The Sweet Spot

“Success can get you to the top of a beautiful cliff,

but then propel you right over the edge of it.”

As a Mustachian, there’s a good chance that you are a bit of an overachiever. 

Maybe you fought hard to get exceptional grades in school, or perhaps you have always dominated in your career or your Ultramarathon habit or your hobbies – or maybe all of the above. 

In the big picture, this usually leads to having a “successful” life, because of this basic math:

Traditional Success
How much work you do
How much society happens to value your work

The Nitty Gritty of Traditional Success

Now, lest the Internet Privilege Police head straight to Twitter to start writing out citations, Traditional Success is not a measure of your worthiness as a human being. We’re just talking about the old-fashioned, Smiling 1950s Man definition of success.

 And since we’re all scientists here, we could break the “Work” side of it down a bit further:

And thus, you could say that on average, doing more stuff produces more traditional success. 

But then what?

This is the point where a lot of  smart, driven, born-lucky people drive themselves up the Winding Road of Challenge and then right off the edge of the Cliff of Success. 

If you’re still on the way up, or stuck at the bottom, it is difficult to even imagine the idea of “too much success”. But it’s a real thing, and it happens much more quickly than the modern overachiever would like to admit. Observe the following cautionary tale:

Diana is the director of engineering in a Silicon Valley tech startup. The work is intense, but they are almost over the hump – the company went public last month, and she owns shares that are worth over $10 million at today’s share price. They will vest over the next five years, so she just needs to grind this out and then she will be set for life.

Sounds great, right?

Except this is Diana’s third smashing success. She was already set for life after the second company was acquired, and even before that, her first decade as a rising star at a large company had already left her with over $2 million of investments and a paid-off house in hella expensive Cupertino, California. She had more than enough to retire, twenty years ago!

To many people who are less fortunate, the present situation would still sound like great fortune, and in some ways, it is. Becoming a Director of Engineering is (usually) far better than a punch in the face.

But Diana is now 52 years old, with a collection of increasingly severe back and neck problems and a few medical prescriptions piling up. She has two grown children in their twenties, but wishes she had been able to spend more time with them as they grew up. She has all the money in the world, but still almost no free time, and this next five years is starting to look like an eternity.

What happened here?

Diana is in good company, because many of our hardest-working people fall into this same trap. They have the talent and the great work habits figured out, but they are still missing one last concept – the idea of the sweet spot.

Fig. 1: What is the ideal length of a high-end career?

Diana could have stopped after the first company, or the second, but her career success took on a momentum of its own, so she kept doubling down without stopping to consider why she was doing it – and what she was giving up in exchange.

Once you learn to see the phenomenon of the sweet spot, you will start noticing it everywhere. And it is an amazingly useful thing to start watching and fine-tuning to get the most out of your own life.

Fig.2: What is the ideal amount of Anything?

The Sweet Spot of Physical Training

When a non-runner starts running, they will see immediate benefits. In the process of going from being unable to jog across a parking lot, to being able to easily jog a brisk mile, your entire body will transform for the better. Muscles and bones get stronger, heart and lungs expand and reach out to give your body a healthy embrace, brain functioning and mood and hormones smooth out and normalize. 

Training your way up to become a two mile runner still brings great benefits – just slightly smaller. The fifth through twentieth mile turn you into a hyper efficient machine, but some people start seeing joint injuries as they rise through the ranks.

And by the time you reach the fringe world of 100-mile runners, serious injuries and surgeries are completely normal – as well as unexpected organ failures in otherwise young, healthy people. The sweet spot for daily running for maximum health is somewhere the middle.

All around us, seemingly unrelated things follow this same pattern, from career work to physical exertion to parenting strategy.

Fame and Fortune – be careful what you wish for

Fame definitely has a sweet spot. Building up a good reputation in your community can open the door to better friendships, jobs, relationships, and more fun in general.

But as that reputation expands outwards to become fame, you get the “reward” of constant coverage in gossip magazines and waking up to find photographers and news reporters on your front lawn. At the extreme end, you need to mobilize a team of armored vehicles and line your route with snipers every time you leave your well-guarded compound.

