Early Retirement and the Paradox of Success

This is a good piece in The New York Times on the paradox of success:

Similarly, to succeed in the N.F.L., it is not enough to be strong and fast. Witness all the college players who exhibit all the physical skills they need in the league’s draft who never succeed as professionals. Rather, the best players display a certain manic competitiveness such that they keep playing. The Denver Broncos’ quarterback, Peyton Manning, has won a Super Bowl and made $230 million from football alone, and he looked to be in profound physical pain at the end of last season. Yet with his intensively competitive streak, he intends to come back next season at age 39.

The paradox of success is this: The mental wiring that enables a person to claw to the tippy-top of Corporate America or sports or entertainment or any other field that offers vast wealth is the same mental wiring that most of the time leads people not to retire before they have to — no matter what the diminishing marginal utility of money would suggest.

More here.

Success Cannot be Measured

Success is the strength of your heart, the power of your mind and giving of your soul.

This is a great post by Ketan Anjaria who claims that success, like other intangibles in life such as love, can’t be measured:

Real success isn’t measured by how many cars you own, how hot your startup is, or even how amazing you are at yoga.

Real success can’t be measured, just like happiness or love can’t be measured.

If you are trying to apply a metric to your success you have failed to realize one the most beautiful reasons we are on this earth.

Success to me is what you make. What you give to the world. That your thoughts, and actions and time go to building something that works for others.

We could all this reminder every once in a while.

Ang Lee and the Uncertainty of Success

Jeff J. Lin writes a great post on the success of director Ang Lee (most recently of Life of Pi fame). The highlight is that Ang Lee went through a period of six years of where he had nothing, being rejected over and over:

From age 30 to 36, he’s living in an apartment in White Plains, NY trying to get something — anything — going, while his wife Jane supports the family of four (they also had two young children) on her modest salary as a microbiologist. He spends every day at home, working on scripts, raising the kids, doing the cooking. That’s a six-year span — six years! — filled with dashed hopes and disappointments. “There was nothing,” he told The New York Times. “I sent in script after script. Most were turned down. Then there would be interest, I’d rewrite, hurry up, turn it in and wait weeks and weeks, just waiting. That was the toughest time for Jane and me. She didn’t know what a film career was like and neither did I.” It got so discouraging that Lee reportedly contemplated learning computer science so he could find a job during this time, but was scolded by his wife when she found out, telling him to keep his focus.

Put yourself in his shoes. Imagine starting something now, this year, that you felt you were pretty good at, having won some student awards, devoting yourself to it full time…and then getting rejected over and over until 2019. That’s the middle of the term of the next President of the United States. Can you imagine working that long, not knowing if anything would come of it? Facing the inevitable “So how’s that film thing going?” question for the fifth consecutive Thanksgiving dinner; explaining for the umpteeth time this time it’s different to parents that had hoped that film study meant you wanted to be a professor of film at a university.

The uncertainty of success. So this advice is worthwhile:

If you’re an aspiring author, director, musician, startup founder, these long stretches of nothing are a huge reason why it’s important to pick something personally meaningful, something that you actually love to do.

Add to that: a photographer.

The Value of Self-Awareness

Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield write on the value of self-awareness for success:

The successful people we spoke with — in business, entertainment, sports and the arts — all had similar responses when faced with obstacles: they subjected themselves to fairly merciless self-examination that prompted reinvention of their goals and the methods by which they endeavored to acheive them.

The tennis champion Martina Navratilova, for example, told us that after a galling loss to Chris Evert in 1981, she questioned her assumption that she could get by on talent and instinct alone. She began a long exploration of every aspect of her game. She adopted a rigorous cross-training practice (common today but essentially unheard of at the time), revamped her diet and her mental and tactical game and ultimately transformed herself into the most successful women’s tennis player of her era.

The indie rock band OK Go described how it once operated under the business model of the 20th-century rock band. But when industry record sales collapsed and the band members found themselves creatively hamstrung by their recording company, they questioned their tactics. Rather than depend on their label, they made wildly unconventional music videos, which went viral, and collaborative art projects with companies like Google, State Farm and Range Rover, which financed future creative endeavors. The band now releases albums on its own label.

This is great, but it all comes with the benefit of hindsight. This kind of advice isn’t useful to the person still struggling with their business, personal goals, or indeed anything worth pursuing. But if you found the advice useful, the authors have a book to sell you.

On Successful People

Daniel Tenner, who muses on startups and entrepreneurship at swombat.com, has a great post reflecting on what makes successful people successful:

If you want to get wealthy, you have two approaches: count on a lottery ticket type of event (e.g. winning the lottery, or winning the startup lottery…), or set out building, growing and maintaining a base of wealth. Ignoring those who choose the first path (because they are clearly irrational), if you look at the behaviours of people who tend to go from little wealth to a lot more wealth, you can observe that they tend to make decisions that optimise how much money they make (this sounds obvious, but is actually quite an insight).

They’ll work in jobs that pay more, or start businesses that make money. In my experience, those who have a fair bit of money are not profligate – they spend sensibly, agonise over larger expenses, are conscious of having to maintain and grow their savings, and so on. Whereas the average person will optimise for today’s enjoyment (and that may well be the right choice for many), those who are money-minded tend to optimise for accumulating more money and spending less money. All these decisions add up over the decades, and they also compound over each other. When you have £100k in the bank, you can make wealth-preserving decisions (e.g. buying some Apple stock a few years ago!) that will provide a much larger return than what you could do when you have just £10k or even £0.

Because of all this, the difference between someone who consistently makes decisions that preserve and augment weatlh, and those who don’t, can easily get to be very large.

With non-financial success, this process is much harder to observe, but I think it’s still a big factor. Decades of making successful decisions that add to whatever it is you want to do will pile up and compound and get you there. Waiting for that one big hit to get you to the stars, on the other hand, will not. Smaller successes build up your “success wealth”, in the form of experience, connections, wisdom, knowledge, skill, and so on.

Read the rest of the post to learn of Daniel’s thoughts on self-sacrifice and growth.