The hardest truth about achieving success won’t make you happy

It’s “meaning” you’re really after, not “success”

there, I’ve summarized the entire article in the first headline.

There really is no need to read the rest if you’re pressed for time. Just bookmark my page, supply your e-mail, hit subscribe and start reading my eBook about my 15 years at Europe’s best hedge fund instead.

Ocean Club Marbella


True grit beats IQ

Research shows that grit and perseverance, not talent or IQ, are the main determinants of success:

  • There is the marshmallow test for kids.
  • There is the 10 000 hour rule (all but debunked since all elites are talented and then hone their skills by practicing a lot,. However, you’ll still get a lot better if you stick to something for a long time, e.g. 10 000 hours).
  • There is the high school grit questionnaire (Angela Duckworth on TED radio hour). Check your own grit score here.
  • There are the motivational speakers, like Tony Robbins (gladly admitting to making three talks a day instead of one a week, to become the world’s best speaker)


The formula for success

Here is the formula:

  • choose an area
  • stick to it
  • don’t let failure deter you
  • believe you can change (Carol Dweck on TED, or check out Farnam Street’s run through of her book)
  • invest for the long term (i.e., give something up today to get more tomorrow, e.g. a marshmallow)
  • and you will achieve success

Wall Street Playboys recently, and eloquently as always, laid out a great game plan for unhappy success :)

But who the f*** wants success? (at least if you mean money, fame and general status)

Why would you willingly spend years and years on something you don’t much care for, just to end up with a pile of money and a group of mostly annoying hang around gold-diggers and sycophants?


Go ahead, be a whore

I’m not completely against whoring out… for a while. If you know what you want, and the best way to get there is by first doing something you don’t like, then go ahead. Try Wall Street.

Actually, if you don’t know what you want, it might be a good idea to just follow the herd for a while, go to college, get a fancy job at Wall Street. Meanwhile you should reserve some time for soul searching and once you are sure you’re comfortable, and you know what it is that really makes you tick, get out from the money business and…


Do something meaningful

This is where life really is. This is where you face your emotions, your real driving forces and acknowledge them. Water pistol wars were fun as a kid. Fooling around with vintage champagne is exactly the same (if money is no object). There is no reason whatsoever to think it’s more fun to spray champagne than water (and definitely not if you are at all conscious about the cost).

I’ve been to Ocean Club Marbella’s champagne spray party (August 26, 2012, the bed next to mine and here is an official video). It’s wicked indeed, but why waste years becoming rich to afford what amounts to ridiculously expensive water pistols?

An other example: I’ve had my supercars (Ferrari and Lamborghini convertibles), but they are more beautiful from the outside and a bungy jump or a wave surf beats a ride in a car any day.

Money sure buys some fun, and without it you can’t eat or sleep, but very quickly you’ll pass a point where the best things in life are if not cheap then very inexpensive.

You want to find the activities, hobbies if you will, that grab a hold of you every waking hour, make you want to sleep as little as possible and keep going the next day, and the day after that. Activities that you enjoy without making a spectacle of it, without needing approval from an audience. That’s where your meaning is. That’s where your life is.

James Clear wrote a worthwhile article today on how to be a pro, doing something meaningful. He too emphasizes grit and consistency, but adds the dimension of focusing on something meaningful, rather than just going after the monayh.

The trouble is, it takes knowing yourself, it takes daring to be contrarian, it might even take breaking with today’s consumerism paradigm. It’s not a faster car you want, it’s the acceleration. It’s not a bigger house you want, it’s the quiet room. It’s not a Swiss tourbillon watch you want, it’s…

Nah, who am I kidding, of course you want a rose gold Swiss mechanical 20+ complication, 1000+ parts hand made precision instrument, a.k.a. a watch.

NO, you don’t! WTF?! If/when you have enough money that needs to be spent you might buy one, but it just can’t be your goal in life. Tell me it isn’t.


On making money

Making money to buy expensive stuff that other people want or envy is such an utter waste of your life that I lack the right words for it. This poor man, a 46 year old banker who has wasted his whole life tells it better. Don’t be that guy.