Even money, our humble and ever-willing servant is subject to this phenomenon. It certainly helps us meet our basic needs, but there is a certain point at which Mo Money can become Mo Problems. 

The first bit of monetary surplus can be fun as you can afford a nice house and good food. Then the next chunk seems fun but also causes distractions as you rack up second and third houses and ever-more elaborate possessions and vacations that take a lot of energy to keep track of.

And from there it goes downhill as tabloids start keeping track of your wealth and scrutinizing your choices, hundreds of people mail in pleas for your generosity, and you end up with a full-time job just making sure that the surplus goes to good use. This life arrangement can still be enjoyable for some people, but I would definitely not wish it upon myself.

On and on this pattern goes. A curve with a sweet spot in the middle. The optimal amount of calories to consume in a day. The volume at which you will enjoy your music most. The right brightness of light to illuminate a room. The number of friends with whom you can have a meaningful relationship.

 Why does it occur in so many places? I believe it is because this is how our brains are wired in the first place

Humans are a ridiculously adaptable creature, but we do still come with limits.

And when you respect those limits and fine-tune your life within the sweet spot for all of the main pillars for happy living, you end up with the best possible chance at living a happy, prosperous life.

The Curse Of the Overachievers – Revisited

So now you see the problem – overachievers like us tend to get really good at a few things like a career or an athletic pursuit, often specializing so much that we neglect other things like overall health or personal relationships.

And our society notices and rewards us for the success, which just reinforces the behavior, so we take things to even higher extremes, often without stopping to think about the reason behind it.

Okay, So What Now?

Once you see the pattern of the sweet spot,  it is impossible to un-see it. So it becomes pretty easy to float up and look at your entire life from above, like an outside observer.

And from up there, you can see the areas where you have enough, and places where you may have already gone overboard, and the corresponding things that you have left neglected as the price of that success. 

Over the past year I’ve been looking at my own life from this perspective, coming up with quite a few of my own diagnoses:

Money: enough. Additional windfalls don’t seem to bring me any lasting joy, but I also don’t have so much money that it makes me nervous. It’s enough to feel safe and empowered, and that’s all I need. Meanwhile, giving away money has brought me lasting happiness, without creating a feeling of shortage or regret.

Career Success (blog): It Varies. When I was really working on this MMM job in the mid-2010s, it started to take over too much of my life. Emails, opportunities, travel and public attention all reached levels where I actually started to have less fun. So I tried dialing it back, as any long-term readers will have noticed. And sure enough, life improved. But then I went too far and started feeling a loss from letting this valued hobby slip away. I’ve been trying to get back into the groove, which revealed another problem – detailed at the end of this list.

Friendships: Not Enough. I have found myself not being able to keep up with close friends, and had difficulty making or keeping plans, partly out of  feeling overwhelmed with life details in general. Still, the opportunities abound here in my local community, and the people are wonderful. So I have the opportunity to keep working at this.

Health and Fitness: Enough. Since I was about fourteen years old, eating well and getting a lot of varied exercise has always been a kind of non-negotiable pillar for me. Nothing extreme, but just very consistent. I think this has been paying off as I feel healthy every day and have never had any physical or health problems in these 30+ years since.

Parenting and Kids: Enough (an A+!) Since 2005 I made “being a Dad” my primary goal in life, quitting my career to do so. It’s the only thing I can truly say I have done the best I could at, and I’m really proud of that. But part of this success came from only having one kid – both of us parents knew we couldn’t handle any more, given the overall conditions of life back then. So for us, the sweet spot was One Child – and absolutely no regrets in that department.

Personal Projects and Daily Habits: Not Enough. I get great satisfaction from working on challenging things and making progress. But far too often, I just can’t get it together and I squander entire days on accidental distractions. Planning to go out for a day of work can lead to searching for lost sunglasses which can lead to finding a lost to-do list which can lead to opening the computer to look something up and several hours disappearing. On and on these tangents can go, often leading to me not getting my primary, happiness-creating goals for the day accomplished. 

I discovered that I have a pretty severe and textbook case of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, which gets magnified if there are any sources of stress in my life. So I’m working on that (keeping stress down and also targeting habits, diet, exercise and even trying some medication), which will hopefully improve all other areas of life as well.

