Get ahead by not shooting yourself in the foot

This is an issue of my newsletter focusing on the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, particularly remote work, online economy, and cognitive load.
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There is plenty of traps and hidden dangers in life. But sometimes, people are so hell-bent on making an obvious blunder and shooting themselves in the foot that it’s tough to explain rationally because it is not.

Don’t lose your asset

Charlie Munger (Warren Buffet’s partner) has a solid life tip for all of us:

It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.

In investing, this amounts to “not losing your asset”. (sometimes also called the principal). The principal is what you get paid interest on, which helps it compound. The main challenge of investing is making the tradeoff between getting better interest and the risk of losing the principal. If you lose it all, even 50% interest gets you nowhere because that is still 0.

The way to end up in this situation is to chase super-high returns of this new magical asset and never stopping to diversify.

A good enough mother

Parenting and Investing are similarly long-term schemes. You try to make good choices given the unknowns, hoping that in decades they will compound into something beautiful that will support you during your retirement (maybe I have overextended that metaphor here, but you get the point).

D. W. Winnicott, an American developmental psychologist has coined the term “Good Enough Mother“. According to his research, the best way to raise a happy child is to aim for “good enough”:

  • Not good enough parents obviously were not providing sufficient support
  • “Perfect” parents tried too hard, stressing their children and themselves too much, inducing trauma with their expectations.

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot

There are a few significant areas of your life where you can disproportionately hurt yourself or miss a great opportunity. For the same reasons, these areas elicit strong emotional responses while dealing with them, making it even harder to make a rational choice.

Here are the dragons:

  • Buying a house or an apartment will disproportionately affect other areas of your life:
    • It dictates your financial future, due to mortgage payments and renovation/upkeep costs. A huge trap is to focus on mortgage alone, and then renovate the appartment with the goal of “doing it once, but good”.
      It is easy to talk yourself into all sorts of expensive nonsense and appliances, which will in turn require ongoing maintenance.
      Your consumption expands with proportion to available square footage.
    • It dictates your job prospects, because if you are not working remotely, you are limited to the options in the area.
      (Remote Work gives you disproportionate leverage in the real estate market.)
      Your job is dictated also by the requirements of your mortgage. You will probably make less risky career moves when you have to pay monthly installments, and that will limit your earning potential since the best opportunities always come with some risk
    • Your accomodation also dictates your well-being, since leisure, friends, sunlight, entartainent options are limited to the ones available in your area.
      If there are none, you have to commute, and that is proven to be detrimental to happiness.
    • Even though (or because) this is such a complex decision, people avoid analyzing all this complexity and trust the emotional choice of well-lit photos or a “metric” like price per square meter/foot. This leads to trouble which would have been entirely avoided, and now are met with “how could I have known?”.
  • The way people choose jobs is just insane
    • The typical employment lifecycle of an engineer is:
      • Get frustrated by the current company culture and/or benefits,
      • let this frustration sit for way too long,
      • snap
      • and choose a random company whose recruiter just happened to reach out,
      • join there,
      • and repeat the cycle all over again.
    • This is why recruiters are constantly reaching out at random – they now they will finally get somebody in the right state of mind who is ready to accept any job with a paycheck. Please be more deliberate!
  • Dumb health choices can drag behind you your whole life, and it’s not complicated to avoid problems.
  • I would put choosing a spouse on this list, but I just got incredibly lucky here, and cannot possibly credit myself with foresight. All I can say is: raise your standards, but you have to meet them yourself.

If you avoid shooting yourself in the foot in this handful of areas, you will be so much more ahead, with little focused effort.

Not every moment in life is equal. Some moments give us the opportunity to screw up badly, others give us a chance to do something great, and most really don’t matter. If you focus on minutiae, then you have less energy to focus on the big stuff in life, and you may end up shooting yourself in the foot.

Once you fired your first shot, and it hurts – stop shooting

Finally, once you have made a mistake, please reevaluate if continuing to shoot yourself in the foot just because you are so invested is what you should be doing. Let one mistake be the thing of the past instead of continuing to make it all “worth it”.

This leads me to:

Deliberate rule #62

If it can have a huge downside – stop, think, and ignore all urgency.

Surprising Things

European Civilization is built on Ham and Cheese

I knew it! Please wait while I enjoy my heritage.

European civilization is built on ham and cheese, which allowed protein to be stored throughout the icy winters. Without this, urban societies in most of central Europe would simply not have been possible.

Buy things, not experiences

Harold makes an excellent point, that the rise of the “experience economy” captured in the “buy experiences, not things” mantra correlates with the drop in price of actual things. He deduces, that this is the reaction to “owning things” losing its status symbol:

Now that even the poor can afford material goods, let’s denigrate goods while highlighting the remaining luxuries that only the affluent can enjoy and show off to their friends

Ultimately, it’s all about the purpose, and not categorization of purchase:

There are experience-like things; like a basement carpentry workshop or a fine collection of loose-leaf tea. And there are thing-like experiences, like an Instagrammable vacation that collects a bunch of likes but soon fades from memory

How I Experience Web Today

How I experience the web today is a hilarious showcase of where all the popup ads, chat windows, and cookie banners have brought us.

Let’s work on making the web a little nicer place instead.

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I write about the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, focusing on remote work, online economy, and cognitive load. Every monday.

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