a sort-of-ok opportunity when you don't have anything going on, but I've learned there are always more things coming up.

I disagree. We all have many opportunities to say no. You know how much time I spent working on projects that didn't go anywhere and were a complete waste of time and money? (not mine, my employer's). I didn't say no. My manager didn't say no. Their manager didn't say no. You may say that's part of being successful, many things fail but a few stick and make it big. That's true but often the writing is on the wall but people ignore it.

One thing I do agree is that not everyone can say no. For example, if you're a software engineer in a big company, you might not have much say. That's why it's important to get yourself into a position where you have more control on the things you work on. Not easy but you don't need to be Buffet to achieve that.

A picture of Warren Buffet is a "dog whistle" you see on Yahoo Finance and other web sites aimed at people of a "certain age". It's like the hypnotic induction (to make you connect to your identity as a consumer) that starts with talking about "our smartphones".

For a long time I would wind up seeing Becky Quick interview Buffet a few times a year on CNBC, it got cringeworthy when his dementia got worse and he started to leer at her. (Becky Quick is a "babe") Once upon a time he was a genius investor, but he's not what he used to be and they don't have a successor in the works.

For me, I deleted my LinkedIn account recently because it had brought a remarkable number of time-wasters into my life.

> when his dementia got worse


> don't have a successor in the works.


I don’t think that’s true. Almost every project I’ve been on had most of its major problems due to folks’ inability to say no. Most of the people in my life who are overworked and hurried are that way because they can’t say no. The happiest people I know have great boundaries and say no all the time.

Anecdotal, but my experience has been that “no” is one of the most useful words in my vocabulary.

I think the sentiment really comes down to prioritizing before trying to execute within the resource constraints. This can apply to any level and I see low-tier employees shooting themselves in the foot from a productivity standpoint because they have an inability to prioritize their efforts effectively

Between billboards, internet ads, radio commercials, spam, and telemarketing calls, I don't get a thousand offers a day, but I might get a hundred. Of course, it's easier to say no to most of those, since they're not actually things I want. They're just garbage offers.

But even of the ones I want... There are many places offering to sell me lunch today, and there are several places where I'd be interested in eating lunch. I can only eat one lunch today, though.

So I think we have the same thing, just with much smaller offers.

Just picturing how long I would last at my job if I just said no to every task I was assigned.

I refuse to read this article.

Family, relatives and friends can be huge sources of distraction, if you can't say no.

I know many people that should be a lot better off in life given their merits, but they are weighed down by an endless parade of other people asking things (help, money, counsel). Their WhatsApps beep every minute without fail. Yet they are incapable of even muting the damn phone for a while.

"Already successful famous billionaires say no to almost everything"

Advice that doesn't really help the rest of us, much ...

So, here is the part that is important but omitted: Once you know what works for you and you found how to do it efficiently, then you say no to almost everything.

Which is something any toddler knows but since the first part is absent, the second can't happen in order to make the first one to be even possible to be found.

Also... man, as a junior staff member, the opposite is true.

Establish yourself as someone capable, eager, and motivated.

Don't come in to a new org and be like, "No, I'm going to be successful by telling people no." Oof.

This advice is really for senior people, and it's to prioritize so you get the important things done.

It's been posted here before, but Derek Sivers has a similar line to the ones Jobs and Buffett used: "If you're not feeling 'hell yeah!', then say no." https://sive.rs/hyn

I think there is an inversion of cause and effect here. People can afford to say no because they're successful. Saying no is not why they're successful.

Poor people rarely get any opportunity at all so they're forced to say yes to every opportunity just to survive.

You know the problem with advice from rich/already successful people?

They operate within the environment that dozens of people daily are coming up to them and giving them opportunities to choose among new ventures, investing opportunities, charities to lead, ways to spend their money.

Of course, duh, if that's your life, then go ahead and pick and choose, pass up things that others offer you, making your life only better and more focused.

The problem is they forget when they were hungry, unrecognized, struggling-to-make-their-name, more-time-than-money people. When no one was knocking on their door wanting to talk to them. When they were saddled with thousands in student loan debt maybe. Or maybe they were never any of these things.

The normal person is starved for opportunities to advance, to be recognized, to try out new things. The average Joe doesn't get a lot of things to say "no" to. The average person doesn't have a life mission of what to do with their vast wealth and time remaining on Earth, like a Warren Buffett does. Sure, feel absolutely free to say no to fixing GM cars because your passion is Aston Martins, or how about not waiting tables today because you really want to be a cook? Or, for that matter, saying that you don't want this group of Jira tickets on infrastructure because you really want to do UI? Hm?

For many (maybe most) people, life is a combination of random walks that you say "yes" to many of the paths you come across, and hope that it leads you somewhere good. Having choices is a luxury. Don't forget that.

