Aspiration and Success

Stop the Hedonic Treadmill by Setting Better Goals

We’ve all read stories about lottery winners who hit it big and soon lose everything. Sometimes they end up in debt, on the street, or incarcerated. Sometimes they even take their own lives.

For the lottery winners who end up this way, it is usually a combination of unwise behaviors that leads to their downfall. They impulsively give far too much to friends, family, churches, or charity. They go on wild spending sprees. They often engage in substance abuse and degenerate gambling.

However, despite some misleading statistics that are often repeated online – such as the urban legend that 70 percent of lottery winners end up in bankruptcy – a decidedly small percentage of big-prize lottery winners actually end up squandering it all.

Overcoming Cultural Constraints on Your Success

Late in 2018, actor Alexander Skarsgard appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote the release of the miniseries The Little Drummer Girl, in which he plays an Israeli intelligence officer.

Colbert reminds Skarsgard that since his last appearance on the show, the actor has won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his Perry Wright role on the HBO series Big Little Lies.

Colbert suggests that even though Alexander comes from a storied acting family, maybe he could lord his most recent awards over the rest of the Skarsgard clan.

Stop Aiming for the Top

In a culture where the slobbering hoi polloi fawningly idolize extreme wealth, fame, and performance, a suggestion like “stop aiming for the top” might seem counterintuitive if not outright heretical.

But there are reasons that it makes sense. For one, achievement is not always representative of ability.

We often perceive the most successful as being the most talented, or the most intelligent, or the most skilled, or the hardest working. In fact, they are often simply the luckiest.

Goodhart’s Law and Measuring Success without Gaming Yourself

In the late 19th century, Paul Doumer, the French Governor-General of Indochina, had grand plans to modernize the ancient Vietnamese city of Hanoi.

Hanoi was to be an exemplar of the positive influence of French colonial intervention.

Part of Doumer’s modernization scheme included a network of underground sewer pipes, which quickly became fertile breeding ground for rats.

The sewers not only offered the rats a protected breeding area, but also served as a subterranean transit system. Soon, the rats boomed in numbers and expanded their reach throughout the city.

Before long, cases of bubonic plague began to rise in Hanoi.

Always Have a Motion Project

Nadia, a 12-year-old seventh grader in New Orleans, was struggling with math. So much so that she was at risk of her school placing her in a slower math track.

While visiting her older cousin and his wife in Boston, she explained her plight. Her cousin, a hedge fund analyst with multiple STEM degrees, offered to work with her and get her back on track.

He tutored Nadia remotely, mostly via telephone, and using Yahoo! Messenger and its Doodle notepad and image-sharing program. Nadia responded well to the tutoring and thrived, and soon a dozen or so more cousins were seeking tutoring.

To manage the increased demand more efficiently, he built a personal website where he could post practice problems. A couple of years later, a friend suggested he start posting tutorial videos on YouTube.

Once the videos were public, they began to reach an audience well beyond just family members, and were soon being viewed by tens of thousands of people each month.

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