However, it’s still okay to use money as a gauge for the effectiveness of what you’re doing.

There is nothing wrong in becoming rich, or in optimizing whatever it is you do. What’s wrong is if money, fame and status are your primary objectives without a thought to why you want it or how you’re going to use it to fulfill your true desires.

Do you want to be healthy, have great and close friends, a partner to share everything with, sex, adrenaline, quiet, calm, a sea view, learn, explore, play, laugh? Then do all those things directly. Use your talent, grit, stamina, perseverance, and long-term disposition to get what you want, instead of taking the long (and sheepish) route through money and fame.

Owning up: Of course, I took the – cowardly – route through business school, the Swedish version of Wall Street and finally 15 years at a hedge fund, before I understood these things. That’s 25 years wasted on pursuing money and status instead of just doing what I really liked and getting good at it.

Despite what I’m saying about money as a goal in itself, money is still very useful and I’ll help as best I can guide you to making more of it, or at least protect what you already have.

Upcoming posts and books will be about, e.g.,   The Ultimate Guide To Investing In Stocks and How To Benefit From The Coming Super Recession.


…and subscribe

Meanwhile, I think browsing my current book, The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager will give you a little taste of what’s coming.

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15 Replies to “The hardest truth about achieving success won’t make you happy”

  1. This was a great post, and so was the WSP post you linked to.

    Also noticing how the site is transforming and getting more slick every week. It’s nice to see.

    ….and I’ve got a few suggestions……. :D

  2. As usual, I am a confused kid who thinks he understands what you’re saying, but really doesn’t. I’m going to need a few months to internalize what you’re saying for sure.

    I believe Wall Street Playboys preach getting as rich as possible as fast as possible, to then enjoy life as much as possible. But you’re saying that’s great, but you should just go from A to B instead of just A to money to B. Is this right?

    I am living the entrepreneurial life. I run a restaurant that was started by my parents and shortly after, I plan to do something else (due to the fact that labor is getting hard to find and so this restaurant is not sustainable in the long run). I hardly ever look at how much money I save, just merely the day to day sales. I never cared much for money because I’m naturally introverted and I live inside my head. Never wanted fame, never want more than 1 best friend, never wanted to show off.

    But I love the entrepreneurial lifestyle of spending 24/7 trying to increase sales or think of business ideas. It’s not the money, it’s the sales, it’s the amount of money I can generate. I want to get it as high as I can. I don’t particually know why I do what I do. I just enjoy it. I believe you are of the same feeling when you worked as a hedge fund manager (read your book, it’s mind blowing).

    So this is what I am confused about: if you enjoy what you do, and you know it’s meaningless because after a while, you’re going to sell everything anyways, Is this sort of life worth it?

    1. Now, THAT’s a question for annals, Ken!

      If you enjoy driving sales, optimizing inventory, guest satisfaction etc, I would say running the restaurant IS meaningful for you. AND you’ll hone your SALES skills, as well as make some money, both of which prepare you for an unknown future where you might want or need money.

      If you’d actually rather be running a different company (still 24/7, still entrepreneurial etc), you should think about how to transition to that state as effectively as possible.*

      *It might mean running the restaurant a while longer before selling it; or it might mean selling the restaurant right away (if you KNOW what you want to do, have enough money and the right skill set for your next endeavour)

      Your A-M-B analogy was spot on. I just want to state for the records that I’m a fan of WSP and I don’t think they are only about money. Actually they said themselves the other day that HEALTH comes first. THEN you can get money if you want to. After that they continue to tell you HOW to get that money.

      Their premise is MORE money is always better, ceteris paribus (all else equal), and I AGREE.

      It’s just the ceteris paribus part that changes the equation. If you’re going to work a boring job for 40 hours a week for the rest of your life, making next to nothing, never having time, energy or money over for the things you want, THEN you’d be much better off making a quick 100k, 1m, 10m or 100m and then get on with your life doing exactly what you feel like.

