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The Million Dollar Question (sebastianmarshall.com)
342 points by jirinovotny on Aug 31, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

This is a fantastic post, very thought-provoking. But also very sad to me. I disagree with the underlying premise that success and happiness are somehow negatively correlated. There's this idea in the post that if you want to be uber-successful, you can't have a "normal" life.

I know very successful people who are miserable, stressed-out workaholics. And I know very successful people who could have been one of the people strolling around Sebastian when he was writing this post. I know people who run startups from their home office and take their kids to school in the morning. Hell, look at Sebastian's own situation: he apparently has enough time to sit and pontificate for a couple hours on a train platform in Japan, in the middle of the day. He can't be working THAT hard :) Maybe what he's trying to say is that you can't have the idyllic suburban family life if you want to float around the world living off of random consulting gigs? But there are probably quite a few very successful people here on HN that live relatively idyllic family lives in cities and suburbs all over the world.

I think the idea of feeling isolated for being very ambitious is true, but I would caution Sebastian and others against the idea that you have to sacrifice your connection to a community, your face-to-face relationships, your health, and your overall happiness on the alter of amassing $40m for an amorphous purpose like being able to build a shrine with 5% of your wealth or less. You certainly can sacrifice all those things, but most people will never amass $40m no matter what they sacrifice. Better to find something (and someone) that you love, work hard at it, and enjoy life. Yes, you should take chances, yes you should push yourself and be ambitious. But this is the only life you get; don't squander it living a life you don't enjoy because you're hoping for the big payoff down the road. It probably won't come.

I think you might be misunderstanding the post - or at least interpreting it differently than me.

I dont' think it's so much about success as it's about being different. Once you step over the cliff into the unknown there aren't that many people that will follow you. You become a loner, a misfit and a stranger to many people. Your desires, goals and interests drift away from normality, and thus you will eventually find yourself in a state of loneliness because there's noone else like you.

I think that's what it's about.

I wrote something similar, albeit on a more positive note, some time back: http://www.maximise.dk/blog/2009/04/moving-boat.html

That's one of the ideas presented, and one that I agree with. That's part of why I think it's important to have people around you who are supportive in general, but also people who have similar goals and dreams. No matter how abnormal you are, there are probably many out there who can relate.

But that's only part of the post, and Sebastian seems to indicate that "being different" means not living the idyllic suburban family life. And not because he doesn't want it, but because he's driven and wants to succeed (like where he talks about $40m as being his number). And this is what I disagree with; you can be driven and successful and still have a happy family life. You can even live in suburbia! There are literally millions of millionaires in the world. There are almost a million households in the US with net worth of more than $5m. Most of those people live normal family lives. They don't all float around continents writing blog posts and attempting to win the lottery by trying to start a bank one month and sell a $2m government contract the next.

In fact, now that I'm thinking through this, I think what bums me out about this post is the idea that it doesn't really matter what you do as long as you get rich. I doubt Sebastian has any real interest in starting a bank or fulfilling a huge government contract. He just wants money, and it's not even clear why. I don't think that's a healthy way to live, that's all.

He just wants money, and it's not even clear why. I don't think that's a healthy way to live, that's all.

Reminds me of Ecclesiastes... "Whoever loves money never has money enough..." The entire book is full of wisdom on chasing the vanity of material goods and all that is "under the sun".

By all accounts, Solomon was a man who had everything the American dream could ever hope for - money, possessions, women, power, prestige... And yet from his position on high, he realized it was all meaningless. Pretty powerful.

"He just wants money, and it's not even clear why."

I'm not sure that's quie right; my takeaway was that he wants to create something awesome, and that the fact that it would likely be highly profitable is somewhere between a pleasant side effect and a way of keeping score.

Totally agree, the perspective Sebastian has indicates that he really doesn't have a lot of money- this kind of post is just way too immature.

