Harsh Truths That Will Change Your Life
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Today at a Glance
- Whether we admit it or not, we spend a good portion of our lives protecting ourselves from reality. But there are times when our rose-colored glasses hold us back. In certain situations, when we fail to see the world as it is, we make sub-optimal decisions and miss out on critical growth and learning opportunities.
- Today's piece shares the "harsh truths" I've observed as life changing in their importance to our decision-making and progress.
- This piece is not intended to be dark or morbid. It's intended to make you think—to hopefully question some underlying (yet flawed) assumptions and spark active discussion with those around you.
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Whether we admit it or not, we spend a good portion of our lives protecting ourselves from reality.
On some subliminal level, we are clearly aware that reality is not always the happy, fair, flowery world that we want to believe we live in. So we make a subconscious decision to avoid it.
We take the proverbial "blue pill" and continue on our merry way.
This is (mostly) fine—as a card carrying perpetual optimist, I am proud to see the best in people, society, and institutions. I have even found that high expectations create high performance (research has found the same—it's called the "Pygmalion Effect"). We actually have the power to positively impact outcomes through our positive outlook.
But unfortunately, there are times when our rose-colored glasses hold us back. In certain situations, when we fail to see the world as it is, we make sub-optimal decisions and miss out on critical growth and learning opportunities.
In today's piece, I'd like to share the "harsh truths" I've observed as life changing in their importance to our decision-making and progress.
This piece is not intended to be dark or morbid. It's intended to make you think—to hopefully question some underlying (yet flawed) assumptions and spark active discussion with those around you.
My hope is for you to come away from it feeling cleansed, refreshed, and empowered to think and see clearly.
With that context in mind, let’s dive right in…
Harsh Truth: Failure doesn't always lead to growth
There's this common adage that failure is a good thing because it leads to growth. But sometimes failure just leads to pain. Sometimes you fail and it just hurts—you don't grow, you don't find light. It just sucks...
In early 2021, with our move back East on the horizon, I was interviewing for jobs at a few crossover hedge funds. I was finding very little luck in the process—most of them just couldn't wrap their heads around my public presence on Twitter. I was really excited about one particular firm, so when I got a call from the partner that they couldn't offer me the job, I was crushed.
I remember trying to make myself feel better by telling myself this failure would lead to growth, but the reality was that it just felt terrible. It felt dark and hopeless.
It's ok to admit that the glamorized version of failure isn't always in sync with reality. Sometimes you'll get knocked down and feel unable to get back up. In those instances, know you're not alone. Find a friend to lean on. Be that friend to someone else.
What I've come to learn: The "growth" may not come from the failure itself, but from simply outlasting the darkness that it creates. I did, and I know you can, too.
Harsh Truth: You'll only see your loved ones a few more times
In May 2021, I had a conversation with a new friend that changed my life.
We were having a chat—over a few whiskeys, of course—about living in California. I was lamenting that it was so far away from my parents and sister in Boston.
My friend asked how often I saw them and how old my parents were...
I replied that I saw them about once per year, and that they were in their mid-60s. He looked me square in the face and plainly said:
"Ok, so you'll see them 15 more times in your life."
It sounds insensitive—but it's just real. It’s just…math. If the average life expectancy is ~80 years, my parents are in their mid-60s, and I see them one time per year, the math—however depressing—says I will see them 15 more times before they are gone.
Our time together is finite, but we fail to recognize it until it's too late.
Time is cruel. You’ll love it with all of your being, you may even pray for more of it, but the reality is that time doesn’t care about you.
Your relationship with time is the ultimate unrequited love.
The morning after this conversation, I woke up and had a very candid talk with my wife about what we wanted in life. A few days later, we sold our house, packed up our things, and shipped off to the East Coast to be closer to our parents.
It’s been almost a year, and it was the best decision I've ever made.
I'll never regret these tiny moments—of doing nothing in particular—that we'll get to spend together in the years ahead. I’ll never regret the moments my parents get to spend with my son.
I’ll never regret any of this.
All of this math—depressing as it seems—should be a call to arms.
Identify the people you care most deeply about. Prioritize them ruthlessly. It may be difficult, even painful, but it’s a decision you’ll never regret.
Harsh Truth: Most of your friends aren’t really your friends
Most of the people you call your friends are really just acquaintances.
They’re just along for the ride through your life when it’s fun, convenient, or valuable to be there. They show up to the parties and celebrations—when you get the promotion, win the big game, get married, or sell your company.
But life isn't always a celebration.
Those same people disappear when you get fired, lose the game, get divorced, or your company goes bankrupt.
