We’re All Broken Inside: If Successful, Even More So The Case

I just had my 30th year Reunion for my High School class earlier this year and it was really awesome seeing people I had not seen for decades. For me, the most interesting thing was seeing where people ended up. And most of my old classmates and friends were surprised to hear what I’ve ended up doing, and especially the life that I live now. Now so very very far from what I felt were the very low expectations of me growing up. I was an undisciplined, horribly, misbehaved troublemaker through school. Spending plenty of time in detention or on the hate list of the majority of teachers and principals in all the schools I went to.

I didn’t have an unhappy childhood but I honestly cannot say it was very happy either. My parents did their best with far less resources than I have now. We grew up poor and with very high expectations from my parents. Especially my mother who pushed us very hard and did those things you did to your kids as an immigrant parent, putting you down and comparing you negatively to your siblings & to other kids in the local Taiwanese community. Something I still deeply resent to this day.

I detailed much of this: https://hardfork.substack.com/p/trauma-with-a-small-t-therapy-and. If I am honest, looking back I grew up feeling somewhat unloved, inadequate and disrespected all the time. It was how I felt, even if it was not true. Asian immigrant parents tend to not be very emotive or believers in positive reinforcement. It was why I left Vancouver as soon as I could. To literally go forth and conquer a new world. A completely brand new start, far away from the expectations from family, friends and all you knew before.

All this made me into an intensely competitive individual which has served me well in my career and life path. I hate losing. And like all unbalanced type A individuals, I focus on winning as often as I can (2nd place is the first loser as they say). I challenge myself and fear complacency. Almost to the point of detriment. Fast forward 24 years later and one year into therapy, my therapist told me: “I notice you use the words ‘beat’, “destroy’, ‘win’ & ‘crush’ alot. You think very black and white and tend to be intolerant of those who do not meet your probably unrealistic standards.” I could only agree that it was probably true.

When I see friends of mine & classmates I grew up with, their lives seem very ordinary. Happy but ordinary. You never know what people went through but in general, if they had a pretty nice happy childhood, I never really saw them do anything big. They weren’t hungry or driven because they were satisfied. For the record, there is nothing wrong about that. God bless them.

But this is the reverse of many of the most successful people I know. They either came from hard or poor backgrounds, unhappy childhoods with divorced parents, facing racism as immigrants or some traumatic medical emergency when young. This gave them some inner drive to control their destiny. Or more likely like me to prove themself with material and societal success. Look at poster child Elon Musk, he was bullied violently in school. Most of the successful tech founders were nerds in school, which I can’t imagine was a fun experience growing up in jock driven culture of the 70s, 80s & 90s. Repeating what the brilliant investor Josh Wolfe said: “Chips on shoulders lead to chips in pockets.”

I learned many years ago that scientists ran experiments on baby mice, inflicting shock treatments on some of them, and leaving other ones alone. If you inflict pain on baby mice they tend to grow much bigger and stronger than mice that were not hurt. It’s almost like pain actually changes the body and leads it to more growth. Nature can be cruel.

It’s an interesting observation and makes sense at least to me. We are all broken inside, but if you are really broken, you either quit life or you end up developing a massive competitive drive to fill that empty hole in your soul. You can either bury the trauma or you use it to get better. Your psyche is like a muscle, when you work out, you tear the muscle so you rebuild it stronger. As Naval Ravikant said “You are strong only where you were broken.”

The question is how or when you turn this off as excess can be dangerous as there may be no end to ambition. But all things being equal, it is better to have than not.

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Marvin Liao

Ever curious: Tsundoku, Reader, Aspiring Shokunin, World traveller, Investor & Tech/Media exec interested in almost everything! www.marvinliao.com