What am I missing? I’m still working on thinking it all through, so this list will surely grow.

Your Turn

Your life surely has a completely different array of surpluses, shortages and sweet spots than mine. Your assignment is therefore to write them all out tonight, and see where you stand in each area, and decide what to change. Many of the changes are quite easy to make, and yet the results are nothing short of life-changing.

In the comments: what are your own areas of surplus and shortage? And what’s your plan to help restore balance to your life?

  • Cormac August 11, 2020, 4:43 pm

    One notable sweet spot I’ve examined is company kool-aid drinking. Time and time again I see people handicap themselves so much out of loyalty to a company they work for but do not own. Whether it be bending over backwards to do unpaid overtime, refusing to shop at a much better value for money competitor or even sacrificing familial earnings to help the company through tough times (a friend of mine in his early 30s has recently taken on a 25% voluntary paycut during the Covid-19 crisis in solidarity with the executives and is working overtime to make up for colleagues who are furloughed on 80% of their pay). When it comes down to promotions, my friends who drink the most Kool Aid seem baffled about how they work hardest and do the most for the company and get looked over in favour of someone less committed. When I suggest they are getting looked over because they have been deemed a lifer and their competitor is deemed more of a flight risk, they bat it aside and tell me I don’t understand how their company works.

    In your professional career, you and your pocket comes first, your company’s second. Be loyal to your employer but be remain more loyal to your family first. You can bet your career that they are putting their pcoket before yours!

  • Jason D August 12, 2020, 4:07 am

    QUESTION FOR THE COMMUNITY: As a young(ish) mustachian, I’m ready to start investing my money. All debts are paid, but I’m struggling with what to do with my small starter chunk of $30,000. Due to COVID I’m hesitant to just immediately put it into the stock market. Should I make the jump anyway with a service like Vanguard, or should I just put a delay on starting investing, and keep saving and wait for this to blow over?

    • Cormac August 13, 2020, 5:44 pm

      I’d put it in the stock market gradually – like a few thousand every month for ten months. and then try to sustain that level until this blows over. You’re actually in a great position given you hadn’t invested prior to February. You’ll enjoy the recovery and felt none of the pain of the initial shock.

      I’m actually putting my money where my mouth is by the way. We have two stable jobs and are putting every spare cent in but at a constant and sustainable level (we’re going for $6,500 AUD each month at the moment) which means we’ll hopefully at least pick up one month of stocks at the market bottom. Check out history – the periods of greatest gains follow the periods of greatest shock. If it repeats itself, hopefully we’ll make some good moolah

  • Mirabelle1 August 12, 2020, 4:27 am

    Hi MMM
    Thanks for your blog, discovered it a few years ago and have found it really valuable. Was planning on trying to retire early-ish (5-10 years before standard 65.in NZ) but then had a daughter and decided to sacrifice saving money now for retirement and instead work part time and spend as much time as I could with my daughter. So I work 3 days a week and have 4 off with her and time with my partner and stepsons. I love the balance and don’t intend to ever work full time again, plan to be home when she gets home from school when she turns 5. I’m lucky enough to be able to do this because I have a reasonably well paid job and a supportive partner. But I totally understand your decision to put your parenting first. I’d love to be home all the time for her but we can’t afford it and daycare has proved valuable socially for her, we were lucky enough to find one we love. Enough is a concept that I’ve been feeling like I have, contentment, possibly because I’m so lucky in my life and possibly because I’ve been brought up relatively thrifty. I live in New Zealand and I don’t think we have the drive to compete in a dog eat dog way that I get the impression you seem to have in the US. There’s a pretty good work life balance here. I love the Your money or your life book too and have just finished rereading it, it really helps me value my time over stuff. Also I’ve been brought up to be very cynical about advertising and avoid it like the plague so usually don’t compare myself negatively with the airbrushed models and feel unhappy with my life.
    I think on a standard income in NZ FI is a bit difficult to do, particularly lately. House prices have gone through the roof and rents as well. I’m lucky to have bought my house 10 years ago (for $377kNZD, it is now worth $700k and there’s no way I’d be able to afford to buy it now. It takes 25-30 years to pay off a mortgage like that with our low wages, before you can start thinking of building up investments to cover your living costs.
    But we do have free healthcare, covered by taxes, which are not excessive. We look at your system of health insurance and think you guys are insane! You have enough to worry about when you’re sick without the threat of going bankrupt or losing a house. Whoever keeps pushing the idea that our system is “socialised medicine” and is dangerous, is crazy. And if you do go bankrupt, and you still need healthcare, what then? You just die? How is that sensible? Anyway this got a lot longer than I was intending. Thanks for the blog.

