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M&Ms 53: Everyone is Scared

Louie Bacaj
Louie Bacaj
7 min read
M&Ms 53: Everyone is Scared

Hi Team,

Everybody is scared.

Coming up from poverty, you realize that everyone around you has fears. Then if you make it far enough, hopefully, to get out of poverty and meet some successful people, you realize they have their own fears too.

Everyone is scared of different things.

But fear influences people's risk-taking. And the good kind of risk-taking is often the way out of poverty for many. And for the rich, risk-taking is the way onto massive wealth.

In my late teens, a kid I knew from The Bronx found the home of a recent lottery winner. He showed up at the man's door and said his name was "Tony" and that he was there to pay the 1500 dollars he owed the homeowner in debt. The news later reported that someone named "Tony" did, in fact, owe the homeowner money.

But when the 60-year-old homeowner did not recognize "Tony" as his acquaintance and refused to open the door. "Tony" proceeded with a home invasion, according to the news, at exactly 3:30 AM. "Tony" broke down the door, put a gun to the homeowner's head, and screamed, "Give me all your f'n money!" It didn't go well. It ended in a lengthy prison sentence for "Tony." All of his potential as a young man vanished that night; we never saw him again.

But this is life when you are trying to come up from The Bronx.

When you're at the bottom and not eating, and no ones taught you how to fish, you are very likely to take the risk and go take some fish. And no amount of society giving you fish will ever fix the problem because that will always run out; the only solution is to have plenty of fish in the lake and teach people how to get it.

It might seem foolish that "Tony" resorted to criminal activity, but you have to understand when you have nothing, you have little to lose.

Studies on criminal activity say that a small percentage of humans are predisposed to becoming criminals no matter their socioeconomic status. This is why you see rich people commit fraud and illegal activity, like in Bernie Madoff's case. Some even rob their employees of their livelihoods, like in the case of Enron. But none of those wealthy criminals will commit a home invasion and risk their lives like "Tony." But the poor overwhelmingly resort to that life because their choices are bleak.

"Ski mask over my face
Catch a body in broad day" - Nipsey Hussle

I assure you that this all relates to your fears and my fears of risk-taking too.

We can see some successful people who are afraid to play this internet game—struggling with imposter syndrome. I struggled with this immensely myself. The crazy part is that in that environment where I had nothing, in The Bronx, I would've never struggled with imposter syndrome. But in this environment, after a decade-plus-long successful career, I had paralyzing fears of "putting myself out there."


As I reverse engineered my fears, I was afraid of imposter syndrome partly because I was now an example in my family. A family that doesn't have much. I can easily ruin all the progress I've made and bring shame and embarrassment onto all of them with my failures.

Something they worried little about when I had nothing. Of course, back then, they worried about my life, but that's it.

I can see now why many successful people are afraid to be mocked or picked on for these same reasons. This fear prevents them from sharing deeply important ideas that might even change the world.

I recently reverse engineered my path out of this fear as I mentored Write of Passage students.

I see that small things led to this "bravery." The regular writing on this newsletter and sharing more each time and seeing that it didn't kill me. Then it was the regular Tweeting of my story. Then going on podcasts and seeing that didn't kill me either. I followed that up with mentoring strangers in live cohort courses, and seeing that too only built up my skill set. Then most recently, as of last week, I ran live webinars with total strangers, and seeing that too went well. Keep in mind that I had a debilitating fear of public speaking just a year ago.

So, in short, a good part of my imposter syndrome was conquered one step at a time, one essay at a time, one tweet at a time, etc.

Nicholas Taleb calls these asymmetric opportunities; Daniel Vassallo calls them small bets. But the idea is the same, small variable risks that will never wipe you out or ruin you. And each win from those asymmetric opportunities allows you to take more and different risks.

The Best Three Articles I Read This Week

How Rejection Set Me Free (With An Adventure Around The World) — Alexandra Allen
I was scared and anxious when I boarded the flight. But I was also very determined. I promised myself I would spend a full year trying to build a life overseas. No matter how hard things got, I would not give up.

This excellent article on being rejected by a law school that led to a rollercoaster adventure in living in London by my friend Alexandra is why we need to take chances. Chances that won't kill us.

Never Saw It Coming
People are very good at forecasting the future, except for the surprises, which tend to be all that matter. Let me share a theory I have about risk and the right amount of savings required to offset it. The biggest risk is always what no one sees coming. If you don’t see something coming you’re not …

"The Economist – a magazine I admire – publishes a forecast of the year ahead each January. Its January 2020 issue does not mention a single word about Covid. Its January 2022 issue does not mention a single word about Russia invading Ukraine. ... The biggest news, the biggest risks, the most consequential events, are always what you don’t see coming."

“F**k You” Money
What is the optimal amount of wealth?

From the Article:

Money can’t buy happiness, but the absence of money can cause unhappiness. Money buys freedom: intellectual freedom, freedom to choose who you vote for, to choose what you want to do professionally. But having what I call “f*ck you” money requires a huge amount of discipline. The minute you go a penny over, then you lose your freedom again. If money is the cause of your worry, then you have to restructure your life. - Nassim Taleb

Two Tweets From This Week:

A fascinating Tweet thread about rings getting caught in people's carrots as they grow in their garden. It happened multiple times.

I told my friend Chris that the written word was good enough that God used it to program us.

See the Bible, Koran, Torah, etc.

There is no way that the written word is not good enough for us to get leverage over our work. We should all improve our writing; even a little bit in a world where few bother will go a long way.

Two Memes I Loved This Week:

A fun meme because I love to go on long walks to ponder; you can see this from the pics I snap on my daily hikes each week.

And I like the meme; I often run into other people walking to ponder too.

Even though this meme got a lot of attention, I say buy your nice coffee.

Quick updates from me:

A nice win we had this week was that 51 people showed up to the two live webinars on Newsletters I ran with my friend Chris Wong. And 109 signed up for the recordings.

We will run another free webinar on newsletters this Sunday, May 1st, at 11 AM EST.

Some of you may also know that Chris and I will run a full-blown four-week live course on getting started and succeeding with newsletters. I am extending a 50% discount, until Sunday, on that course to folks on my newsletters (code: SMALLBETS50)

(If you already signed up without the discount, I am happy to get it to you too)

And just to clarify the reason we are charging what we are charging for that course is that Chris and I will literally dedicate our time in those four weeks to teaching. We will be giving personalized feedback and help folks launch and publish their newsletters. Teach the systems of becoming a better writer and all the things we struggled with in the last year but overcame. This will take a ton of our time, but we are excited for it.

The sixth episode of The Engineering Advice You Didn't Ask For podcast is out.

This one is all about remote work; we interviewed remote work expert (and engineer and engineering leader) Marissa Goldberg, who shared some amazing tips.

She has literally done a course on Avoiding Burnout from Remote Work.

Having gotten to know her while mentoring TME and in other online communities, I highly recommend her course and her methodology.

To celebrate a win last week I decided we would give two free annual subscriptions to The Pragmatic Engineer.

There was so much demand that we ended up giving away 4 annual subscriptions with Gergely. Two from him and two from me. I am sorry to the folks that didn't get one free. But, still, I highly recommend The Pragmatic Engineer.

You will get your moneys worth many times over in the next promotion, or the next role you land.

Thank you for reading. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.


P.S. you can respond directly to this email and I will do my best to reply. I'd love to hear from you.