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No Mercy / No Malice: Commence

19 May 2017

by

No Mercy No Malice

Commence

SoHo is mobbed by purple ghosts — 22-year-olds in NYU caps and gowns. Close in tow are typically a man and woman who look similar, but older and heavier, beaming with pride. Commencement season is nice, even hopeful. This moment is more rewarding for the heavier versions of you (your parents), as your graduation is testament to their success (getting you to and through college). They can check the last evolutionary box they’re responsible for … other than dying (ughhh, that sounded awful).

Neither of my graduations was that joyous. At UCLA I graduated midway through my fifth year, with most of my friends gone, as they did it in the prescribed four years. I spent most of my last two weeks at UCLA asking professors (no joke) to change an F to a D so I could get credits for the course and graduate, as I was 12 units (three courses) shy of what I needed for a B.S. in economics. My pitch was simple, and rang true:

— I live with my mother in an upper-lower-middle-class home

— I have a great job offer from Morgan Stanley in NYC

— The sooner I’m out of here, the sooner you can let in someone more deserving

I asked four profs (and there were more I could have asked, as I graduated with a 2.27 GPA). Three had the same reaction: they looked at me with disgust, then resignation, signed the form, and asked me to leave their office. No robe and very little pomp and circumstance.

I decided to pursue investment banking. The motivation for a career in investment banking was my fraternity roommate desperately wanted to be in IB and couldn’t land an offer. So, I decided if he wanted it, I would get it. Also, I believed more women would have sex with me if I was an investment banker.

I accepted an offer with Morgan Stanley, as I heard they didn’t check grade transcripts, and no drug test. They fortunately never asked me, during the interview process, what investment banking was, as … I. Had. No. Fucking. Idea.

My second graduation, MBA from Berkeley, was more rewarding, as I had gotten my act together and earned it, or something. But it was an insecure time … as it is for a lot of kids. A 26-year-old male is still very much a kid. I had a sick parent and turned down an offer from a consulting firm so I could start my own (wait for it) consulting firm. The ballast in my life was my girlfriend, who provided emotional and financial security, as she had a real job. We lived in a $285/month apartment in Oakland, and we were happy, but that’s another post.

Anyway, as you’ve spent the last four, or more, years learning to make your own decisions, let me now join the chorus of people who use graduation as a chance to talk about themselves, in the third person, with vaseline smeared over the filter they want you to view their past through.

Advice for Grads

Don’t Follow Your Passion

People who speak at universities, especially at commencement, who tell you to follow your passion — or my favorite, “never give up” — are already rich. And most got there by starting waste treatment plants after failing at five other ventures — that is, they knew when to give up. Your job is to find something you’re good at, and after ten thousand hours of practice, get great at it. The emotional and economic rewards that accompany being great at something will make you passionate about whatever “it” is. Nobody starts their career passionate about tax law. But great tax lawyers are passionate about colleagues who admire them, creating economic security for their families, and dating / marrying someone more impressive than them.

Boring Is Sexy

Careers are asset classes. If a sector becomes overinvested with human capital, the returns on those efforts are suppressed. If you want to work at Vogue, produce movies, or open a restaurant, you need to ensure you receive a great deal of psychic income, as the returns on your efforts (distinct of well-publicized exceptions) will be, on a risk-adjusted bases, awful. I try to avoid investing in anything that sounds remotely cool. I didn’t buy BlackBook magazine, and didn’t invest in a downtown members-only club focused on music. If, on the other hand, the business, and issue the business addresses, sounds so boring you want to put a gun in your mouth, then … bingo, I’ll invest. I recently spoke at the JP Morgan Alternative Investment Summit, where the bank hosts 300 of the wealthiest families in the world. There are some who own media properties and the national airline, but most killed it in iron / ore smelting, insurance, and the like.

Get to a City

Two-thirds of economic growth over the next 50 years will be in super-cities. Even if you aren’t Tom Brady, your game will improve being on the field with him. Big cities are the NFL, and you will get in better shape, or learn fast you just shouldn’t be in the NFL. Opportunity is a function of density. Get to a place that’s crowded with success.

Mate

Whom you have kids with is the most important decision you will make. Building a life with someone and raising kids with a competent partner is (very) rewarding. There is no “one” person. You need to get to a market where there are thousands, specifically where the odds are stacked in your favor — more of the opposite sex and liquidity (a lot of opportunities to meet potential mates). On a balanced score-card of character / success / looks everyone is somewhere between a 1 and 10. Put yourself in a city where you can add a couple points. In NYC and Miami, my male friends who are 5s get to date 7s, and in Boston and SF it’s reversed (can’t wait for the hate mail from women in SF and Boston).