  • Cormac August 13, 2020, 5:44 pm

    I’d put it in the stock market gradually – like a few thousand every month for ten months. and then try to sustain that level until this blows over. You’re actually in a great position given you hadn’t invested prior to February. You’ll enjoy the recovery and felt none of the pain of the initial shock.

    I’m actually putting my money where my mouth is by the way. We have two stable jobs and are putting every spare cent in but at a constant and sustainable level (we’re going for $6,500 AUD each month at the moment) which means we’ll hopefully at least pick up one month of stocks at the market bottom. Check out history – the periods of greatest gains follow the periods of greatest shock. If it repeats itself, hopefully we’ll make some good moolah

    • Cormac August 13, 2020, 5:45 pm

      This was meant as a reply to Jason. Mods- feel free to delete

  • LuigiNMario August 17, 2020, 8:13 am

    This article hit the spot.. Ever since I finished University and started working full time I’ve had this feeling of being always a bit overwhelmed by life with not enough time to do everything. Balancing a career where you invest yourself, friendships, romantic relationships and having enough “me” time is not easy.

    A 40-60hour workweek is simply too much hours to have enough time for the rest, especially when you add in the 1-hour bike commute/day+ preparing lunch and clothes for work, and all the little household tasks to do every week.

    If you have a demanding career a good solution is having the equivalent of a sports player’s career: ~10 years of hard work when you’re young and have the energy to build up your salary & savings and then moving on to other less demanding projects afterwards. Which translates into pursuing FI :)

  • Liz August 17, 2020, 11:18 am

    Interesting about discovering you have ADD/ADHD. I also have ADHD and was diagnosed as an adult just a couple of years ago. I can definitely relate to your comments in the “Personal Projects and Daily Habits” category. One benefit of not being diagnosed up until recently is that I’ve had years of practice of implementing habits, tools, etc. to help me learn, work, and function. I wonder if I would’ve tried so hard to “be normal” if I had known that I have ADHD. Of course, the flip side is that I’ve spent most of my life struggling to understand why I can’t just “get stuff done,” which can cause issues such as low self-esteem, depression, etc. I will say though that one interesting aspect of ADHD is “hyperfocusing.” A few years ago I was stuck in a low-paying, low-skill job after dropping out of grad school. I wasn’t able to focus on my actual job because it was boring as hell, but I was able to hyperfocus on learning all about FIRE, personal finance, self-improvement… which led to me going back to school and becoming a software developer, a job I actually like! :)

    In terms of medication — it can definitely help, depending on your own brain chemistry. I’ve found it hugely helpful for my job, but not so helpful for other things, like maintaining productivity throughout the day on personal projects or chores, or just getting rid of that internal restlessness I often feel. It also comes with side effects, of course. I wonder if I would still take it if I didn’t have my office job. I think a lot of stuff that we ADHD-ers struggle with are things that can’t be helped with medication. I’m trying to accept that this is just how my brain works and to cut myself some slack… but it’s hard! I’m still trying to find a balance between self-acceptance and self-improvement.

  • RxFireFamily August 17, 2020, 2:00 pm

    This post is a great reminder of why I started reading this blog 7+ years ago. Balance is very important and over consumerism is both rampant and unnecessary.

    Fig. 1 (10-15 years of work and several million saved) is roughly the goal I created for my family years ago based on MMM’s teachings. My only fears are that we have overdone (time spent on work) the working years and will be under resourced during the early retirement years in the “Personal Projects and Daily Habits” area.

    I do miss the years of needing to check MMM daily for new content/comments, but do recognize now that it’s probably not healthy to generate that much content. Wishing you balance in blogging and life!