I've done years of world traveling and met so many people that remind me of this guy its uncanny. They like to talk big, but that's about it. From an interview with this guy, question is "what is your profession?" Answer: Entrepreneurship. Current company does technology, engineering, and business processes for a few different high margin fields. Two sets of business cards - one with "General Manager", the other with "CEO"

Oh really? What's your company? Do they have a website? What are the "high margin" fields? You write 8 million word blog posts about crows cawing in Miyagi prefecture but when it comes to what you do it's extremely vague and there's usually a reason for that. The huge numbers are for show and attention. $1k an hour! $40 million! Yeah. Right. Whatever, man.

This -- it's not that he's saying you can't be happy. He's saying it's like moving to a distant land, before there was even mail service. Your communication with the people who are emotionally close to you will begin to fray and finally (in most cases) stop altogether. You have to start over -- make new friends, begin a new life. You can't have the happy Truman-show-esque comfort things; they just aren't available to you in a recognizable form (at least not while you are morphing and changing, taking risks, moving around literally and figuratively).

I am reminded of the novel "Stranger In A Strange Land".

I think you have 'issues' if you can't be friends with people who live life a bit differently than you do. Those sound like very artificial barriers to me.

Perhaps you won't be 'best friends forever' or something, but it's healthy to have a variety of people in your social circle.

That was a fantastic story; I'm wondering if it was completely true, or just an awesome metaphor? Either way, very nice and rather inspiring!

Has that been posted to HN yet? I'd love to see it on the front page!

Edit: I submitted it just to be sure (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2946884). I think many will really enjoy it. Cheers!

Thanks for the kind words...

The story is true, but somewhat exaggerated to make it a worthy read.

I think you're right that it's about being different. A disproportionate share of entrepreneurs are immigrants, for example. We are already used to being different, so we have less to lose.

All of this assumes a different definition of success than I have. It presumes wealth == success.

My definition: Being happy.

That comes with a loving family with strong relationships, intellectual challenges and growth, and work that I enjoy (and that pays the bills plus some), but where the job is a means not an end.

Conversely, if happiness is the sole metric by which you measure your success, unhappiness becomes a personal failure. Happiness is elusive and difficult to define, so I measure my success by my level of engagement in my work, and the value it creates for others (that last part is critical). If I'm excited about what I'm doing, and I'm doing it for any reason besides the paycheck, I consider myself successful.

Thank you. This always bothers me in discussions about success. It seems that everyone equates it to being rich.

For many of us, it simply means having the bills paid and being able to do work we love, on our terms.

> For many of us, it simply means having the bills paid and being able to do work we love, on our terms.

But not for all of us, and that was the whole point of the essay. He never says you have to buy into his definition of success, and he doesn't seem to begrudge the people in his Japanese suburban diorama their definition of happiness. In fact he's a bit wistful that it's not his definition.

most people will never amass $40m

Sebastian appears to have been thoughtful about his plans and as long as he doesn't give up (have a change of heart, lose motivation, etc) he'll get there. He'll go back to step1 and keep trying again. Giving up and not truly wanting what one thinks one wants, is the cause of not succeeding. Determination and relentless resourcefulness (eg http://www.paulgraham.com/determination.html) is what leads to success, defined as "the accomplishment of an aim or purpose". If most people don't amass something, it is because most people don't truly want it: they have a flawed plan, don't iterate, and they give up. I'm with you Sebastian and maybe we are crazy.

Hmm.. I didn't really get that message. I think you're absolutely right. You don't have to sacrifice relationships, happiness, and certainly not health to be successful.

But when you're entrepreneurial, you often can't be content with living the "normal" life. You really want to be like one of those people in the suburbs: they're blissful (partially because they don't know the possibilities/opportunities you see).

But deep down, you know you have to follow your dreams. You often wish you could go back, but you know you can't. In a sense, you wish you had the mindset and experiences of "normal" people, so you didn't had this itch to achieve more.

This too -- I can identify precisely with this second paragraph. I can't be content with filling some kind of mould. But that's because I can see the mould, and it certainly isn't me.

Seeing possibilities is not something one necessarily chose to do - it was maybe the result of a great need at a time, but now that you're out of the mould, and you see you're a pot maker - not just the clay - the bets are off, because your dreams are different.

