Envy

Envy is a bad north star. Spend time with people who don't feel it. Avoid people who do. Pick a mission. Find the equivalent of practicing scales in your field, and do that.

Silicon Valley runs on envy. Envy pervades every activity here. Funding announcements, company off-sites, career promotions, introduction emails, product releases, investor pitches, board meetings, fireside chats, news stories-- all are infused with envy. Envy is the fuel that animates this place, the scaffolding that holds it upright, and the glue that keeps it together. If you could cast a spell to eliminate envy, every Silicon Valley institution would deflate and vanish, like an alien goo-monster cut off from its power source in pre-CGI horror movies.

Envy is at every step in the funnel. Founders without funding envy founders with funding. Founders with funding envy founders with funding from more prestigious investors. Founders with funding from prestigious investors envy founders who are favorites. Founders of companies with a $30B market cap envy founders of companies with a $300B market cap. VC associates envy junior partners, who envy senior partners. Investors envy other investors who have better deal flow. Tech employees envy other tech employees who get to spend more time with the senior leadership. Get a drink in a product manager, and they’ll tell you all about how the CEO plays favorites. Everyone watches each other as if it's their full time job.

I was once having a drink with a YC founder whose company was in the top ten by valuation in the YC portfolio. For a while, he was getting invited to dinners exclusive to founders in their top ten most valuable companies. Then, other companies dramatically grew in valuation, and his was pushed down the list far past the top ten. He was telling me how he envied founders who got to attend these dinners he wasn't invited to anymore. And of course I envied him because at least he got to go.

You do not talk about envy in polite company. That would puncture through a collectively agreed-upon veneer. But envy is such an important mechanism, we must talk about it. So we repackaged it as status. Envy and status aren't the same, but it doesn't matter because there are very few low-status people who don't experience envy. This linguistic trick transposes a Judeo-Christian idea into an amoral domain. It works. We can’t talk about envy, but we can safely talk about status, so long as it's in the abstract and not about a particular person.

Envy is contagious. I don't think I've ever experienced it unless I'm in an environment where I sense it from others. Then, if I'm not careful, I feel it very intensely. It's such an unpleasant sensation that I deliberately go out of my way to avoid it. The best way to avoid feeling envy is to spend time with aspy people who are unable to feel it, or with people who've accepted their lot in life. Conversely anything tech scene is a breeding ground for envy (e.g. tech press, gossip, startup parties, exclusive events). Repeatedly choosing to put yourself into situations where you feel envy has the same shape as an abusive relationship. It isn't good for you, but you keep coming back because you're too myopic to see it for what it is.

Dislike for the unpleasant sensation of being envious isn't a good reason for envy avoidance. A much better reason is that in a technologically sophisticated civilization envy is a bad north star. Consider again what you pay attention to when you adopt envy as your guide. Tech press, gossip, parties, off-sites-- almost all of it is noise, and is therefore a monumental waste of your time. And it makes you hyperactive. You become like a confused moth, abruptly changing course to follow rapidly flashing sources of light, except you aren't aware they're going on and off at random.

Conviction is a dramatically better north star than envy. It's important to meet people, but it's much better done by working toward a shared mission than by trying to wriggle your way into desirable social circles. The mission can be enormous (get to Mars) or mundane (complete a multi-day hike). Human beings form the strongest bonds when they overcome shared obstacles in pursuit of a common goal. And even if people don't join you, they are likely to remember you and respect you for attempting to accomplish a challenging mission.

Envy is a paradoxical emotion because it makes you desire things you'd be much more likely to get if you rarely felt it, or at least rarely acted on it. So if you want to acquire the objects of your envy, structure your life to avoid it as much as possible. That isn't to say envy isn't useful. Silicon Valley is built on envy, and it has accrued immense advantages-- capital, talent, networks, collective wisdom. Harness the envy of others to achieve your mission. Don’t allow others to ignite envy in you to achieve theirs.

TL;DR: Spend time with people who don't feel envy. Avoid people who do. Pick a mission, and direct all your energy into solving problems that stand between you and your target. Nurture relationships by overcoming shared challenges with others. Avoid "the scene". If you were a musician, you'd want to be the type who's practicing scales rather than trying to get backstage to party with the rock stars. Find the equivalent of practicing scales in your field, and do that.