Peter Thiel is a billionaire, a rock star investor, and a best-selling author.
But the PayPal cofounder still wishes he could have done some things differently.
He said as much in a new column for conservative student magazine the Intercollegiate Review:
My advice for you — the advice I wish I could have given my younger self — is this: Before getting swept up in the competitions that define so much of life, ask yourself whether you even want the prize on offer.
The bone that Thiel is picking here is competition.
For him, it's a sacred cow that needs to be killed off.
"In economics, Americans mythologize competition, crediting it with saving us from socialist bread lines," he writes. "But if you're an entrepreneur who wants to create and capture lasting value, you don't want to compete with a bunch of interchangeable businesses. You want to build a monopoly."
In his book "Zero to One," Thiel says that the most effective companies — like Google, dominant in search for over a decade — don't have to deal with any competition, thus allowing them to take care of their employees and make great products, or so Thiel says.
The same goes for individuals trying to navigate their careers, he says. That's something he wished he knew earlier, when he was first out of school.
As you might imagine, Thiel was a pretty competitive student.
He got into Stanford University for undergrad, and then attended Stanford Law. Then he landed a gig at a prestigious Manhattan law firm, a place that, in his words, "from the outside everyone wanted to get into" but "on the inside ... everybody wanted to leave."
Working in law helped Thiel to see that living a life where you're just trying to out-compete everybody was a trap.
So he writes:
When I left — after seven months and three days — one of the lawyers down the hall from me said, "You know, I had no idea it was possible to escape from Alcatraz." Of course that was not literally true, since all you had to do was go out the front door and not come back. But psychologically this was not what people were capable of, because when their identity was defined by competing so intensely with other people, they could not imagine leaving.
It made him realize what's toxic about using competition as your guide in the world:
This is, I think, the big problem with competition: it focuses us on the people around us, and while we get better at the things we're competing on, we lose sight of anything that's important, or transcendent, or truly meaningful in our world.
In other words, living in a competition-driven world will likely make you a copy of your highly competitive peers. For that reason, he doesn't hire MBAs.
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