Stoicism: Day 6 – I want to work for Goldman Sachs

Yesterday’s ice bath was easier, but again, the shivering is getting a little out of hand. I had to throw on a jacket, gloves, and hat and sit underneath my blanket for about 45 minutes before I was back to normal. Now my anxiety is not about the ice bath, it’s about the post ice bath experience!

But, that’s ok. It’s a new challenge, the effects are predictable, and if it became too easy I would have to find a way to make it harder.

Stoically enduring 40 minutes of shivering.
Stoically enduring 40 minutes of shivering.

I wrote a little bit about how I’m afraid of failing at a few things, and that if I adopt the Stoic mindset, I should not be afraid to fail at things outside of my control.

But I didn’t talk that much about ambition , and how easy it is to desire the wrong things.

Yesterday, I stumbled across this article about Goldman Sachs being an awesome place to work. Knowing my personality, I would be an awful employee at Goldman Sachs. I don’t want to wear a suit everyday, I’m allergic to working long hours, I’m not super “team-oriented,” and I’m not super-competitive.

But when I read the article, I thought “oh man I should totally go work for Goldman Sachs!”  I was ready to send in my application when I saw that the average annual compensation is about $380k. I immediately began thinking about how I’d upgrade my lifestyle.

All it takes is one Fortune Magazine article about a company you don’t even like to disturb your mental anxiety and stoke your ambition for worldly success.

What’s insane (but understandable) is that that’s considered a worthy goal in modern-day America!

If I told my parents and my peers that I’m going to get a job in I-Banking, their only negative response would be to think that I wasn’t smart enough to get the job, not that the pursuit itself is negative.

It’s not just career pursuits that can derail you. It’s material desires as well. Last year, my girlfriend introduced me to Banana Republic. Now, every time I get a 40% off  e-mail from them, I’m tempted to buy a new suit or sweater because I want to impress everyone with how fashionable I am.

Very un-Stoic of me.

So those things seem obvious; don’t pursue careers that are bad for you and don’t buy unnecessary fancy clothing to impress people.

But temptations are everywhere. I stumbled across a blog post by two guys who gained 100,000 monthly readers  by writing about minimalism and another post about personal finance blogs that have sold for over $1 million.

You know what my reaction was?

Envy!

Even though I like writing and blogging for its own sake, I became instantly dissatisfied when I realized I don’t have the readership or financial returns of some other bloggers.

Once you know to look out for them, you realize that pernicious success stories are everywhere. They’re frequently used as inspirational tools and can easily derail you from more important goals, like achieving mental tranquility.

Here are a few wise words from Seneca (that I posted on Day 4: Becoming a failure) :

Suppose that you hold wealth to be a good: poverty will then distress you, and, —which is most pitiable, —it will be an imaginary poverty. For you may be rich, and nevertheless, because your neighbour is richer, you suppose yourself to be poor exactly by the same amount in which you fall short of your neighbour. You may deem official position a good; you will be vexed at another’s appointment or re-appointment to the consulship; you will be jealous whenever you see a name several times in the state records. Your ambition will be so frenzied that you will regard yourself last in the race if there is anyone in front of you.

And here is a cautionary tale from a banker whose last bonus on Wall Street was $3.6 million. 

Beware Banana Republic catalogs and Fortune Magazine articles.

  • Jennifer Harris

    I was introduced to your blog by Cal Newport’s, and believe it or not, what you are writing just what I need right now! I briefly touched on Tim Ferriss and that other guy that advocates living a rich life, but now mostly read Kathy Caprino and, sometimes, the Personal Excellence blog. I read two of the Minimalists’ books and was also sort of envious when I heard about their quickly expanded readership. I do love the idea of getting rid of things that don’t add value to my life, and spending more time with people. However, I have been struggling with the feeling that I want to immediately leave my job and I keep telling myself that all that advice to follow your bliss doesn’t mean I should remove my own paycheck right away. I was so relieved and happy to hear about what you are learning from ancient wisdom. It’s all about changing ourselves first. I’m commenting under this post because as I’m working through the posts, I read the wealth addiction article and it was just stunning. His life is so not mine, but yet I can’t help but heed the warning! I have had points in my life where it’s like…I just need another J Crew sweater, and so on, and it’s actually kind of an irritating feeling like I’m not done, I don’t have everything I “need” yet. Good work!

    • Glad my project can provide a perspective you can relate to. I think what makes ancient wisdom so appealing is that it matured in times when we didn’t have as many options or opportunity to improve out external circumstances. The ancients’ advice is applicable because it doesn’t rely on having a popular blog, lucrative career opportunities, etc.

      Best of luck on your journey!