20 Lessons from a Legend, Diderot Effect, & More
Today at a Glance
- Question: What game are you playing?
- Quote: True friends believe.
- Framework: The Diderot Effect.
- Tweet: Notes from Rockefeller.
- Article: 20 life lessons from a legend.
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Question I'm currently struggling with:
What game are you playing?
I recently participated in a discussion with a small group of incredible content creators and entrepreneurs.
At the start of the call, the moderator asked us to give a 1-2 minute opening on who we are, including a response to one question:
"What game are you playing?"
When it was my turn, I started speaking and continued until my time was up. I thought it was fine, but the moderator looked at me and said, "Ok, so what game are you playing?"
I thought I had answered that, but clearly, I had not.
As I started to jumble together a second attempt at a response, I realized that I didn't have a great one (a much scarier thought than screwing up in this group setting).
I write a lot about knowing whether the prize for the game you're playing is a prize that you actually want—but I've never spent much time on actually defining the game.
In reflecting on it, I recognized my problem: My game had changed.
The game I'm playing has slowly morphed, from one focused purely on writing to one focused broadly on impact, but I hadn't taken the time to clearly define that and what it would require.
Always know the game you’re playing (and whether you want the prize for winning that game).
The biggest failures stem from either (a) playing a game without understanding it or (b) playing a game with a prize you don't really want.
It's easy to default into the game that seems most obvious—the one your parents selected for you, the one your course of studies selected for you, the one your risk aversion selected for you.
Before you proceed, ask yourself:
- Do I know the game I'm playing right now?
- Do I want the prize for winning this game?
If you can answer "yes" to both, dive in. If not, pause and reassess.
Quote on the power of real friendship:
"I'm a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn't have the heart to let him down." — Abraham Lincoln
Find those rare friends who believe in you even when you don't believe in yourself.
Be that friend to someone else.
Reminder on the dangers of lifestyle creep:
The Diderot Effect
Denis Diderot was an 18th century French philosopher and writer who gained a reputation as a deep thinker in elite circles.
Despite his intellectual prestige, Diderot found himself unable to pay the necessary dowry when his daughter was to be married.
Fortunately, his work had won him many fans, including, as it turns out, Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia at the time. Hearing of his financial struggle, she offered to buy his library and solicit his services as her personal librarian, for which she would pay him handsomely.
Shortly after this turn of good financial fortune, Denis Diderot came to own a fancy new scarlet robe.
Diderot liked what the fancy robe appeared to confer on him, but felt the remainder of his possessions no longer stood up to the beauty and prestige of this new one. How could he be expected to dress in such a robe but then sit in such a shabby chair, walk in such tattered shoes, or write at such a spartan desk?
In quick succession, he purchased a new leather chair, shoes, and an elaborate wooden desk, all of which seemed a suitable match for his scarlet robe—or, perhaps more importantly, a suitable match for the type of person who wears such a fancy scarlet robe.
The chain reaction of purchases—where one begets many more—have become known as the Diderot Effect.
The new robe had created a new identity, one that Denis Diderot became attached to the image of, and one that he became enveloped in further signaling to the world.
In an essay later in life, which he appropriately entitled, Regrets for My Old Dressing Gown, Diderot lamented, "I was the absolute master of my old robe. I have become the slave of the new one."
The Diderot Effect is most damning when it surrounds status signaling purchases that are more about showing your position to others than improving yourself.
There are cases where it can work in your favor:
- Purchase a new gym membership
- Identify as a healthier person
- Encouraged to cement that identity with better food, fitness, and recovery purchases
As Diderot concluded, "Let my example teach you a lesson. Poverty has its freedoms; opulence has its obstacles."
Awareness is the key: Where are you allowing the Diderot Effect to control your behavior?
Notes on the real price of success:
In my article on the real price of success, I wrote about Rockefeller's painful relationship with his father and how it led to the realization that the people I read books about are very rarely people I would ever trade lives with.
The below offers notes from Rockefeller's letters to his own son, which largely confirm my prior realization, but are a fascinating read nonetheless.
I do like this: "Retreat means surrender...The war is inevitable. Let it come."
20 life lessons I'm loving:
Great set of life lessons from Byron Wien, the famed investor who had been a staple on Wall Street for decades.
A few favorites from the list:
- When meeting someone new, try to find out what formative experience occurred in their lives before they were 17. It is my belief that some important event in everyone’s youth has an influence on everything that occurs afterwards.
- Evolve. Try to think of your life in phases so you can avoid a burn-out. Do the numbers crunching in the early phase of your career. Try developing concepts later on. Stay at risk throughout the process.
- Get enough sleep. Seven hours will do until you’re sixty, eight from sixty to seventy, nine thereafter, which might include eight hours at night and a one-hour afternoon nap.
The entire list is worth reading. So much wisdom.