      We all differ in how much money that is, and in what we actually enjoy doing, and what kind of money is needed for that lifestyle. I settled for 10m, which I personally think is AT LEAST TWICE as much as I need, but I wanted a buffer and where I was money came easy enough that investing just a few extra years was worth once I was already in the money machine. Also, at the time I didn’t really know who I was, what I liked and what I really wanted to do with my life. Perhaps I needed to become wealthy to understand that I wasn’t going to use or need that wealth anyway. With your analogy, I didn’t know where B was so I went to M in the meantime to keep my options open.

      To conclude, I think you seem to lead a meaningful life. And later on you’ll sell the restaurant and lead a different and at least equally meaningful life. Just the fact that you are thinking about this all but guarantees it.

      My best.

    2. To add my .02,

      It’s my experience that your life is a series of “growth spurts”, constituted by what you’re doing. Ludvig Sunstrom gave me a good idea of the “hindsight bias” yesterday, which is that many “successful” people can easily attribute their life’s gains to a series of fate-induced events, as if they knew all along what they were to do.

      The reality, at least to me, is much different. You don’t know how things will turn out, who will be there with you, or even what you should be doing. Many people become disillusioned with their life as it’s not the “porn video” obscenity they think they want, as such turning to different communities & products for help (this is where “x”life crises come from).

      The “hard” facts are that life is actually best enjoyed when you know what you want to do (Mikael can explain better than I). This is not tied to any “thing”; it is the way in which you do things, and ultimately the dream you have. Most people never permit themselves to dream, which is why they are surprised when they wake up to a wasted life.

      In terms of your problem, the solution is simple.

      Entrepreneurship is not about making money. It’s about bringing new ideas into the world. Business is about making money, but that’s only a small part of “entrepreneurship”.

      You’ve already shot yourself in the foot by saying your restaurant is not sustainable in the long run. Who said that? Where is it decreed that is the way it should work? You make the rules – if you want to attract revenue, you have every privilege the modern world possesses to do it.

      Look up about Starbucks – some great videos here

      I would recommend you take an introspective look at what you’d be doing if everything were perfect. Don’t worry about your current circumstances – consider who you’d like to be if you were to star in a movie or porno. You will know this already, you’ll have just “over thought” your way out of it.

      The underlying fact is that you are governed by what you’ve done. The way to improve, therefore, is to DO better things.

      In the sense of a restaurant, you have several important things to do. Firstly, you need to quit being McDonalds and be more gourmet — work on cultivating an audience of people who care about what you’re doing. Get an email list / CRM system set up and DO COOL SHIT – get a live music night or something. EXPRESS YOURSELF. Spend time with the businessmen you want to have dining in your place, and can ultimately learn from.

      In the time you have left in the place (which, as per my original remarks, will be terse anyway — everyone moves on), you’ll do best to cultivate as much experience & contacts as possible. You get back what you put out.

      1. …great advice there, Ken

        Read Richard’s answer several times. There is much wisdom in between the lines. Rich has though A LOT about these things.

        1. Thanks to both you and Richard. There is a lot to think about.

          With regards to the restaurant labor, it’s not really that it’s hard to find labor, it’s that labor nowadays cost almost as much as a newly graduated engineering student — and our smallish restaurant needs way more than 2 hands. So you’re right, Richard, we have to change our approach.

          While thinking of a new restaurant style, I came across a new idea and I am just a bit obsessed about this idea. I want to try this idea and for the last few months, I have been discussing with my parents about this new business venture and how to transition. I think I am ready to take on the risk now.

          Thanks to some real estate investments we made years ago, we will have enough cash flow to cover my brothers’ college tuition plus a little more for living expenses. Selling the restaurant and house would give us a chunk of capital, which we estimate can last about 2 years. If all else fail, we will sell our cash cow property for a huge sum and let my parents retire while I will figure something out. I am incredibly lucky to be in this position.