I will say that yes, you should have perspective and opinion about what you want to do, and not want to do in life, and what paths you want to go down. And you should work every day to build up the ability to have choices. But most people operate within far more constraints than these celebrities and don't have such luxury to be passing up new opportunities.

This is like lottery winners telling people how to succeed in life. Fun, but dangerous for the average listener. You go and try being as obnoxious and choosing to focus as Steve Jobs, and please report back...

I'm a former homemaker who is desperately poor, but my life works vastly better than it is supposed to. Numbers six and seven in the article very much resonate with me:

6. They say no to giving the steering wheel of life to anyone else. Another Buffett quote affirms this: "You've gotta keep control of your time and you can't unless you say no. You can't let people set your agenda in life."

7. They say no to people-pleasing. Successful people don't neglect their deepest wishes and desires to accommodate and yield to others' wishes and desires.

As a woman, I find that pretty much everyone thinks I should do stuff for them "out of the goodness of my heart" and, no, it doesn't come back to me as career networking or some crap. I was literally homeless for years and people would be all gushy about what a wonderful person I was and how much value I added to both HN and other forums and then be all basically "STFU and stop whining at me, you worthless bitch" if I was all "That's great, but I can't fucking afford to eat. Can I get some help trying to establish an income here if you think I'm so wonderful?"

Nope. Absolutely not.

So one of the ways I have slowly begun making my life work is by walking away from a zillion opportunities to be a chump and be helpful to people who will never, ever, ever, ever do a fucking thing in return for me.

It hasn't made me a millionaire, but I have saved millions on what my medical condition is supposed to cost, so it is clearly worth real money and never mind how dirt poor I remain, in part due to rampant and blatant sexism while everyone acts like I am higher than a kite for pointing that fact out.

> So one of the ways I have slowly begun making my life work is by walking away from a zillion opportunities to be a chump and be helpful to people who will never, ever, ever, ever do a fucking thing in return for me.

I really hate this, and it's so stupidly common.

I constantly hear "How can I get so-and-so to do X?" and my response is almost always "Did you think about paying him money?"

And, when I deal with artists, it's sad how little money it takes to actually get the attention of people who are world-class but not celebrity famous.

I once had a discussion with one about why he was wasting time dealing with me (who will never be world class on my musical instrument) and he confided that I was the only person to actually pay him any money in the last month and a half.

I was completely shocked and appalled.

I have kind of had this fantasy of doing economic development stuff and crowd funding it via Patreon and tips because a lot of the people who need the help the most can't afford to pay for it and my volunteer work the past couple of years has cast a lot of light on just how badly this space tends to be served by people supposedly trying to serve it.

I have a website, but it's only like two pages so far. I'm still trying to work out where I am going to go with this.

But there are local organizations that supposedly are doing economic development and I'm not actually seeing that happen. And I think it probably will not ever go anywhere.

I'm actually doing economic development, but I can't figure out how to make it pay. I run r/ClothingStartups and people are promoting their indie brands there, but being a moderator of Reddit doesn't pay anything. I run a bunch of blogs with useful info, but a lot of it is aimed at helping homeless people and poor people.

And it's very much needed and it's very much effective, but it still pays me a pittance. I'm not sure how to sort that out.

I'm working on it.

I don't know anything about that world, but it sounds to me like something where the money flow should come from grants. Are there institutions with deep pockets focused on the kind of economic development you're doing? Is it something local chambers of commerce would be interested in? If such things don't exist, could they be created? Are there state or federal agencies that might be interested?

Yeah, that's basically how it works. But the local non-profit organization doing that work and getting grants and the like is where I applied for a job, wasn't hired and then got crapped all over for about two years by the guy they did hire. It was completely unnecessary to make me his enemy because I was happy to help as a volunteer.

Since I am not going to get that job, I am trying to figure out how to do this on my own and make enough money at it to make it worth my while, knowing that the guy who got the job I applied for is likely to continue stealing anything I publish on the internet that he can use to pretend to do his job.

I have set up a reddit site called r/CoastalWA. This area is making national news as a relative safe haven in the face of things like climate change, but it's all small towns and unincorporated communities. So these are places that don't have a lot of funds to spend and anyone really talented tends to get a better paying job in a bigger city elsewhere. (The town I lived in interviewed a city manager candidate, offered them the job and they went elsewhere for more money.)

I have a background in doing volunteer work and my target market is people without a lot of resources, but I think it is important work. And any business has some stuff they give away for free -- even the multi-billion dollar business Y Combinator, which provides HN for free.

I kind of want to do what Y Combinator has done, only for small town and unincorporated communities and for mostly small businesses and micro businesses. So I can't use a VC model like they are using.

But if no one does this work, then outsiders with money will just come in here, buy up cheap land and piss all over everything.