I think that's when meaning becomes important, in order to not be consumed by ambition. That's probably also when it becomes really important to make sure that you have both supportive and different people around you.

Almost every millionaire I know is married with kids and living in the suburbs. Unless you win the lottery or are a professional skateboarder, becoming rich is more like boring suburban reality than being an international flaneur. (Interestingly, the rich pro skaters I know all live in the suburbs with their kids, too)

As someone who has also floated around a lot, even through Japan, it's an interesting lifestyle but sort of the opposite of how to get rich.

I don't think he's talking about being rich, although he does reference money a lot. I interpreted the money references as a simple way to keep score (and one deeply ingrained in many cultures).

I think he's talking about the modern entrepreneur. Specifically, the people who are creating new markets, or are disrupting old markets. In order to do that, you need to be different than other people. I think he's saying that separates him from others because the drive for being fundamentally different (not the "color your hair" type, but the "visionary entrepreneur") is at odds with the human need for commiseration or comparability.

What do you mean by millionaire ?

To me you're a millionaire when you have one million of assets excluding your residence.

That's a lot of money but that's not quite the same as having forty millions.

Reaching the one-million bar requires a lot of hard work, reaching the forty-millions bar requires a lot of hard work and sacrifices.

If your friends still have a regular job they're most likely at the first bar only.

Absolutely, the same is true for my experiences. This blog post seemed a bit silly to me in that context.

I'm not sure I buy it. I've met plenty of wealthy people who were happy to come home to a pretty normal family because their jobs are a constant source of novelty, stress and challenges. If one feels the need to stick out as part of one's identity, great, but it's just one way of living. I kind of like sticking out as a foreigner over here in Italy sometimes; it has its positive aspects. I certainly chose a road less traveled, but whatever, to each his own. For other things I'm happy to be pretty ordinary: I have a wife and two fantastic children and live in what passes for burbs over here.

Also, being a bit of a skeptic and contrarian, perhaps some of these people had other good reasons to say no to his plans. Without knowing their point of view, more about his proposals, and other particulars, maybe their inaction was sensible.

There are lots of bugs in peoples' brains that prevent them from doing things that seem like good ideas, and I don't think the fear of becoming illegible (http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2011/07/31/on-being-an-illegible-p...) is anywhere near the most important one.

My vote for the most important bug is as follows.

It looks as though human brains were architected to think in two modes: "near" mode and "far" mode. The reason for this is that early human tribes had important rules that directly impacted survival and reproduction (for example, "don't take more than your share of the food", "don't sleep with another man's wife"). It was critical for us to tell others that we were going to uphold these rules or we would get kicked out of the tribe. At the same, time our genetic fitness would increase massively if we could find a way to covertly break those rules while still upholding them verbally (more food and more descendents for successful rule breakers).

The upshot of this is that even if something looks good when processed using far mode it's not necessarily easy to translate it into near mode where it actually gets done.

In my view, this is an explanatory factor for procrastination as well. For example, the popular Google Chrome extension Chrome Nanny (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/gpdgmmdbbbchchonpf...) requires the user to enter 64 random alphanumeric characters before visiting a distracting site--which moves the idea of visiting this site from near mode (where it might actually happen) to far mode (where it won't).

For more on near and far modes you can read http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/06/near-far-summary.html. Note that novel tasks and desirable risky acts are both associated with far mode.

Chrome Nanny link seems to be correct (Google Search suggests the same), but it actually doesn't work. Has it been removed from the Chrome Store just recently?

"Why won't you?" Indeed. I created this HN user almost two years ago, before I applied to YC. In these two years I did pretty much nothing towards my goal, except reading HN, nodding in agreement over good posts, and bookmarking stuff on Delicious, adding to the hundreds I already have. What stops me? Fear? No, I just know I can be successful with my idea. Laziness? Maybe, but I've worked 18 hr days on projects I liked. So what? I don't know.

Meanwhile I will upvote this article and bookmark it.

