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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am reminded of the novel "Stranger In A Strange Land".
Perhaps you won't be 'best friends forever' or something, but it's healthy to have a variety of people in your social circle.
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!
The story is true, but somewhat exaggerated to make it a worthy read.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile I will upvote this article and bookmark it.
I just up-voted and bookmarked this article.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
And like that, the fear was gone. I'm now one month into my project, and I'm crushing it. Never been happier.
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.
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."
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.
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.
"It’s like everyone fantasizes about… whatever… but once their fantasies start to become reality, they piss their pants and self-sabotage."
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.)
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.
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!".
I think it's exactly his point -- why don't you just take his advice? He seems like he's perfectly happy to help.
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’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."
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This guy is clearly so full of it on so many levels. All hat, no cattle.
In all seriousness, the post was pretty typical stream-of-consciousness self-discovery stuff. It's wordy by definition.