Your real friends are the ones who are there for you in those moments—when you have *nothing* to offer in return. You can usually count them on one hand.
Harsh Truth: Money is a terrible barometer of happiness
I used to see people with lots of money and assume everything in their life must be amazing.
I was wrong.
Money is directly correlated with happiness up to a baseline level—but that level is lower than you think. Beyond it, there are clear diminishing returns to more money.
If you think that you'll be happy once you have X, you're probably wrong. You'll get there and just want 3x more.
The hedonic treadmill is real—we simply adapt and look for what's next. We are like the modern equivalent of Sisyphus—a figure from Greek mythology who is sentenced by Zeus to an eternity of futile struggle. Sisyphus must roll a boulder up a hill, but as soon as he nears the top, the boulder rolls back down to the bottom, forcing him to start anew.
Prioritize internal happiness—not the external metrics (like money) that you think will bring you that happiness.
Harsh Truth: You'll literally never know what you want to be when you grow up
The idea that you should know what you want to do with your life by the time you are 20 is one of the worst lies we are told.
I spent years stressing out over my lack of a clearly defined path...
But then I realized that most hyper-successful people still have no idea what they want to do. They just ask great questions to identify opportunities and have a bias for action that has allowed them to capitalize on the opportunities they identify.
If you have a bias for action, you'll always be fine.
Harsh Truth: Most people don't really care about you
The Spotlight Effect says that we overestimate the degree to which other people are noticing or observing our appearance or actions.
Basically, we think people care about us WAY MORE than they actually do.
I used to worry about every little thing I did, thinking that people would scrutinize or judge me.
It's quite liberating to realize that, for the most part, everyone is really just going through life worried about themselves.
Be yourself and live life according to your values.
Harsh Truth: You probably won't be remembered or have a legacy
Confession: For many years, I was completely obsessed with the idea of leaving a legacy and being remembered.
But I eventually realized that even the most amazing and successful people will eventually be forgotten if you zoom out enough.
Jeff Bezos is one of the richest people in the world, but in 10,000 years, he will be nothing but a tiny blip on the cosmic calendar.
Chances are we will all be forgotten.
It's not a bad thing to want to be remembered, but chasing legacy can be a recipe for long-term disappointment if it's your sole focus.
I've chosen to chase something else—the lives I can impact today, the happiness I can create in those around me.
Harsh Truth: The timelines we create for ourselves are mostly just arbitrary nonsense
Funny story: On my 28th birthday, I was driving and had this random rush of anxiety. I said, “Holy s***, I’m turning 30 next year, and I’ve accomplished nothing. I gotta get going!” Then I remembered I was turning 28—not 29—and felt relieved that I had 2 years to figure out my life...
We create timelines in our minds:
- X title by X age
- Y salary by Y age
- Get Forbes 30 Under 30
- Raise $X million by age 40
These timelines are largely based on our comparisons to others—we cement them in our own minds on the basis of what others have achieved.
They are a happiness trap.
Be curious and spend time with great people. The rest will take care of itself.
Harsh Truth: There's no such thing as a hack
Everyone wants the hacks or shortcuts, but there’s literally no such thing.
If anyone tries to sell you one, you should run away as fast as you can.
The only hack is painful, relentless consistency. It’s not sexy, but it works.
Harsh Truth: Hard work and consistency isn't always enough
There's a common motivational phrase: "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
I had a baseball coach who used to add: "...but if talent works hard, you’re pretty much f*****, so let’s hope it doesn’t."
Funny, but true.
Do your best, but don't blindly assume it's always going to be enough.
Hard work and consistency will always give you a shot, but sometimes you're just going to get beat. If you lose, make sure it's because the person is simply more talented than you.
Never beat yourself.
Harsh Truth: The world is definitively not fair
There is plenty of uncontrollable luck that deeply impacts our lives: Where we are born, who we are born to, and the circumstances of our early childhood all have an outsized impact.
Bad people win and good people lose—all the time.
But within that dark context, there are bright spots: The opportunity playing field is leveling. The Internet and access to technology is opening up the world.
The world may never be truly fair, but it will always belong to those who make the most of what they have before them.
Developing an awareness of these "harsh truths" has allowed me to improve my decision-making and make life changes that have unlocked new growth and progress.
I hope you think deeply about them and find the same value from their application to your own life.
I'd love to hear from you:
- What harsh truth resonated most clearly?
- What harsh truths have you observed that weren't on the list?
- How have any of these realizations impacted your decisions, growth, or progress?
Tweet your replies to me @SahilBloom or reply to this email and I'll do my best to get back to everyone!