I don't want to set up a non-profit. I would rather tun this as a sole proprietor and give away a lot for free on my website plus offer paid services and try to get it crowd funded by people willing and able to give a few bucks a month to a Patreon or whatever, but unable to pay the big salaries for a full-time local planner or the big fees for someone doing significant work on a contract basis.

I am still working out the details in my mind.

Thank you for engaging me! It is always good to have something to chew on or reply to. It helps me think!

I think this gets closer to the original core of the story. Time is the only and ultimate non-renewable resource, no matter how poor or rich you are. Yes, if you're poor, this forces many more external decisions on you than if you had the money to be able to say no — but in almost any other case, you have some autonomy left on some part of your day and life. And how we use that tiny bit of autonomy to either play games or learn something new can make or break a career.

This right here is the straight dope. I've worked my way from zero a few times and now have some assets as I approach 40. Wealthy people see the poor as consumables thirsty for opportunity. Also while climbing the ladder there are tons of people who are just closeted sociopathic sadists who have no assets but just get off on manipulation. Another thing I learned was when the work gets to be worth over about $250,000 it's hard to tell the difference between funded people with vision and trust fund kids that have disbursements over some interval if they are building something so they do not plan to succeed. They intend to use me as a therapist and prostitute while they grind it to zero and start again.

The only method I've found that works for transitioning class is to make rich people feel like they are missing out on something they can't buy. Being an appropriately confident jerk that is willing to starve rather than give them an endless loop of scope creep. Charge more than even I think I am worth and when they tell me that's too much politely tell them good luck. It cuts down on the noise of non-serious actors and makes people that want to be serious take note.

I barely have an inkling of how hard that would be if I wasn't a white man with an abnormally deep voice. I've seen how women and people color are discounted and expected to be silent when speaking real truth and someone who sounds like what bossman thinks reflects them gets boosted without question.

What a mess. Glad you saw through the "rules" of the game and made it work for you. Cheers.

I applied for a local economic development job nearly three years ago. They hired someone else. I kept showing up at public meetings and serving as a volunteer.

I was openly attacked, dismissed and criticized. Later, they would implement my suggestions (badly -- they couldn't actually get it right) and take credit and pretend I hadn't been the person who originally suggested it.

I finally quit all my volunteer work because everyone in town knows I am dirt poor and they are stealing my ideas and not helping me establish an earned income of my own while pretending they are doing economic development.

The guy they hired for the job I applied to finally put up a website like a couple of weeks ago after having the job for 2.5 years. I dragged it on one my blogs and within hours of me saying "He should do X on his website" he would make edits in line with that. This happened three days in row. I finally took all the posts down.

So he is cyberstalking me to continue stealing ideas from me.

I'm trying to figure out how to establish my own company. I can't believe this guy still has this job, he's so incompetent. But, I mean, he has the right bits between his legs and I guess that's all that really matters.

It's infuriating.

I really appreciate your comment.

In my limited experience with local economic development organizations: they are stocked with the minimally competent when it comes to starting a company. I was initially surprised by this, but then I thought: If they have the skills and knowledge to get a company running, why are they working there? Conceivably, many people who own successful businesses are making more than the people at the EcDev office. Therefore, it is unlikely that people who would be effective at helping launch a business are employed there. Their main function seems to be cutting tax deals for large out-of-(town, area, country) established businesses to bring a new (office, factory, call-center) to their area.

My suggestion is to not look to them in figuring out your business.

I've heard that in the USA, some of the government services are staffed by retired business owners who are volunteering for something to do. That makes sense that there could be a person in there who could be a helpful mentor. If they had a successful business, and have done well enough to be able to retire, they probably like doing business, and know what it takes. Retiring cuts a bunch of the stress out, and volunteering to work with new business owners lets them keep a hand in what they love to do. If you can find something like that, or find a retired former business owner to mentor you, that would likely put you far ahead of dealing with EcDev.

I was basically doing volunteer work in my field because I am medically handicapped and no longer drive. Most jobs in my field require a driver's license to apply.

I live in this town. I would be happy to help people succeed in developing it, but I was treated so badly that I don't even want to help these people anymore.

Anyway, I am doing my own thing and maybe that will finally pan out for me financially. The short version is I had a lengthy health crisis and I am more able to work now. So hopefully that will lead to more money, in spite of the world being a lousy place full of lousy people.

> This happened three days in row. I finally took all the posts down.

Time to start employing “trap streets”?[0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trap_street

I thought about it and even joked about feeding him bad information to see how much crap he would stupidly copy.

I was howling into the void in frustration about my life. It's only aggravating because it is evidence of malice aforethought on his part in how he has treated me for two years and that walking away from my volunteer work won't rid me of the problem. He will continue to be a problem because his bad behavior is willfully malicious and not because he really thought I was dumb because I'm a woman or poor or whatever.