This is exactly what I feel too! I'm generally lazy when there is no goal and no pressure, but I do work hard on things when there is a need, interest, deadline or even peer pressure. But when it comes to the big dreams, I procrastinate, and I don't know why.

I just up-voted and bookmarked this article.

> when it comes to the big dreams, I procrastinate, and I don't know why.

It's difficult to break down big goals into a series of attainable steps. Faced with this challenge, it becomes easier to maintain the status quo and not do anything.

Man, you hit the nail on the head. I, too, have been struggling with this for years. I move slowly, and know others who are absolutely paralyzed. That's the part of the article I identified with. The part about being misunderstood doesn't apply. Everyone I know, even in the suburbs, grasps the concept of entrepreneurship as a life choice, even if they don't have the courage to try it.

I used to wonder, What's keeping me from working hard on this? Now, I think the problem is not that there is something slowing me down, it's that I'm not accountable for anything related to my own project. There are no deadlines. My consulting work carries me, so there's an infinite runway. There's no pressure to start. When I finally start, and really ramp up, somebody comes to me with a paying gig. That feels like an annoyance, an interruption, but I succumb, because it offers accountability. And maybe because it's easier than my own project. And rent ain't free.

How do we obtain (or fake) accountability? I think the answer is a cofounder, but where I'm at (SoCal) they're tough to find, and coming to the table with a specific technology stack (Java) and idea makes it even harder.

Still, I'm not giving up yet.

What stops me? Fear? No, I just know I can be successful with my idea.

Is fear of no success the only possible fear involved?

So what? I don't know.

You aren't likely to find the answer to what stops /you/ out on the Internet, only in your head.

Perhaps, Destiny.

Edit: I mean, Is that goal what you want.. Really want to do?. If you were to die in 1 week, would you feel that you missed out on accomplishing your goal?

Very powerful - thanks for sharing.

But the more you do, the further away you get from being understood, from the joys of normal life, from being understood by your neighbors and backing each other up and living together harmoniously.

I cried for the first time in three years when I realized it.

The million dollar question… why don’t people take the large opportunities in front of them? Why don’t they allow their dreams to become realities?

Become it means you won’t be understood. And we need to be understood, fundamentally, it’s so important to us.


I think this is really where YC shines and becomes such a magnet for success: you have guys who are willing to try out ideas that most people probably don't understand yet. Since many of the YC candidates are in a similar situation, they can begin to feel comfortable, and even understood among their peers.. giving them the confidence to be boldly different.

I really enjoyed this article. I'm not actually convinced that the answer is a fear of not being understood by others, but it's very close or the writing wouldn't resonate the way it does. The problem is that I know lots of people who couldn't give the slightest damn about fitting in, or who are already occupied in a field far enough from societal norms that their job description takes a whiteboard and a venn diagram on a good day.

I wish I could remember who said this; I think it was M. Scott Peck, but I can't find the reference: we are attached to our own mental model of ourselves. So attached that we will fight to maintain that model even if it's useless or actively harmful.

An example: have you ever noticed that if someone's depressed, complimenting them doesn't work? Have you noticed that you yourself feel awkward when others compliment you? That might seem obvious, but only because you've absorbed it through repeated exposure. Think about it: why in the world would someone saying good things about you feel uncomfortable? Shouldn't it be basically the best thing you can get?

The answer is that when you're thinking "I'm average looking at best" and someone says "you're beautiful!" it's like someone just tried to rip your left brain from your right. How can you possibly reconcile these two things? You have to either destroy your own sense of self or reject the person's compliment.

I suspect that in this case what looks like fear that the world will misunderstand you is actually fear that you misunderstand yourself. Jumping head-first into a crazy idea isn't just changing what you do; it's changing who you are, and that's goddamn terrifying.

Sebastian identifies a key problem that underlies a lot of how society works: lots of people effectively have motives to avoid things they want. But I'm not sure he's right about his reading of why the problem exists. As nice as it is to think of this as some kind of trade-off, I'm not sure that most people gain any normalcy or understanding, at least not in any positive way.

