Johnson's Laws For Younger Men

When a young man asks you for advice...

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. —Roald Dahl. (Happy birthday, Roald!)

There are far too many investors who got lucky telling you how you, too, can be great—if only you follow their word, buy their book, listen to their podcast, et cetera, et cetera.

It’s exhausting and doesn’t work anyway. I’m not one your guru, amigo. I got my own goddamn model, kid. Don’t copy it. It won’t work. It’s bespoke. It works only for me and only then occassionally.

Please don’t mistake these writings for anything other than a personal effort to try to be better at all that I do despite myself. This isn’t false humility but the sort of thing you do when you’ve been hit one too many times. I, like my works, am in progress. I’m not entirely sure either are going to have a happy ending.

Many of the things I have worked on have failed spectacularly, epically. You may have no doubt read about them on my Wikipedia page, which is hilariously, maliciously, viciously wrong on a lot of things.

But some of the things have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. You know them but I just don’t talk about them because I’ve learned that it’s better to just be quiet. I think I know why those projects succeeded but I’m not really sure. Could have been timing. Could have been chance. Could have been courage. Could have been brains. Meh.

To me the joy is in the process, in losing myself in my work, in finding meaning—not money—from all that I do. Scott Adams calls this systems versus goals thinking. Could be. I’m happy for anything that gets me out of my head and totally immersed and preferably legal.

When I was younger and dumber — I had fewer trips round the sun — I made a lot of mistakes and tried to learn from them.

I now group all decisions accordingly:

  1. Is it good for my daughter? In the end we must make things better for those who come after us and who owe their beginnings to us.

  2. Is it good for my country? Money without a country isn’t worth having.

  3. Is it good for my soul?

It’s dangerous to talk about your soul or your country these days. How united do you feel when our cities burn? What even is a soul? Don’t we live in the simulation, Man? That’s what the most popular podcaster tells us.

Pass on that joint, Joe Rogan — but not before you move to Texas and flee the consequences of what you push on people. It’s not that there are too many people in California, Joe. It’s that you got paid and want to keep the money. Naturally the controversial, which is to say the interesting, guests didn’t get to make the cut with Spotify Corporate. I’m proud to say I’m among them though more than a little surprised. I’ve had more than a few people reach out and tell me that they watched Joe’s and my interview only after it got banned. Cool, cool.

For these VC know it alls tweeting away their lives the lines between humble brag and pat on the back and flexing and marketing are too hard to discern and frankly kind of a waste of time. You won’t find me on Twitter. I’m banned for life. And nobody really knows why.

No, I won’t be sharing my secrets. It’s not because I’m greedy — I’m always accepting interns and coders — but it’s because I fear persecution. I suppose at some point they always get you in the end but I want to make them work for it.

Still, I have young people who work with me and I have collected some of the lessons.

One of my friends referred to these musings as Johnson’s Law.

Here is Rule 1:

Your success in life is a function of four things: Your network, your intelligence, your capacity for risk, and your ability to manage the downside.

We will examine each in turn in subsequent posts.