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No Mercy No Malice

Hunger

August 13, 2021

Thanks to a consolidation of stimulus checks, increased food stamps, enhanced unemployment benefits, and child tax credits, the number of Americans living in poverty will be nearly halved this year. This is the largest short-term poverty reduction in our nation’s history, a 45% decline from 2018. Child poverty has decreased by 61%. Compare that to the more than 20% poverty increase that came with the welfare cuts of the Reagan era. Turns out government aid works. Really well.

I was raised by a single mother who made $800 a month, which was just enough to clothe, house, and feed us. Growing up in economic insecurity instilled in me a hunger for success. But there’s a difference between a hunger that drives you and a hunger that impairs you. I don’t know exactly where that line is drawn, but I’m certain it sits above the current Federal Poverty Level.

Four years ago I wrote about the kind of hunger that drives you. That desire, combined with the greatest economic mobility vehicle in history (the U.S. economy), helped me achieve economic security. Let’s hope 61% more kids now have that chance.


[The following was originally published on February 24, 2017.]

I’ve been thinking a lot about success lately, its underpinnings, and if it can be taught. Talent is important, but it will only gain you entrance to a crowded VIP room. (Kind of like Platinum Medallion on Delta — you think you’re special, but at LGA you realize there are a lot of you.) The chaser that takes talent over the top to significant success, methinks, is hunger.

I have a great deal of insecurity and fear that, coupled with the instincts we all have, has resulted in hunger. It can come from a lot of places. I don’t think I was born with it. Understanding where hunger comes from can illuminate the difference between success and fulfillment.

The sources/fuel/triggers of my hunger:

For the first 18 years of my life, I was an unremarkable child who didn’t work hard and didn’t test well. At UCLA, we all started as nice, smart, attractive people (“18” and “attractive” are redundant), who were pairing up, even if for 10 minutes, based on a clumsy sense of attraction (“she’s hot,” “he’s cool”). But by senior year, the women were gravitating to guys who had their shit together, showed early signs of success, or, having rich parents, had already achieved the accoutrements of success (weekends at their parents’ fat pads in Aspen and Palm Springs).

The women’s instincts were kicking in. They were seeking out mates who could better ensure their offspring’s survival, vs. mating with a super interesting guy who wore an army jacket everywhere, smoked a shit-ton of pot, and could recite key scenes from Planet of the Apes. My instincts were also kicking in, and I wanted to spread my DNA … everywhere. It seemed that a prerequisite for this was to signal success. So I landed a job at Morgan Stanley. Had no idea what investment bankers did, but I knew it signaled success.

It didn’t take long to realize that while success in the eyes of others feels meaningful, doing something you like feels profound. People who tell you to “follow your passion” are already rich. But it’s key not to hate what you’re doing. The secret is to find something you’re good at: The rewards and recognition that stem from being great at something will make you passionate about whatever “it” is. Figuring out early that my hunger to impress was leading me down a road of misery — investment banking is a unique combination of boring subject matter and a great deal of stress — gave me the confidence to get out. I quit the path of success without fulfillment.

Up to then, my story could have been a summer flick about a gregarious guy trying to get laid and stumbling toward self-awareness. But the tale took a turn. In my second year of grad school at Berkeley my mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Prematurely discharged from the hospital in Los Angeles, she started chemo. She called me and said she was feeling awful. I flew home that afternoon and walked through the door into our dark living room, where Mom was lying on the couch in her robe, contorted and vomiting into a trash can, distraught. She looked at me and asked, “What are we going to do?” It rattles me just to write this.

We were underinsured, and I didn’t have any contacts who were doctors. I felt a variety of emotions, but mostly I wished I had more money and influence. I knew that wealth, among other things, brought contacts and access to a different level of health care. We had neither.

Science Experiment

In 2008, my girlfriend and I got pregnant, and I witnessed the profoundly disturbing miracle of birth as my son rotated out of my girlfriend. Note: I still think men should stay out of the delivery room. I felt pretty much none of the things you’re supposed to: love, gratitude, wonder. Mostly nausea and recognition of the science experiment we were embarking on to keep this thing alive. But instinct kicked in, as it often does, and my son became less awful, even likable.