  • MC August 17, 2020, 5:18 pm

    It’s funny how this article discusses the same concept as “having enough” in Your Life or Your Money. I recently re-read serval chapters of that book because it is a topic I have been thinking about in the last several weeks. And now this post by MMM (like the universe is giving me a hint) ;) Having enough and finding (and staying) in the sweet spot is like a constant re-balancing project. I am trying to reorganize my house and life so that my family and I stay in balance in as many areas as possible.

    On another topic, there is also a sweet spot for baking. I find that I sometimes bake desserts that are way too healthy (i.e. no sugar but just a hint of honey, too many seeds/nuts/veggies in the cupcakes, etc.) that aren’t that yummy anymore (and my kids refuse to eat).

  • Cameron Kirby August 18, 2020, 7:38 am

    Wow, I did not see the ADD part coming. I’ve very recently started to suspect that I suffer from that too, so I’d be extremely interested to hear more about it once you’ve lessons to share.

  • Di August 19, 2020, 4:32 am

    Well MMM I can’t believe you used my *real* name, I mean FFS man… that was private (plus, I’m only 45, not 52 … you got a crystal ball or something?)

    This was so well timed for me and feels like we are back to classic MMM: supposedly simple ideas but you’ve just never seen them so clearly expressed and it pulls you up short. Definitely helps keep me firm on my plan to pull the plug on my “successful” career in the next year. Money-wise and “kudos”-wise enough is definitely enough (and, in terms of time spent with kids, family, friends, I am at nowhere near enough).

    I hadn’t realised you were another of the neurodiverse crew. Since learning that my older child is autistic (and realising I probably am too) I am increasingly seeing neurodiversity all over the place, but particularly in the MMM forums. I do think that not being able to do things the “normal” way can be a blessing in some respects – it’s like a forced freedom to do things differently to the “norm”, because the norm is not an option! At least it minimises the chances of sleepwalking into becoming 52 year old Diana (or even 57 year old Diana if she sticks at it – yikes!) Although autism tends to come with a strong vein of “keep on keeping on” and “avoid change at all costs”, which is definitely a challenge for those of us seeking financial freedom. Helps a lot in building wealth. Not so great when it comes to spending it!

    • Di August 19, 2020, 4:42 am

      P.S. a good friend of mine just got diagnosed with ADD last year in her 40s (after being misdiagnosed with all kinds of random stuff that didn’t fit her all her life) and she has found medication completely life changing in terms of just managing the daily juggle of work/parenting/life (while also remaining the fabulous creative and insightful person she always was!) Really hope it can be of help to you too, I know it’s quite personal.

  • Pasi August 22, 2020, 4:11 am

    Have you defined what is enough when it comes to personal projects and friendship? Or are you aiming for “just a little more”?

    I’m very strongly introverted even when compared to other Finns. I used to suffer from adult ADD like symptoms, although healthcare system here considers it just stress. And I didn’t understand why I’m stressed. I loved everything I did. But I’ve learned my limits since then.

    Anyhow, here’s my list:
    Money: Enough. Just not mustachian enough. We are in debt (80k euros mortgage) and I’m working part-time while my wife is for 9 more months a stay-at-home mom.
    Career success: Definitely enough. I’ve tried positions of scrum master and project manager, but those positions are not for me. Now I’m a coder working remotely 30 hours a week.
    Friendships: Enough. I’ve actually even down-sized this part. One very close friend (that’s my wife) and a few friends I sometimes spend some time with.
    Health and Fitness: Not enough. Haven’t got any health issues (yet) but I know I should be doing some strength training. Just can’t find anything that I could turn into a habit.
    Parenting and kids: Enough. I have three kids and they are my most time-consuming hobby. Before decreasing my workload, I would have answered not enough.
    Personal projects: Not enough. And strangely, since March, I’ve had more time on my hands, but now I suddenly have even more unfinished personal projects. So, I might be going to wrong direction. This blog post actually got me thinking about it. Thanks for that.

  • Adam Zaleski August 22, 2020, 6:40 am

    I’m a big fan of the sweet spot for employment. I teach community college and love it. I will probably never retire. I get 20 weeks/year of vacation. During the 32 weeks/year of work, I do not teach on Fridays. Yes, my salary is lower than profs at Universities, but because I do not have to produce papers or grant funding, I’m pretty sure my hourly wage is higher.

