A paradox: moderation and fame

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philosophy / reading

While at dinner in Notting Hill a few days ago, my friend laughingly said:

“Everything in moderation, including moderation itself.”

Is it a fallacy to say that the great ideas and companies of the world were started by people who were averse to the idea of moderation? From Nikola Tesla who “could recite scores of books, complete from memory,” to Elon Musk working 120 hours a week at times, and to Jobs sending Larry Ellison 73 variations of a soon-to-be released Toy Story movie.

It seems like moderation is an idea that’s espoused by the plutocratic/technocratic elites, yet never quite adhered to.

One only needs to look at Ariana Huffington morally grandstanding Elon Musk: urging him to work less for his own good. Sanctimonious behavior at its best.

She was quickly rebuffed with his quip.

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Nassim Taleb said that a legendary macro trader once remarked in a personal conversation:

“Much of what other people know isn’t worth knowing.”

It would make sense that the people we aspire to learn from do this very well. They stay away from politics and daily time-sucks that swallow us whole. Musk knows that his dreams come true if he does what it takes without shying away from difficulty.

“Experts” who study the science of happiness proclaim that if we moderate ourselves with 8 hours of sleep, proper exercise, and a decent job doing what we love that we’ll achieve this meta-nirvana state. If we have passions and dreams to fulfill:  building rockets to go to Mars or building an underwater city – can those really be achieved with following the status quo?

Indeed there will be those sleepless nights and long hours – that’s what it takes. If people want to do great things that takes the decisiveness and perhaps the reality of  social darwinism.

There are some goals where working hard is the key to the glory. No shortcuts. No waking up hungover on Sunday mornings. Just working hard for years on end.The madness of crowds only leads us astray and away from what we seek in our lives.

Maybe Marcus Aurelius was right when he wrote in his journal, which has become the literary phenomenon, Meditations:

“What is to be prized? An audience clapping? No. No more than the clacking of their tongues. Which is all that public praise amounts to–a clacking of tongues.”


The word moderation itself has latin origins with moderare, meaning ‘to control.’

I doubt contemporary figures like Jack Ma or those decades ago like Andrew Carnegie or Nikola Tesla took this to heart. They were hustling before it was cool and not a word brought up in every founder’s podcast segment. Fame or notoriety often isn’t compatible with moderation.

Carnegie is a special story because he came over to America from Scotland right after the Potato Famine of Ireland took place. He started working over 12 hours a day at the age of 13 for a cotton mill as a bobbin boy.

He would say that:

“My hopes were high, and I looked every day for some change to take place. What it was to be I knew not, but that it would come I felt certain if I kept on. One day the chance came.”

His mental sleight of hand combined with his work ethic were some of the traits that allowed him to move from being a simple immigrant boy all the way to becoming the richest man in America in 1908.

This is not to say that hard work is sufficient. Rather it fits in the category of necessary, but not sufficient. We can say that it’s not a life lived through moderation.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we witness someone like Johnny Depp who was pilloried in the media after his break with Amber Heard.The article compounded the string of bad news mentioned that he was appalled that they wrote he was spending thousands of dollars a year on wine.

In reality, he highlights:

“It’s insulting to say that I spent $30,000 on wine,” says Depp. “Because it was far more.”

How people adjust to fame is akin to a superpower. Some use it as fuel on the fire for their careers. It can kickstart the change they wish to see in the world. Depp unfortunately let it get to his head, which is the unfortunate byproduct of the responsibility placed by fame.


“Our truest life is when we are in our dreams awake.” — Henry David Thoreau

Who we are is refined by what we dream about. We don’t have a choice on where and when we’re born, but we can craft our minds in what we choose. The perfect, or our most “true”, self is one where we get to live out our dreams, day in and day out.

Do people dream about fame and success? Sure they do, albeit not knowing the price others have to pay to reach it. It could even be a pyrrhic victory. I would say that it takes someone of able mind to use it well, otherwise it’s playing with fire.

Nonetheless, it’s a depreciating asset for many who are taste acclaim for a brief period and perhaps inadvertently. (winning the lottery, dating a B-list celebrity, etc.) If we want fame for doing right or for its own sake, we can’t acquire it from a moderated life.

Living in a sterile manner is no way to exist. The things that we want to do, the life we dream about, never comes easy; but, that could be exactly why it’s worth doing.

God only helps those who help themselves.

Disagree? Leave a comment.

The Author

I write about tech, philosophy, and macroeconomics.

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