The need to protect and provide grew increasingly intense. The 2008 crisis hit me hard, and I went from sort-of wealthy to most definitely not. The previous crisis in 2000 had registered the same economic effect, but it rolled right off me — I was in my thirties then and only had to fend for myself.

This was different. Not being able to provide for the needs of a kid in Manhattan at the level and texture I envisioned for my son seriously fucked with my sense of why I was here (as in, “on earth”) and my worth as a man. I was shaping up to fail on a cosmic level, and the flame of hunger burned brighter.

The instinct to protect and nurture your offspring is core to the success of our species. But the pressure many of us put on ourselves to be a good provider is irrational. Believing your kid needs Manhattan private schools and a loft in TriBeCa to survive is your ego talking, not paternal instincts. You can be a great dad with a lot less than I thought I needed to earn.

Lately

Lately I feel my hunger waning — my doctor says it’s low T. Maybe. I’m spending more time with people I care about, trying to be more in the moment, and passing on professional opportunities so I can focus more on the condition of my soul. Not totally sated, just not as hungry. Still, I want to inculcate a sense of hunger in my boys via chores. I pay them each week for their tasks, hoping they’ll connect work with reward and get hungry. Also, twice a year after paying them, I mug them on the way to their room. That, too, is a life lesson.

Life is so rich,

P.S. Wondering how you create a hunger for your products? This realm is something that my friend and fellow Professor Adam Alter knows inside and out. His Product Strategy Sprint gets into the weeds on the psychology, principles, and practices of today’s stickiest products so that you can apply them to your own products. Have a look.

55 comments

  1. sun your balls? says:

    Some people suggest sunning your balls for higher T.

  2. sulaiman says:

    Prog G is the modern day Lebenskünstler, using data, an acerbic pen and his personal journey to guide us. Thank you for putting yourself out there & the guidance !

  3. Isabella says:

    my co-worker’s aunt gets $93 an hour from home. she has been fired from work for 3 months. the previous month her pay check was $20750 just working from home 3 hours a day.. see this link….https://www.pays11.com/

  4. Connie says:

    Moved to tears — great storytelling, which is what I try to teach

  5. I Eat Because I'm Fat says:

    The US now has one of the highest obesity rates in the world thanks to Big Food, Big Pharma, and Big Media. 80% of severe COVID cases had obesity, but that cant be part of the fearmongering narrative and is considered fatphobic. Most of the stimulus money printed over the past 18 months is going towards the DNC’s woke corporate friends and will cause inflation to skyrocket, further impoverishing the middle class. If Scott were born today as a working-class white boy, he’d be taught to hate himself at an early age through CRT and openly discriminated against by DIE (the unironically named Diversity, Inclusion, Equity). We also just wasted $2T over 20 years in Afghanistan, and our dear senile leader is nowhere to be found while all hell breaks loose in Kabul. Must be nice to virtue signal to the peasants from your perch on the 1%…

  6. Linda says:

    Such a good read… totally enjoyed it!

  7. MD says:

    Sorry about your mother Scott!

  8. deep web says:

    good you’re pushing traffic to your OWN site. popular Internet tunnels are VERY limited. (popular notwithstanding) 😉

  9. RPinks says:

    “Turns out government aid works. Really well.”
    Of course. That’s why Republicans oppose it.

  10. Mark Choate says:

    Scott Galloway is Peloton for the Mind. If you read Scott on a regular basis, your brain will be invigorated and less flabby. I guarantee it.

  11. kenneth hagen says:

    Scott, like may who commented before me, thanks for revealing a part of your inner soul and for enlightening me to the fact that hunger is a two headed coin. My driver in life was much like yours, but I was unable to discern or disect the facets of hunger. Keep it coming

  12. Dani says:

    Maybe low T, but also maybe enough years of life to see how transitory it can be. Widowed suddenly at 51, I can attest that the best plans don’t always come out how we think they will, but the ability to adapt and keep moving forward can help us thrive. And I say this as someone who earns her living by helping others make plans for the future. So I’d just say that you’re being the tree that bends.

