Surprising insight about high-school reunions

Ramit Sethi

A few months ago, I asked this question on Twitter.


“Do you look better or worse than 5 years ago? Why/how so?”

Can you guess what happened?

ANSWER: Only the successful people wrote back.

Out of 20+ responses, only ONE person admitted they looked worse than 5 years ago (and even they snuck in a qualifier: “But I’ve been working at it for a few months now and lost 10lbs.”)

Everybody else? Loud and proud.

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Just like high school reunions. Guess who shows up? The successful / good-looking people.

You drive home thinking “WTF? Am I the only one who’s not vacationing in Tahiti for a month?”

Of course not.

It only seems that way — because everybody else stayed home. This illusion of focusing on the people you see and overlooking the people you don’t is pervasive in so many areas of life.

It even has a name: survivorship bias.

I want to talk about survivorship bias today, because once you understand it, you start seeing it everywhere:

  • IN INVESTING: The S&P 500 returned 7.92% annualized over the last 20 years. But financial companies tell us “the average large-growth mutual fund returned MORE than 7.92% over that period!” In fact, this is survivorship bias. Why? Because the average of the funds only includes the ones that survived​ those 20 years. In other words, only the winners!
  • IN EDUCATION: If 3 of the 5 students with the best college grades in the country went to the same high school, does that mean their high school is elite? Maybe. But we’d need to know the grades of all the students from that school, not just the 3 who ranked among the nation’s best. Otherwise, it could be a coincidence.
  • IN MUSIC: Every successful musician says something like: “once I dedicated my life to music, I got my big break.” This causes up-and-coming musicians to think they will be successful as long as they go all-in. Why? Because we don’t hear about all the musicians who dedicated themselves and failed.

Life is so much more than what we see. There’s always a game being played around us. And what we don’t see can trump what’s in front of our faces.

Take the idea of “work/life balance.” It seems obvious: of course you should strike a balance between your career and your personal life.

But what if there’s more to being a top performer? How would you find out what that something was?

I recently got my hands on a video of Tony Robbins talking about his mission to provide 100 million meals to starving families.

This video isn’t publicly available yet. But I can share it with you.

Tony says something fascinating: He points out that if you think of your work (or parenting, or gym routine, or community service) as “sacrifice,” then you’ve already set yourself up for failure.

As soon as you use words like “sacrifice,” you transform yourself into a martyr — and no one ever recovers from being a martyr. That identity creates a box for you to live in.

In this video, Tony talks about “the myth of sacrifice” and how work/life balance is an illusion. You’ll literally hear the crowd (full of CEOs and senior execs) burst out laughing when Tony brings it up.

Watch it at 7:35.

You can’t get this video publicly yet, but I managed to secure a copy for IWT readers. I have nothing to sell, nothing to convince you to do. I just want to continue to share new, interesting, provocative ideas with you. Have a great day.

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