part of the “what I learned after four years at MIT” series, I guess?
There’s some oft-cited psychology studies that suggest that once your salary goes above $75,000, additional money doesn’t make you happier. This sounds like a sage bit of life advice if it were true, the ultimate rebuff against excessive greed and materialism and sacrificing other things for a six-digit salary, but it overstates the case a bit. 80,000 Hours’ analysis of money and happiness is probably the analysis I’d trust the most here; I think it would be more accurate just to say that you get diminishing returns of happiness from salaries above $70,000. Still, that was enough for me to decide fairly early on that I wasn’t interested in trying to get a high-paying job for its own sake, or in spending too much effort trying to invest my way to a fortune. I wanted my job to be personally satisfying and good for the world, while paying enough for me and my family (current and future) to get by, but I planned to treat any additional money after that as little more than a bonus used for breaking ties.
I still mostly stand by that decision today, but over the intervening years I realized there were a whole host of reasons to want money that weren’t that selfish at all.
I had this 5,000-word draft, but I half-abandoned it for being sappy, boring, pointless, and impossible to rewrite to be satisfactorily un-cringeworthy. Instead, let me just tell you a couple random stories and anecdotes that went somewhere near the start. Maybe posting them will motivate me to salvage something from the 4,500 words that go after it and post it. Eventually.
Some time ago, Namecheap had a discount, so I bought a domain name for 88¢. Unfortunately, the discount only lasted for one year; afterwards, it would cost $29/year to renew. Even though I bought it on a whim and didn’t have much use for it, I found myself wanting to keep it more and more and had a huge mental struggle over whether I could afford it, because wow, $29 is a lot!
Meanwhile, during the same school year, more or less:
= within 15 cents of $20,000/7
= NT$88,661, by Google’s current exchange rate
= 739 hours of Taiwan’s hourly minimum wage or 4.43 months of Taiwan’s monthly minimum wage
= 317 hours of Massachusetts’s minimum wage (7.94 weeks or 1.85 months assuming a 40-hour work week)
= 1.2~1.7 weeks of a list of high tech internship salaries as featured on Slate
= 2,955 plates of Sushi Express
= 1,478 cheap boxed lunches (at NT$60 each), which would last one person 1.35 years at 3 per day
= 1,122 Big Macs, price in Taiwan, or 596 Big Macs, average price in U.S. (January 2015)
A PSYCHOLOGICAL TIP
Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind,
— Piet Hein
and you’re hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.
No — not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you’re passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you’re hoping.
(By the way, apparently spinning a penny is a terrible randomization process; studies have shown they come up tails 80% of the time. Tossing or flipping is better but there’s still a faintly biased 51% chance it lands with the same face it started with (PDF link). Entirely irrelevantly, is the meter amphibrachic? Nice. I’m sorry, but the impenetrable English names they give to metrical feet just sound so cool.)
As May 1 has been coming up, I’ve been half-seriously giving this advice to others who still haven’t decided. But I knew this wouldn’t work for me. I knew where I intuitively wanted to go all along.
The reasons holding me back were more… reasonable. Mostly the money. Call it an id-superego conflict.
I don’t know if the difference between my choices would mean I’d have to take out loans, or work a lot during college, or both. I don’t think either of those things would be difficult. I think tech internships over the summer could just cover the parts assigned to parental contribution (which I’m not going to let my parents pay, unless they start earning a lot more money than expected) and I think I have the skills to get those internships. But of course that’s a tradeoff. Maybe there will be something more self-actualizing or more helpful to my future career that I could do during the summer. I’m not so sure that I’ll find the same drive to program for a job instead of for a personal project I really want to use myself, or for putting off something more boring. I don’t know yet.
(Get it? Drive? Program? Um, never mind, I guess that’s a hardware problem.)
This post, or most of it, was published password-protected once because… well, I explain that below. (To the one person who actually bothered asking me for the password, just so you know, I did add and rewrite parts. More than a few.) I forgot how distinctly powerful a disincentive a large 2300-word block of text is to the average person, especially when the subject of half of those 2300 words is teenage angst (I’ve already linked to xkcd 1370 in enough places so I’m not even going to embed it here) interweaved with an insufferable amount of rationalist jargon. This will probably filter my readership more than sufficiently already.
I have still decided to protect one detail of the thought process, though. But even after that, I guess I do care more about how many people read this than I do for most of my other posts, so here’s a primitive attempt to gauge interest; if you choose anything beyond the first choice, I would also appreciate if you leave a comment, even if you don’t think you have anything to add:
I haven’t posted for a long period again, but I don’t feel too bad about it.
Well, until I look carefully at my blog draft folder and remember that I have 90%-finished drafts about the two debate competitions I went to (November 2013 and March 2014), and winning the previous Mystery Hunt (January 2014), and my summer trip to Penghu (July 2013). Which will probably never get posted out of awkwardness.
But I’ve been busy, completely righteously busy, with college apps to write and algorithm classes to teach and speeches to write and a math club to sort-of lead and all the typical homework besides.
And then (for those of you who don’t have me as a friend on Facebook) I got accepted to MIT and Caltech early.
And for a few days after that, I checked Facebook about sixteen times a day for the Class of 2019 group discussion, except for one day when I really needed not to, thanks to the power of committing to my HabitRPG party to do something. I am increasingly learning that procrastination is something that has to be actively and strategically fought. But that’s not what this post is about.