          I haven’t figured out my B yet. I still don’t know myself either because I’m just 23. But I think putting myself through adversity is the way to not only toughen myself up, but also find out who I am. This is what I like most about being entrepreneurial. It prepares you for life because you have to adapt constantly and it forces you to be creative with what you have at your disposal instead of buying expensive boxes of quick fix bandaids for both the business and life (much like your water pistol vs champagne story because both cures boredom but one is just a bit more expensive).

          Thanks to both of you again. I need to observe the things you guys have said in real life to internalize them.

      2. “The ‘hard’ facts are that life is actually best enjoyed when you know what you want to do (Mikael can explain better than I). This is not tied to any “thing”; it is the way in which you do things, and ultimately the dream you have. Most people never permit themselves to dream, which is why they are surprised when they wake up to a wasted life.”

        This is all you need to know to live a meaningful life. Create a solution and do it. Just do it.

  3. Hello Mikael

    This was a great post

    I just finished music college and I have to say that a part of me is really scared, afraid to let down other people ( my family) and afraid of failure

    I know that I´m capable and the music path is really meaningful to me, thanks for writing this blog really

    Greetings from, Mexico

    1. I love hearing you’re scared – that’s living.

      I also hope you are satisfied making music, even if you never make a hit, that the creativity is payment enough. Having said that, I wish you all the best, that you make great music and someday I’ll hear about you and think, that’s Hector from 2015.

    2. Hector,

      Embrace failure – it will be an ill-considered use of time to consider what others think of you or what “might” happen. Failure is the gateway to success; the bigger the failure, the bigger the eventual success.

      The irony of life is such that the less you concern yourself with what you might lose, the more of it you will get. If you’re a musician, your most potent goal should be to express your talent. If you know any talented (and good looking) dancing girls, see if they’ll earn some money with you by dancing to your music in bars etc. Every bar can benefit from live music.


  4. My problem used to be people. As humans, we are for the most part naturally inclined to want to socialize and to have sex. Yes, I do fine in both realms; however, like KM said, you should try to find meaning even though your purpose to help others is compromised when the majority is short sighted. Coming from a privileged background and having a more than sufficient amount of friends, I have had the luxury to be patient where I can closely examine social interactions. Unfortunately, there is not a single day that doesn’t pass in which I don’t see right through the bullshit. To those striving to solely earn bank, I can tell you that you are wasting your time without a long term vision that adds value beyond a zero sum game. In sum, focus on your work for the sake of challenging yourself and creating beneficial impact. Try your best to defy your selfish nature and the reward will be greater than earning the byproduct of monetary riches.

  5. Good article.

    As for the improvements it seems as if you are a creative person but that creativity isnt coming out as we’ll as it could on your website.

    You could hire a high quality designer generate a consistent theme of what you envisage in your posts.

    I hate to say it but it really really detracts from the writing. I read you PDF and it was really difficult to pay attention with the random formating, capitals in odd places, different colours Etc. And if you are a computer scientist you’ll know that a large LATEX which PHDs use for research was created for that exact reason. If you focus on design first instead of content first then design (purely when it comes to writing) then the content won’t be as coherent it as it could be for the reader. if you did the inverse had the design Already automated then only focused on content then maybe that would work.

    Your book felt like one hallucinigenic trip at a house music festival, a huge blur, rather than an insight into the mind of ssomeone many 20-25 year old males would try to Replicate. I read it and felt like -. Wow seemed interesting. A real blur, this guy must have lived a fun life. But what can I actually take away From this

    Just my two cents hope it continues to get better On the presentation side.

    Enjoyed the post !

    1. Thanks “Random”. I really appreciate your kick in the butt.

      I am aware of the “acid” look and I’m slowly working on it.

      Being self-made I have a hard time delegating the design work, not least since the site FIRST is about me trying and learning something new, and SECOND about inspiring others.

      In addition, it would be so easy to buy myself out of the problem (cheating).

      Most bloggers started with nothing, learned everything and then made money off of it. Except for the money part, I want to follow the same path and truly learn on the way.

      Thanks again for the comment

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