  13. Tolga says:

    Thank you for this. I wonder how you concluded it was low T. that was also a cause for this. Have you ever considered the fear and uncertainty caused by Covid could have also curtailed some personality types’ hunger recently? Probably those who seek security and believe the world is a stable and sensible place

  14. Imi says:

    This amazing song was what I thought about after reading you moving post:
    A Year Without Summer https://g.co/kgs/wVEq59

  15. Sebastian says:

    This is really, really good read. Made me realize a lot of things that are happening at the moment in my life (I’m in my mid 20-ties) but I did not understand them.
    I started reading your thoughts recently, but I’m already hungry for more.

  16. Manish says:

    One of the most profound piece I have read.

    Thank you.

  17. Dr. Uma Sharma says:

    Note: I still think men should stay out of the delivery room. 🙂
    I have to so agree…even though 18 yrs ago in my case, my doctors turned their attention from me and my twins to my husband who was turning paler by the minute.

    Loved this piece. As an immigrant myself, it was HUNGER that kept me going. Not so much for $$ but to establish myself in my field and make my parents proud of the faith they had in me. I see that somewhat lacking in my children and they acknowledge its the privilege they had. I am glad they realize and both want to do something for the betterment of society. To me, that thought itself is the seed for success and all that matters.

  18. Tim Groser says:

    very interesting. When I was 6 my mother was told by my teacher (in Scotland) ‘I’ve never met a wee boy as ambitious as your Timmy’. I think that plus being discriminated against as a migrant (when I arrived in New Zealand as a 9 year old) really drove me. I was always getting in playground fights because I was different. So both DNA and ‘hunger’ as you define it drove me to over-achieve in my later professional life. Just retired after my last position as Ambassador to the US.

  19. Ivo says:

    “…combined with the greatest economic mobility vehicle in history (the U.S. economy)”

    Wasn’t this disputed in a few articles about the current state of mobility in the current education system? They were quite convincing arguments.

  20. c cook says:

    The Great Society has replaced ‘hunger’ with Obesity. Walk around Atlanta and tell me about hunger. The left/DNC supporters are smart enough to eat healthy themselves, but are greedy enough to use their Marketing Degree (from a TOP school of course) to pimp junk food and sugar water to the uneducated. High taxes? No problem, just call your Uncle on Wall St and get set up with some type of upside down hedge fund to mitigate your payments. Meanwhile, blog or tweet about billionaires not paying enough taxes. Buy the blm t-shirt, vote for Warren, just don’t think too hard about how you sucked money from the underprivileged with your so-clever ad campaign for malt liquor, Lotto, car loans, or NBA shoes.

  21. Tanya says:

    But how did things work out with your mom? You didn’t finish that part of the story…

  22. Gina says:

    Such a complex subject I too have humble beginnings however I can’t recreate that same scarcity for my kids without being incredibly dishonest. I do share with them my stories. I read in zoos they often times hide the animals food to keep them from being depressed. We all need a challenge and a goal.

  23. Ed Schifman says:

    Hunger, huh? If those of us in this country are so focused on hunger, then why are folks who need workers have problems finding them? Not very complicated. When our government pays folks more for staying at home than going to work, where exactly is the hunger. They are not stupid. Why work? The most troubling part of this is that those that have dropped out seem to be staying out longer or not coming back at all. Maybe when they really get hungry, after the freebies this government is giving up until the money dries up. Or will it? This economy is being reorganized to set the expectations lower so that we can all be equally miserable. Those that have worked their entire life, like myself, who came from less than you did, but who made it nonetheless, it pains me to see this redistribution of income as a panacea for progress. Sure, we all have our own problems, and life isn’t easy, but not working because you can make more from a handout, that is not the country that I grew up in, nor is it the story that I want my kids and grandkids to assume is acceptable behavior. Hunger, huh?

