Peter Thiel and My Underachievement

I saw the Peter Thiel profile on 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago and read this New Yorker profile on him last night. Thiel is an eccentric Silicone Valley billionaire who is know for founding PayPal and investing early in Facebook. But he is now becoming known most for his futuristic big thinking – like investing his money in space exploration and utopian libertarian floating cities at sea. Thiel sees the technological advances of the past twenty or so years as under-achievements, a philosophy he cleverly describes in one of his company slogans, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”

The two reports on Thiel got me thinking – maybe I’m not thinking big enough. Maybe I should ask myself grandiose questions in the morning like, “How can I make the world a better place?”, or Zuck’s favorite, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?” Maybe I am too risk adverse, a consequence of becoming a dad or losing money investing during a recession or just getting a little less young and dumb. Who says I’m not the next billionaire big thinker?

Maybe these thoughts are sticking with me so much right now because I’m turning thirty in three weeks. I guess turning thirty is having a bigger effect on me than I thought – a notion I have been denying for months. I’ve written about the milestone a couple times, even started a new diet. Maybe this thought process is my way of trying to understand or cope with what I see as another chapter of my life ending. Or maybe I should use this milestone as time to challenge myself in a new way.

What kind of life do I want to lead in the next thirty years? Do I want to settle into a rhythm and focus on the simple pleasures or do I want to multiply my ambition by a hundred and shoot for the moon? I used to want to be rich, do I still? I set some goals for myself with a deadline that is right around the corner. I’m going to achieve some of these goals, but did I shoot high enough?

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