  • Liesbet August 22, 2020, 6:14 pm

    I’ve always loved the MMM philosophy. Unfortunately, having graduated as a teacher in Belgium late nineties, I would have never made enough money fast enough to retire early. I followed a different strategy since my early twenties…

    Instead of working hard for ten or twenty years and retiring early, I never worked hard and don’t need to retire early. Instead, I worked and work enough to be able to travel and explore the world full-time. The result: I’ve been a (digital) nomad since 2003. My husband and I spend about $16,000 a year for the two of us and our 60-pound dog (recently adopted) – we eat a plant-based diet and are minimalists – and, if anyone is interested, I finally disclosed how much money we actually earn every year as well in this blog post: https://www.roamingabout.com/how-much-money-do-we-make/

    Bottom line: you don’t have to be rich to travel the world and you don’t have to be retired to have a rewarding life. :-)

  • Juan Vales August 26, 2020, 10:34 am

    I have the same problem of AADD and most of my good friends seem to struggle with this too. Are there any specific recommendations that you can recommend to battle this disorder? Books, Medicine, anything will help.

    Thank you for getting back on track and sharing another great post.

    • Ari February 17, 2021, 7:53 am

      I have had this struggle, and besides medication (which I’ve been off for a year due to having a baby), I find that writing down my plan works best. I have a planner that I use daily. I know the big tasks I need to get done each week and my goals/ appointments/ meetings each day. If you aren’t a hard copy type of person, try using an app, the bonus there is that you can set up reminders. You can also use an app that limits distractions. Have fun with it! Awareness is the first step.

  • Adam August 27, 2020, 7:02 am

    My health and fitness have gradually, and then suddenly, become an area of shortage as I’ve forged ahead in my corporate law career. This is particularly frustrating because I spent most of my life prior to my law firm jobs as an avid athlete, making ample time for physical activity. But at firms, I’ve always felt like I’m taking one step forward and two steps back health-wise. A frequent pattern is experiencing a work week that allows me to lift weights and go on a few invigorating runs, followed by a few weeks of stress in which I’ve eaten dinner at my desk at 9:00 PM way more often than I’d like.

    I accepted a corporate law job in the first place to bolster my finances get compounding interest on my side relatively early in life. But I paid for this approach physically. It was almost like I’d forgotten that living long enough is a necessary precondition to experiencing the benefits of the back half of the compounding interest chessboard. To finish first, you must first finish. Yet I’ve been slowly knocking myself out of the race early by not prioritizing my health.

    Then a funny thing happened: I was just laid off from my firm. This was surprising and produced some anxiety. But overall, it’s been liberating. Professionally, I have no idea what I’m going to do next and I find this oddly exciting. Being reasonably happy with the status of the other areas MMM listed, my plan to restore balance in my life is prioritizing my health and fitness. I am avoiding jobs that are excessively sedentary and which do not promote consistent exercise. I’m finally embracing the idea that if you don’t have your health you have nothing. It only took me about thirty years.

    • Joy October 16, 2020, 9:11 pm

      This may seem a pedestrian suggestion, but I have been using a walking desk for six months now for those hours at the computer and it is a fabulous counter to sedentary desk work! I walk at 3-3.8 mph while working quite easily and it actually helps me concentrate (after an adjustment period)!

  • Bill September 3, 2020, 11:42 am

    Hi MMM, good to see you talking about electric airplanes in a tweet. I will be so happy to see personal aviation get out of the fifties technology that largely dominates the industry for now.

  • Karl R September 12, 2020, 10:44 am

    Thanks for the wise words, MMM. If I might add: The sweet spot is a moving target. Where you are in life, what goals you are trying to achieve–these things move the spot as you move through your life phases. Young and healthies can afford to be less concerned about exercise and more about building careers. Us olders need to pay a bit more attention to the heart and less to the grind.
    Maybe it’s not a bad idea to take stock of your life goals as well as your financials say, every five years? Every decade? Then you have an opportunity to reexamine your sweet spot as well.

