Musings on the week from @profgalloway
I’ve been thinking a lot about success lately, its underpinnings, and if it can be taught. Talent is key, but that will only gain entrance to a crowded VIP room. Kind of like Platinum Medallion on Delta — you think you’re special, but at LGA you realize there are a lot of you. The chaser that takes talent over the top to significant success, methinks, is hunger.
I have a great deal of insecurity and fear that, coupled with instincts we all have, has resulted in hunger. It can come from a lot of places. I don’t think I was born with it. Understanding where hunger comes from can illuminate the difference between success and fulfillment.
The sources / fuel / triggers of my hunger:
The first 18 years of my life, I was an unremarkable child who wasn’t hardworking, and didn’t test well either. At UCLA, we all started as nice, smart, attractive people (“18” and “attractive” are redundant), who were pairing, even if for 10 minutes, based on a clumsy sense of attraction (“she’s hot,” “he’s cool”). But by senior year the women were gravitating to guys who had their shit together, showed early signs of success, or, having rich parents, had already achieved the accoutrements of success, like weekends at their parents’ fat pads in Aspen and Palm Springs.
The women’s instincts were kicking in, and they were seeking out mates who could better ensure their offspring’s survival, vs. mating with a super-interesting guy who wore an army jacket everywhere, smoked a shit-ton of pot, and could recite key scenes from the Planet of the Apes trilogy. My instincts were also kicking in, and I wanted to spread my DNA… everywhere. I decided a requisite for this was to signal success. So, I landed a job at Morgan Stanley. No idea what investment bankers did, but I knew it signaled success.
It didn’t take long to realize that while success in the eyes of others is meaningful, doing something you like is profound. People who tell you to “follow your passion” are already rich. But it’s key not to hate what you’re doing. The secret is to find something you’re good at, as the rewards and recognition that stem from being great at something will make you passionate about whatever “it” is. Figuring out early that my hunger to impress was leading down a road of misery — investment banking is a unique combination of boring subject matter and a great deal of stress — gave me the confidence to get out. I quit the path of success void of fulfillment.
The second event also involved a woman, but was much less likely to be the basis of a summer movie starring Zac Efron. In my second year of grad school, my mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Prematurely discharged from the hospital in Los Angeles, she started chemo. She called me at Berkeley and said she was feeling awful. I flew home that afternoon and walked through the door into our dark living room, where my mom was lying on the couch, in her robe, contorted and vomiting into a trash can, very distraught. She looked at me and asked, “What are we going to do?” It rattles me just to write this.
We were underinsured, and I didn’t have any contacts who were doctors. I felt a variety of emotions, but mostly I wished I had more money and influence. I knew that wealth, among other things, brought contacts and access to a different level of healthcare. We had neither.
In 2008 my girlfriend and I got pregnant, and I witnessed the profoundly disturbing miracle of birth as my son rotated out of my girlfriend. Note: I still think men should be out of the room. I felt pretty much none of the things you’re supposed to: love, gratitude, wonder. Mostly nausea and recognition of the science experiment we were embarking on to keep this thing alive. However, as it often does, instinct kicked in, and he became less awful, even likable. The need to protect and provide grew increasingly intense. When the 2008 crisis hit, and it hit me hard, I went from sort-of wealthy to most definitely not. The previous crisis, in 2000, had registered the same economic effect, but it rolled right off me, as I was in my thirties and knew I could take care of myself.
This was different. Not being able to provide for the needs of a kid in Manhattan at the level and texture I envisioned for my son seriously fucked with my sense of why I was here, as in “on earth,” and my worth as a man. I was shaping up to fail on a cosmic level, and the flame of hunger burned brighter.
The pressure many of us put on ourselves to be a good provider is irrational. The instinct to protect and nurture your offspring is core to the success of our species. However, believing your kid must have Manhattan private schools and a loft in TriBeCa is your ego, not paternal instincts. You can be a good, even great, dad on a lot less than I thought I needed to earn.
Lately I feel my hunger waning — my doctor says it’s low T. Maybe. I’m spending more time with people I care about, at the expense of work, trying to be more in the moment, and passing on professional opportunities so I can do more stuff focused on the condition of my soul. Not as hungry, but more sated. Also trying to instill a sense of hunger in my boys via chores. I’m paying them each week for their tasks, hoping they will connect work with reward and get hungry. Also, twice a year after paying them, I mug them on the way to their room, as that too is a life lesson.
Life is so rich,