Think about his friend, the one who's big goal is financial independence. It's his primary first-order objective, and he's being shown a plan to pursue it. He's not afraid to pursue it because he thinks it's going to cause him to be less understood (at least one of his friends, Sebastian, will probably relate to him more). He just flinches at the thought of really going after what he wants.

The million dollar question is the right one: why do people get anxious and self-sabotage when a path to success is put in front of them?

Unfortunately I think the answer is that most people have a lot of psychological conflicts around being happy/getting what they want. Why this happens is probably some complicated mixture of neurology of and pain acquired in childhood, and how to fix the problem is one of the central aims of psychology and psychiatry. The behavior Sebastian describes in his friend is a great example of one's ability to function being impaired by his psychology.

Hopefully we'll get even better at fixing these sort of problems, but in the mean time, hopefully more people will understand that these problems aren't inherent to living life, that there's no sad tradeoff to going after the life you want, and thus be comfortable seeking treatment. You don't have to be crazy to pursue psychological help, you just have to notice that your feelings sometimes get in the way of you functioning the way you want to.

Man, what a memorable post.

I like to think about his main point of "people won't understand you" a little differently. Humans were originally pack animals, and it shows. You are nothing without your pack, but together the pack is strong. Modern life isn't nearly so simplistic, but we still have our packs, albeit a little more nuanced. The place we work. The neighborhood we live in. Our family. Our friends (who are probably drawn from work, neighborhood, and family).

Doing what Sebastian does seems to be a lonely path. You get to be the alpha, but only of a pack of one. I get this feeling when seeing a lot of executives interviewed - men and women who are supposedly at the helm of enormous packs, but in practice seem a lot more alone than one might imagine.

Thanks, I enjoyed this post. I don't resonate with everything he says, but it was worth reading. The more philosophical points of his post were an interesting contrast to this piece I read yesterday: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/08/21/the-illusion-of-asymm...

Reading the OP I was actually a bit put off by what seems like vague braggadocio, but then I turned it around on myself - maybe that's me suffering from the same illusion as a mask for my own jealousy?

When I decided to embark on a new project this summer, I was at first held back by fear of failure. When I looked closer at the fear I realized that I could hack it by redefining my terms of success. Instead of defining success as making it big, I defined it as climbing up a steep learning curve. To do something new and learn from it, that's my definition of success.

And like that, the fear was gone. I'm now one month into my project, and I'm crushing it. Never been happier.

I really liked this post. Sebastian continues to develop his conversational style. Very nice.

Asshole consultant inside of me kept nodding early on: "You just don't get it, Sebastian! Charge more!"

You see, there's a very sad truth consultants learn early on: it doesn't matter how much you know that can help somebody. All that matters is how much influence you can have.

The reason some consultants charge ten times what others do for the same information? It's not that they are ten times as smart; it's that they don't want to waste their life giving great advice to people who aren't going to value it. If you walk in the door at 10K per day, bet your bottom dollar people are going to listen to you. And that means you can help. Walk in the same door for free, just to help out a friend? Your advice, by definition, is worthless. You'd be lucky getting them to accept just a tiny piece of advice.

But then I got to the key of the piece: when you do finally "get it", it changes your relationship with "normal" folks.

I think Sebastian's being a bit over-dramatic here, but I firmly agree. There is something very crazy about making money from thin air. Especially how it's done today, with some keystrokes and a bunch of virtual magic. At least in the old days if you met a millionaire he could take you down to his factory or something. Maybe told you about all the hard work he's done.

Nowadays the same type of guy made much more money that than that and there's not even an office. For most people, it just doesn't compute. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that to most people, there's something just wrong about making money the way it's made today on the net. Something shady. If you're lucky you get the "odd weirdo" label. If you're unlucky you attract attention from people you would rather not.

