Friday, August 17, 2007

8 ways I've used Jonathan's Law of Defaults

I owe much of my success in life to something I call my Law of Defaults. It's really more a guideline than a law, and I haven't decided exactly how to state it yet, but here's the rough idea:

"When you're not sure what to do, default to doing what someone older than you would probably wish they had done."

Here are some examples:

  1. Started my 401(k) when I was 19.
    Yes, I have 10 year's of retirement savings before my 30th birthday. It was nerdy when I started it and it's nerdy now, but I projected forward 50 years and tried to guess which statement would more likely be running through my head: "I wish I had saved more money" or "I wish I had spent all my money when I earned it." Since that 7% of my salary wasn't going to make a big difference in my day to day life I defaulted to saving.

    I read somewhere that the single largest reason people don't save money is that they fail to set up the mechanics. They have the money, intention, knowledge, and ability to save, but they don't spend the 20 minutes to set up the automatic deduction.

  2. Bought the maximum of every stock option or employee stock purchase program I could.
    This is another financial one that has treated me well. I always default to buying the maximum allowed. This one is a little funny because I also sell all the stock options the minute they vest -- I think my future-self would be pissed about having gained money then lost it by holding an individual stock for too long.

  3. Stayed at Yahoo when I could have gone to Google.
    I have to include one sad story to show that The Law doesn't always work out: when I had the option to switch from Yahoo to Google I stayed with my Default, Yahoo, because they seemed about equal and I thought it better to continue on one track rather than switching for no good reason. That decision probably cost me a million dollars, but what are you gonna do? Gotta have a system.

  4. Worked all summer even though i didn't feel like it.
    A few months ago I didn't know what I wanted to do next and didn't really feel like doing anything (I think they call that "depression") so I defaulted to working. Now I'm still not sure exactly what to do next, but I'm not depressed, I met some cool people and did some decent projects, and I still have money in my bank account.

  5. Didn't drink or do drugs as a teenager.
    It's true, I didn't drink until my 21st birthday. I wasn't specifically against it, but I figured that future me would probably prefer less brain destruction and stupid behavior rather than more. I sometimes feel like I missed out on a part of my youth, but I have plenty of time to drink and act stupid as an adult, which is probably more fun any

  6. Didn't do anything that would look bad in a political campaign attack ad.I used to aim for President, hence the no drugs, but now I just aim for mayor of San Francisco, which is much more forgiving. Still, there is no video of me naked, no shady financial dealings, not secret support for terrorist organizations. Because you never know when you're going to want to run for mayor, and why ruin your chances when all other things are equal?

    (Luckily we now have Arnold and GWB to lower the bar for political office, so I'm free to do nearly anything.)

  7. Assumed all of my emails would be released publicly.
    I know that data lives forever, and that nothing is secure, so I always default to writing email as if everyone I discuss is CC'd. It encourages politeness as well as assuring that no mean/rude/libelous emails surface and hurt me in the future. Don't get me wrong, I'll talk some serious shit in person, just not via email. I'm sure if future me had some relationship ruined or business deal go bad because an old electronic communication surfaced I'd be pissed at past me, so why risk it.

  8. Took risks.
    One might read my Law of Defaults and think that it would make me a boring, overly cautious person. But I think the main thing future me will want is a history full of risk and adventure. I took some smart risks, like dropping out of college and quitting a well paid job to start a company with no business plan. There are more risks that I could tell you about, but writing it here would give too much fodder to my political opponents. You'll have to ask me in person. :)


Blogger Isobel said...

Jonathan, you were always wise beyond your years, and here is yet another example. I'm really sorry that most I've ever thought of to say to you is "have you read this?" and here I go again. The comment you wrote about what an older person would do makes me think of Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. He talks about this very thing, and how most people find reasons for not following the advice they would garner. And you yourself remind me of the growth mindset described by Carol Dweck in her latest book, Mindsets. I just always loved the way your mind works. Oh, and, by the way, LOVED the post about me. Showed it to everybody I know. Thanks. Glad you referred to it as an acceptance speech and not an obituary.

8:20 PM, August 26, 2007  

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