I'm still thinking about how I will handle this for stuff that I want to do that is "serious" and not me just bitching about my life randomly.

Interesting, your viewpoint made me realize that they are probably right but the argument is kinda of skewed.

Rather than successful people say, "No", successful people are in place to pick and choose what projects to say no to. How can we modify our environment, our skills, our place in the graph of actions and results so that we have things to say no to.

We need to differentiate ourselves, have purpose, be needed and have things to offer that others want. Some compete head on and try to become the best in something, others rush to what is new, but the ultimate destinations are similar. One stands out in some metric.

Sounds like the advice now reads, differentiate yourself and broadcast your capabilities so that you have the opportunity to say, "No". And it isn't ultimately the "No", it is the "Yes" to the right project but they are rare, so we need numbers to find the right opportunities.

I agree.

Choices are like wealth/money. You need to build it up before you can use them (practically).

Some people are born with / work their way to / create the bank of choices for themselves. Others find themselves down roads where they don't have the money/bank of credibility, experience to make choices freely.

The wealthy often think that everyone has the same choices as they do. As if it were just like the amount of $ they do.

You might have choices, but to use them you need to create the margin for yourself to do so.

I agree as well, and this shouldn't be construed as boot-straps meritocracy argument, but I really really think that the combination of Open Source and the ability to spread ideas on email, this forum, chat, youtube, etc really puts at an exciting point in history where powerful ideas and transformation is within reach for billions of people. We have so many ways to give folks opportunities that don't have that.

How do we create structures and patterns that maximizes the opportunities that people have to differentiate themselves and have those choices?

My initial thought was similar, but then I changed my mind.

The difference between the people who don't have many choices and those who do is not money or wealth. It's whether they do what someone wants them to do, or they do what they want to do. It turns out when you do what someone else wants you to do, your choices are rather limited. But once you have a goal and you struggle to achieve it, then you suddenly have lots of distractions, lots of ideas how to achieve it in different ways, lots of ideas about alternative goals, and little time to spend with your inner social circle. So you have to choose very carefully what to do, and what not to do.

How do you support yourself without doing what someone else wants you to do?

By finding people that need or appreciate what I like to do and making them my customers.

PS. I have to admit I'm lucky to like doing something that also pays off well. Not everybody is that lucky.

This is true, but the balancing act between when to push back and when to say yes is VERY minute for many situations. Unfortunately, this comes with experience and many don’t learn it (if at all) until later in life.

Funny, I realized this week that being productive (e.g. doing the dishes) was less about motivating myself and more about saying no to laziness and procrastination (mindlessly browsing Netflix or HN).

Instead of saying no directly we can use Japanese trick aka https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_whys

Or, the most successful people are able to say no to almost everything.

Always question the arrow of causality.

If you are putting this man on a pedestal you have already lost.

> Write down a list of your top 25 career goals.

Really? other people have so many career goals? I’d be hard pressed to come up with more than 3 or maybe 5 tops. 25??

Yeah. I have one. Get it over with so I can go and play with things undisturbed.

Warren Buffet happens to have made a lot of money, but is also unhealthy, unimaginative and quite limited in his understanding of the world.

Why does his advice matter?

You are proving out his point. He focuses on only a few things that work for him and is not paying attention to other stuff. When you say no to most things then you will by your own decisions have a very narrow view/experience of the world.

That is the decision. Do you want to be super successful in one thing or a more balanced life.

But the important precondition is that you're working so hard that saying "no" gives you more time to work on what matters.

Nonsense. Really successful people have the opportunity to say no to almost everything, and do so because their time is so valuable.

I think what he means is that people who are already really successful have so many options they get to pick only the best ones.

It should be noted that this is from 2018 (not saying it's less relevant, but adding it to the title seems important)

This assumes you already have a lot of people coming to you with attractive opportunities you can say no to.

Sure like "Intel" and "IBM" would be a good place to start :)

Just sent this to my wife. She's gonna love this.

Well, you can name me the most successful person then.

Dr. No

i'm not getting distracted by this discussion.

Listening to Warren Buffet is as useful as playing the lottery.

Author: Hi Mr Buffett, I'd like to speak to you about what you think most successful people do.

Warren: No. <Hangs up>

Author: Oh, crap. I need to pay some rent. <Writes "Warren Buffett says the most successful people say no to almost everything">

I doubt the author even got a direct line with Buffett.

Really really successful people have handlers that say no to everything.

It's not a new quote. Quick googling shows it going around in hundreds of motivational type articles for at least a decade.

No they do not

“Get out of bed!”

"Focus is about saying no" - Steve Jobs. Hard lesson but true.

Well, I'm choosing to say no to try being that successful. Cause I don't want to say no to a million things and find out that I'm not cut for being Steve Jobs in the first place.

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