Because of that, I think I'm giving up on the $40Mil dream. I'm happy just to make enough to free up my time to work on things I love doing. I'll let the other guys be the really extreme weirdos. :)

Short side story: I sold a piece of land a year or so ago. It wasn't much, but it was in the tens of thousands of dollars. The guy who bought it paid cash. He was a contractor. Over the past decade he had been saving here and there, scrimping up enough in cash to make his dream come true. He kept it all in hundred-dollar bills in a large ziplock bag. It wouldn't have been my choice but it worked for him.

As he paid me, he told me he had gotten stopped for a bad taillight by the police a few months back. Once they saw his money that he had been saving, he had a hell of a time convincing them he wasn't a drug dealer. While I understand that carrying large amounts of cash is suspicious, to hear him tell it the police went far beyond suspicious and started thinking there was definitely something wrong going on. You see, to those small-town cops, you just don't carry that amount of money around. Somebody who looked like that should not have the amount of money like this. Just having the money was an indication of something really bad, even if it could all be explained.

He almost lost all of it.

You can only stand out so much -- the forces of society will gently (or not so gently) pull you back into line. You either have to conform or move to some place where the definition of "normal" is different.

Modern Psychology Rocked by Motivation Discovery

Chiba, Japan -- For decades, eminent psychologists had struggled with what exactly motivates people. Today all those theories have been conclusively shown to stem from one single fear: the loss of group identity.

Sebastian Marshall, a self-declared business analyst operating out of Japan, discovered this principle while seated on a bench, sipping an iced coffee, much like Isaac Newton when he discovered gravity.

"Who would have thought that Competency, Relatedness, and Autonomy were all derived from group identity?" wondered an astounded Dr. Edward Deci, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. "Maybe Relatedness, but all three? This is going to revolutionize Psychology, bringing it closer to Sociology."

President Barack Obama stated, "It is advances like this which show that our humanity is grounded in our sociability. Our ability to come together to overcome all challenges. We should take the single "man" out of "humanity" and replace it with "peoples". Hu-peoples-ity. Or maybe replace it with "meeples", you know, the little guys from Carcassonne. God, I love that game."

"If you walk in the door at 10K per day, bet your bottom dollar people are going to listen to you."

Maybe. Or maybe they're just executives with enough clout and lack of scruples that they'll spend 10k per day of the company's money to have someone make pretty powerpoint slides in which carefully massaged data "proves" that a certain course of action (that will help the executive's career) is best for the company. And another 10k per day to have someone to take the blame if it has disastrous consequences or involves firing lots of people.

You're absolutely correct. I had to generalize to make the point, but you have identified one of the flaws in my generalization.

The other flaw is that the amount doesn't really matter. What matters is the pain that it causes the client. Many large corporations can and do write large checks for consulting that they never intend to follow -- for various reasons. Just because the amount seems big to you doesn't mean it's even noticeable by the client.

But still, rates are a signaling mechanism. Even with higher rates, there's still a lot of careful screening you should do before accepting a client. Assuming you're in that position, of course.

There's a whole school of thought that says that even when clients are playing political games with consultants, it's still possible to have positive influence. But that's completely off the track from the simple point about people accepting advice. People are more likely to accept advice if it is done as part of some reciprocal arrangement or trade. Free advice is mostly worthless.

Care to offer any tips on how to get started with this $10k/day gig? Pretty eager to walk in that particular door.

Fantastic insight that people tend to say "no" when offered a chance to pursue their dreams. But I disagree about the reason. I don't think it's that they don't want to be different; having an interesting dream is already being a bit different. I think it's that once you can have something, it's no longer a dream.

This is awesome, and I totally agree-

"It’s like everyone fantasizes about… whatever… but once their fantasies start to become reality, they piss their pants and self-sabotage."

Very inspirational. If you're a startup founder/entrepreneur, worth your time to read fully.

Reading from beginning to end, I found the last paragraph powerfully moving. (Skipping to the end won't work - that last short para builds on everything before.)

Change in financial situations creates lot of stress. When your stress level is high, the typical path you are going to take is the one that alleviates your stress and not increase it.

Sebastian is suggesting x10 higher wages for his clients. This is a financial breakthrough in the life of the client. It creates enormous amount of stress. The stress pushes you back, for a less stressful zone.