Strength

We are hunter-gatherers and are happiest when in motion and surrounded by others. A decent proxy for your success will be your ratio of sweating to watching others sweat (watching sports on tv). It’s not about being skinny or ripped, but committing to being strong physically and mentally. The trait most common in CEOs is they exercise regularly. Walking into any conference room and believing that, if shit got real, you could kill and eat the others gives you an edge and confidence (note: don’t do this).

You’ll be less prone to depression, think more clearly, sleep better, and broaden your pool of potential mates. On a regular basis, at work, demonstrate both your physical and mental strength — your grit. Work an 80-hour week, be the calm one in face of stress, attack a big problem with sheer brute force and energy. People will notice. At Morgan Stanley, the analysts pulled all-nighters weekly, and it didn’t kill us, but made us stronger. This approach to work, however, as you get older, can in fact kill you. So, do it now.

The Myth

There are people who are successful professionally while managing a food blog, volunteering at the animal shelter, and mastering ballroom dance. Assume you are not one of those people. Balance, in my view, is largely a myth when establishing your career. The slope of the trajectory for your career is (unfairly) set the first five years post-graduation. If you want the trajectory to be steep, you’ll need to burn a lot of fuel. The world is not yours for the taking, but for the trying. Try hard, really hard.

I have a lot of balance now. It’s a function of the lack thereof in my twenties and thirties. Other than business school, from 22 to 34, I remember work and not much else. The world does not belong to the big, but to the fast. You want to cover more ground in less time than your peers. This is partially talent, but mostly endurance. My lack of balance as a young professional cost me my marriage, my hair, and arguably my twenties. And it was worth it.

The Adult in the Room

Your role vis-à-vis your parents will reverse. They become the child, and you the parent. It usually happens organically. However, graduation is a decent time to expedite the transition. Your actions need to begin saying to your parents “I got this,” as you become a source of solutions vs. stress. It shocks me how many people are the adult in the room, until they get around their parents and regress to being whiny children expecting the parents to solve their problems. The most rewarding things in life are rooted in instinct. We give a lot of airtime to how rewarding it is to raise kids. What gets less attention is how rewarding it is to help take care of your parents. Start now.

This is your moment. Enjoy it … for at least 24-48 hours. Then get to working, mating, and raising.

Life is so rich,
Scott

  • Jonathan Coath

    Thanks for writing this article. Out of all the shit I’ve read about making my bed (McChrystal), finding what I love (S.Jobs), and never giving in (Churchill), this article is the most useful hands down.

    Now… I’m not saying those commencement speeches didn’t have powerful messages, but having graduated 3 years ago, I wish someone had given me this advice then. The good news is I found a lot of it on my own, but this article wraps it up into a fun sized snickers bar to digest. You hungry? Create opportunity for yourself, work really hard, be a physical and mental ninja, and most importantly build your family (including your parents).

    Ok, I’m done there’s my regurgitation. Bravo Scott

  • James Cale

    You’re the man Scott. Keeping it real as always.

  • Thomas Schonenberger

    Nice post – I enjoyed this one more than most!

  • joseph hinkle

    Excellent. You had me at 2.27. I wish I had been given this advice 30 years ago.

  • Andre Dickson

    Thanks Scott. Reminds me in some part of Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

  • Umang Pabaru

    Thanks Scott! This is powerful stuff….

  • Ghostdog

    Its a rare occurrence to be great at something you are not passionate about. Problem is most people aren’t really passionate about anything that they can make money at. Be honest and take the honesty test. How many people would keep their current job on Monday if they were handed 50 million dollars today? The answer will tell you how passionate they are about what they do. There is nothing wrong with doing a job you are good at or the other points but imo there is a difference between being good and great at something and the underlying passion makes up a big part of that

  • Anthony

    “The trait most common in CEOs is they exercise regularly.
    Walking into any conference room and believing that, if shit got real,
    you could kill and eat the others gives you an edge and confidence.”

    (note: If shit gets real, I will definitely do this. #hungergames)

  • Excellent piece.

    I agree with the career slope trajectory being critical in first 5 years but I don’t think it has to come with so much collateral damage. “Non-work” might only be found mostly on the weekends, but it can and should be practiced.

    More regarding (lack of) balance…

    Try starting these things in your 20s – staying fit, eating well (most of the time), practicing some form of mindfulness or alone time ritual daily, and always being the first to smile and first and to make first eye contact. These things (amongst many others) seem to help to make the live-work-play cycle more rewarding forever. —Tales from a 48 year old @markluck.