Envy can give you a powerful boost, or it can eat you alive if you let it follow you.
Suffering through the wrong thing can motivate you to find the right thing
Nivi: Do you want to tell us about jobs you had growing up and the one that kicked off your fanatical obsession with creating wealth?
Naval: This gets a little personal, and I don’t want to humble-brag. There was a thread going around Twitter—Name Five Jobs You’ve Held—and every rich person on there was signaling how they’ve held normal jobs. I don’t want to play that game.
I’ve had menial jobs. There are people who had it worse than me and people who had it better than me.
At one point in college I was washing dishes in the school cafeteria and said, “F this. I hate this. I can’t do this anymore.” I sweet-talked may way into a teaching assistant job for a computer science professor, even though I was completely unqualified. The job forced me to learn computer algorithms, so I could TA the rest of the course.
So my desire to learn computer algorithms came out of the suffering I experienced washing dishes—not that there’s anything wrong with washing dishes; it just wasn’t for me.
I had an active mind. I wanted to make money and earn a living through mental activities, not through physical activities. Sometimes it takes suffering through the wrong thing to motivate you to find the right thing.
Being a lawyer was not what I was meant to do
Back in the day I had a prestigious internship at a big New York City law firm. I basically got fired for surfing Usenet.
This was before the Internet was a big thing. Usenet hosted newsgroups, and it was the only the only thing keeping me from being completely bored. I was an overpaid intern wearing a suit and tie. I got to hang out in the conference room and make photocopies when lawyers needed them.
I was bored out of my skull. This was pre-iPhone (thank God for Steve Jobs for saving us all from unending boredom). I used to read The Wall Street Journal or anything I could get my hands on. I would’ve read the back of a brochure to keep from going insane, because listening to a bunch of corporate lawyers discuss how to optimize details of a contract is really dull.
They wanted me to sit there quietly and not read the paper. They got mad and said, “That’s rude. That’s misbehavior.”
I got called up and reprimanded a bunch of times. I was finally terminated—sent home in shame from my prestigious internship, destroying my chance to go to law school.
I was unhappy… for all of an hour. Ultimately, it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me. Otherwise, I would have ended up a lawyer. Not that I have anything against lawyers; it’s just not what I was meant to do.
Envy can be useful or it can eat you alive
Nivi: You mentioned a catering job that kicked off your obsession with wealth.
Naval: That was an envy thing. When I was in high school, I needed a job to pay for my first semester of college.
It was the summer of 1990 or 1991. This was the Bush Senior recession—if anyone listening was alive back then to remember it—so it was actually really hard to get a job.
I ended up working for a catering company serving Indian food. One day, I had to serve at a birthday party for a kid in my school. So I was out there serving food and drinks to all of my classmates. That was incredibly embarrassing. I wanted to hide away and die right there.
But you know what? It’s all part of the plan. It’s all part of the motivation. If that didn’t happen, I probably wouldn’t be as motivated or as successful. It’s all fine. It was definitely a strong motivator.
In that sense, envy can be useful. Envy also can eat you alive if you let it follow you around your entire life. But there are points in your life when it can be a powerful booster rocket.