I say this because I was there, and I'm sure I'll be there again. I see this differently than the OP. I don't think that people don't understand you, especially when they are smart. The simple fact of thinking of it generate stress and they hide from hard/stressful situation.

It proves, once again, that extrinsic motivation does not work.

If you help someone achieve a goal, they will owe you some of their success, lessening their own merit.

On the opposite, as this story shows, the intrinsic motivation can make you do stuff that you thought impossible: http://www.maximise.dk/blog/2009/04/moving-boat.html

So maybe to help people achieve their dream, you have to tell them that it can't be done, that it's impossible.

This would be a truly altruistic way to help people, since you can't claim any part of their success in that case. All they will tell you will be "I told you it can be done!".

This is a great post, but what I really want to know is how to make a million bucks without Sebastian Marshall mentoring you and no real connections. Actually, maybe I start by trying harder to make connections.

how to make a million bucks without Sebastian Marshall mentoring you

I think it's exactly his point -- why don't you just take his advice? He seems like he's perfectly happy to help.

Holy shit, yes. But you don't even have to talk about the kind of skywalking he's engaged in. Anyone from a blue-collar or lower-class background who does non-manual labor is automatically alienated from everyone and everything they knew. See Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams by Alfred Lubrano. http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-047126376...

Amazing post. I read every word of it (as opposed to just scanning it).

What type of work does he do* and where can I meet/read more people like him?

He strikes me as a kind of mentor...something which I find is lacking in the IT industry. Mentors don't always need to be the smartest person in the room, they just need to have experience and patience to see the things that you are blind to.

* He says he's a strategist, but that's awfully vague.

I suspect he's kind of like Steve Jobs, if Steve Jobs had not been practising Zen-Buddhism. Instead he's learning how to follow through more directly by helping others do it. He's probably not alone about it either. A guy with a skill. It's just that now the circumstances force more of us to use it, which is to say, to start to develop it. Just a thought.

From his about page:

"I’m consulting on increasing LVOC numbers (lifetime value of a customer – usually selling additional valuable things to customers you’ve already got, but also conversion rates, price points, referrals, etc), doing some light real estate development, and some professional writing."

Understood. But you misunderstand me. I read that section of his About page, but it's not succinct enough.

If I were to walk into a crowded room and say, "For my business to succeed, I need an %X", what would be the value of X for it to apply to Sebastian's role? I can't just say "consultant".

There's not a word for it, but I'm pretty every business ever anywhere would benefit from someone who "increases LVOC numbers". And the best business won't be stopped by the lack of a buzzword.

I took that as part of his point -- there isn't a convenient buzzword or easy label to describe what he does, which leads to fear and "people won't understand".

Great writing, but here is a quibble regarding the "...pretty girl, maybe 23 years old. She’s not beautiful... she’ll... be a very good wife for someone."

Ouch. I know he's just day-dreaming there, and his point is that she is a "normal" person. But why define her success in terms of being a "wife for someone"? She could -already- be an incredibly successful, independent person living life on her own terms, making her own rules.

And for all we know, she may be just as alienated from normalcy as the author. Sorry to nitpick but this hit home for me.

I'll be fair with him: I would also decline because I would not like to be like him. For me it has nothing to do with being understood. I read his 'who am I' and all I thought was "man, his life is so empty". But I can't say why.

Sometimes people just want a simple life. Making a lot of money or working less hours does not mean your life will be better or more enjoyable.

The call to action on this post seems to be stop worrying about the fact that you will not be understood and go ahead with your plans.

I am curious. Does the fear of not fitting in outweigh the benefits of financial freedom?

I dont know the answer to this question since I have never been in that situation, so I thought I would ask.

(Bear in mind I'm going into biomedical research, which is a very different field than CS or Entrepreneurship, which seem to make up the majority of HN users)

For me it's not the fear of not fitting in, per se, but the loneliness that comes with being misunderstood by those around you.

