Thursday, August 16, 2007

Optimal Aspirations

I referred to a recent article in the New York Times titled "In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich". The crux of the article being millionaires, who would fall in the top 1% of the economic ladder, feel poor in the valley. "

“Here, the top 1 percent chases the top one-tenth of 1 percent, and the top one-tenth of 1 percent chases the top one-one-hundredth of 1 percent,” he (Mr. Milletti) said.

“You try not to get caught up in it,” he added, “but it’s hard not to.”"

Did you say rat race?

This brought to mind something we discussed in a class in Chicago, an unlikely topic given the cold economist stereotypes - happiness. It was a straightforward concept, people who compare up tend to be more miserable (less happy) than those who compare down.

As I thought about it further, this seemed the perfect recipe for complacency, an ambition-killer. How is one to move on in life if one did not aspire for bigger things? I mulled over it a bit and then put it away in a pensieve.

Reading the article, the first thing that came to mind was, how sad! These guys and gals were quite successful and were still at it after $10 million. Then a friend reminded me that a million dollars is not much anymore, not in the Bay. That was crazy! 10 years back I was earning the equivalent of $1600/year, with no accumulated wealth, but life was good. Today, after two graduate degrees and after landing gainful employment, I have to aspire to be these 1%-ers, who as the article pointed out are after their top tenth and hundredth!

Lest I sound like John Edwards talking about two Americas, that is not my drift. I by no means am feeling poor, in spite of the tuition loans and continued lack of accumulated wealth after 10 years. I feel enriched to have experienced what I've over the last decade and am excited about looking ahead into the future with Ishani. I think I am trying to figure out what to aspire for. What is the optimum mix of ambition vs self satisfaction, pushing for growth vs enjoying the fruits? Who is my ideal role model?

Strangely enough all these questions are only getting me more excited as I foresee myself being somehow not limited by a role model, but being forced to fabricate a way forward as I stumble through life. If you take an uncharitable stance on this line of thinking, you could claim as Lewis Carroll did, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there". I think it is ok not knowing the road as long as one knows the general direction and realize when one has gone too far. I will take up a parallel thought of journey vs destination in another post.

Coming back to the subject at hand, I tell myself I will not be entangled in the scenario laid out in the article. But, seeing that the people in the article are smart, successful people, the challenge seems to be daunting.

The challenge of finding the optimal aspirations.


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