    • Ari February 17, 2021, 7:50 am

      Yes to this! Your sweet spot of today may not be that of tomorrow. They are moving targets. With money, you may think you have your goal met to retire and live off dividends indefinitely. Then, because of family or some other obligation, you choose to move to a more expensive area, significantly increasing your cost of living and annual expenses. All of a sudden, the spot you’re in doesn’t feel so sweet anymore. Now this doesn’t mean find a full-time job and freak out, but it requires attention, thoughtful planning, and effort to return to a state of equilibrium.

  • Joy October 16, 2020, 9:07 pm

    I visited this website years ago, and just circled back and I am so shocked that what has been most on my mind lately is this topic of MMM’s blog. I love work and have my own business. I started it 11 years ago to allow me more flexibility in parenting so that I could be involved and only envisioned it as a short-term gig. It has grown and flourished and turned into more than a full-time gig and it feels like a child all of its own. But, my kids are both in high school now and I see that our time together full-time is nearing an end. I have mixed feelings about this business I cultivated. I love it and I am proud of the work we do and the work family I have cultured, but I wonder what I have sacrificed and continue to do so from my biological family/children. That sweet spot is so elusive!

  • Matías Alonso November 15, 2020, 9:20 am

    Hi MMM, what kind of medication are you using to keep stress down?

    (keeping stress down and also targeting habits, diet, exercise and even trying some medication)

  • Ram Samudrala November 28, 2020, 12:06 am

    I just came across your website – always looking into new ideas for self actualisation, finding balance, self recognition, etc. I’m interested in money only tangentially.

    I think you’ve laid out the balance between excessive success/overachieving and finding a balance: moderation in all things. I think your write up is one of the clearest and simplest explanations of arguing for a balanced approach – I like it!

    That said, I think finding balance depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and how you wish to accomplish it. If it’s only money I agree with you 100% – you just need “enough”, but let’s say you’re working on some serious problems like find therapeutics for diseases, etc. then it’s not as clear cut that you should stop when you’ve made your first millions and your first therapeutic. There’s always another diseases, better things to and the general problem of advancing therapeutic discovery to make it more efficient continues to exist. (And there are other problems.) So if you’re an overachiever, how do you go about dealing with this? The obvious solution if you really want to make an impact is to form startups and become a manager which then starts MAYBE takes you away from what your actual passion is and gets you into a rat race you don’t want. Even the scientific discovery rat race is endless: there are always grants to write, papers to write, money to raise, etc.

    Growing up privileged, money has never motivated in my life but problem solving has. That and mentoring the next generation (i.e., paying it forward) like I was mentored. So this is the way I dealt with finding balance when pressure built up to form companies and take a route that was taking me away from my passions. I first identified what really motivated me in life: Much as I have a certain entrepreneurial bent, that’s not really my main interest. I like working late at night by myself mostly and being down in the weeds of the problems. The other issue is even though I have chosen one path (among several) to develop a comfortable career, I have a ton of other interests. Once I recognised this, I decided that the single minded dedication that my main passion requires was too much of an ask. I may still manage to pull it off (see below) but if it happens, it will by luck or through the actions of others (in part). Like you, I actively choose to “raise” my younger daughter full time which is the best decision I could’ve made

    My mentees are off starting their own companies. There are things in the pipeline that may lead to bigger and better things but I’m following a steady state while doing all the things I love (except for the pandemic which I’m working on also but it’s preventing us from travelling and doing certain other things like socialising easily). The research is being done and the papers and patents are being published, but someone else has to save the world.

    I know it’s a big long winded, but basicallly I agree with you and just highlighting that when you get stuck in these neverending treadmills and want to decide how to get off and what to do, check your values and passions carefully and choose what really matters.

  • Ari February 17, 2021, 7:45 am

    I appreciate this post because I too fall into the striver category, always hustling to prove my worth in this world. Ultimately, by singularly focusing on achieving at work and school, I limit myself in areas I know will have the greatest impact on others like being in community and volunteering my time. That’s what early retirement means to me, getting out of striver mode for my own ego’s sake and striving for the good of my community, teaching financial literacy to young people, and giving more of my energy to family and friends.


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