I find that the point he made of not being understood when I started to pursue my career aspirations rings very true. I wouldn't blame others' inability to understand on ignorance so much as lack of experience, in that not that many people have experienced the biomedical research field for themselves, so therefore have no way of understanding the nuances or the lifestyle of it all beyond hearsay.

That lack of understanding in turn leads to an inability to connect with me, or conversely, an inability for me to connect with most people. My career takes up the majority of my time and thoughts, and as a result is one of the most important aspects of my own life. When people are unable to understand that, they in effect do not understand me as a person.

Furthermore, there's the fact that I and other people who want very badly to accomplish their dreams are often very hardworking. A bit anecdotal, but I've also found that the people who are physically in my life are by far not driven to work as hard as I do. I find a sense of happiness working 12 hours in a research lab and coming in on weekends. The "average" person in my life, however, is the sort of person who looks at a career as a means to make money; a commitment they only have to fulfill between the hours of 9AM and 5PM on weekdays. Anything beyond that (time after work, weekends, etc.) should be dedicated to partying and the like.

Going back to the point I was making before: these differences in personalities between myself and almost everyone in my life makes it almost impossible for me to truly connect with someone.

And for reasons I can't really explain beyond "human nature", even though it makes perfectly logical sense to focus on my work and be as efficient as possible, I find that interpersonal connections to be something I cannot live without. For me, there is immense comfort to be had in being able to talk to people about your life (which again for me mostly revolves around work) and have a true understanding of it all.

I'm very lucky enough to have a small yet very close group of friends who are like that (although mostly online due to college; thank you internet). However in the past two years I've already fell out of contact with most of my friends because of my shift from (and I do apologize as I can't think of a better term) a commonplace life to one that is unorthodox to most people. So a big lingering fear of mine is, "If I continue on with my goals, will I still have anyone in my life I can connect with?" While so far the answer has been "yes", the past two years still leave a very strong, lingering fear in the back of my mind. And while it's very true that I've come into contact with and maintain a personal relationship with many people above me and have gone through the same path as me, for me it's no replacement for having people in your life that are going through the same life challenges that you're experiencing yourself. As the saying goes, "Misery loves company".

On a more minor note unrelated to the article, another sort of fear I've felt (and am still feeling) is really fear of the unknown. I was the sort of person who did just enough in my life. I'd go so far as to say I was complacent with myself. This whole lifestyle of being ambitious, proactive, and actively and constantly working towards a dream that once felt unobtainable to you is all a new experience. Others above me/more experienced than me have told me stories about their own lives but in the end actually going through with the life yourself is completely different than hearing stories about it. For me, everything I'm doing now is new, unfamiliar, unknown, and as a result it's nerve wracking and scary.

While I know that everything above is not universal and there will be others on HN that have different experiences/viewpoints, these are my honest viewpoints shaped by my own experiences in my life. I hope this helped with your question.

First of all, thanks for taking the time to write up the detailed answer to my question. While reading it, I realized that the OP was talking about fear of not fitting in DURING the process of achieving success, not after. That makes more sense and your position made me aware of that.

Regarding your fear of the unknown, I would say (as would anybody) that this is only natural. The best thing we can do is constantly remind ourselves of something that encourages us. I look to Frost's beautiful poem "The Road Not Taken", especially the ending stanza:

  I shall be telling this with a sigh
  Somewhere ages and ages hence:
  Two roads diverged in a wood and I -
  I took the one less traveled by,
  And that has made all the difference.

I just want to say.. this is 1 of the most insightful, and meaningful posts I've read in my entire life. Thank you so much for sharing this. I resonated with every single bit. Thanks for not making feel alone in my thoughts.

Way too wordy, not nearly as insightful as he thinks it is.

This guy is clearly so full of it on so many levels. All hat, no cattle.


A prolix.


The post was not my cup of tea, but being rude about it is for other sites.

Isn't your own blog's title "brevity is for the weak" ..? ;)

In all seriousness, the post was pretty typical stream-of-consciousness self-discovery stuff. It's wordy by definition.

You must not like Stevey's Blog Rants much.

When the headline is meaningless it doesn't make me want to click off.

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