    • Lloyd Blankfein Evil Left Eyebrow says:

      “They are not stupid. Why work? ”

      That is what I said after I got my several billion bail-out, scratch that, I was able to sell at $1.00 per dollar GS worthless AIG derivatives.

      Ed, I’m with you man. The little guy can’t get any idea that there is a free lunch. That is only for us insider in the FIRE economy. I mean if there ever was another AG like that one that prosecuted everyone during the early 90’s S&L Crisis, we would have been screwed. However, we did get a great deal with Holden, Obama and the other Clinton mimics. Hell, you could say if someone had prosecuted us there would not have been a Trump.

      That’s why I’m putting my money on DeSantis & Scott. Those bastards are creaming their people. Hell, I would not be surprise if they have “Bloody Sunday” in their future. What we don’t want is some goody too choo trying to save the day. No bread, let them eat frittata. (Evil laugh here)

      • c cook says:

        The problem with 2007-8 recession was than little if anything done at a high level was actually illegal. Maybe it should have been, but the DNC Congress didn’t feel the need to have laws in place. The real crimes were a low levels, the people writing bad mortgages. I knew one young man who made a mint writing ‘liar loans’ designed for ‘underserved’ but take out by people who could make more money flipping houses than selling coke. It gets really old when people on both sides of the fence complain about laws, yet continue to return SAME people to Congress. Complain about ‘billionaires’, yet do nothing about crimes that are not worth coverage on TV.

  24. David J Guerrero says:

    mug ✍️ my ✍️ kids ✍️

  25. Stephen Downes says:

    I think that reducing ambition and/or a drive to succeed to one simple factor like ‘hunger’ misrepresents a much more complex set of factors. Each of us has a panoply of hopes, desires, fears, ambitions, of which hunger (even in its metaphorical sense) is only one. Why the need to reduce it to a single characteristic? What is gained?

  26. Carine OUAHRIROU-PELTIER says:

    Hi Scott,
    Being a migrant from Algeria who settled in France with nothing back in the 50’s, my father did 80% of the job for me. He became a banker and could offer his kids a middle-class way of life. Today, I don’t even fancy a rooftop in Paris. So why am I still so furious about inequities? Regards, Carine

  27. Ted Caldwell says:

    Thank you for your honest self appraisal. There are many parallels in our experiences. I worked have my life in investment banking and the other half in academia. I also followed my bliss and have enjoyed my life to the fullest. As a vagabond professor I could always get a one to three year gig and then split to chase whichever of my dreams was on the front burner. Thanks for your sharing your experience.

  28. Hunger for meaning says:

    I think the worm at the core here is the fear of meaninglessness existence. Immortality achieved through children is one example of supposed ways to achieve purpose, we all want to leave traces of our existence. However, in and of itself, this confers no meaning to existence. Really, there are no unquestionable limits or assumptions that confer purpose of meaning. It’s whack a mole with whatever meaning conferring purpose one may subscribe to.

  29. Jim says:

    Hey Scott, we’re not paying you for a “greatest hits” rerun every week!
    Oh, wait, this is free, I forgot. Well, ok then. Although I think some basic math might be in order on just where this windfall for the poverty rate is coming from and how long it can last. Meanwhile, i think the biggest benefactor is the giant TV industry, with record sales after the Trump Bucks and Biden Bucks windfalls.

    • C Cook says:

      The biggest beneficiaries are the political arms merchants, CableTV news. Lies and edited video cause outrage to hold eyeballs through the commercial break. Forget about hunger, just think how much of a bonus Maddow or Lemon got because of all those ED meds and Cat Treat ads.

      • RA says:

        Your “outrage holding eyeballs” and generating clicks comment is 100% valid. However you forgot to include a Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham etc. as equal beneficiaries. Fair is fair.

  30. Rich Goldfarb says:

    TY Prof Scott for sharing your personal experiences and takeaways. I’m not sure that hunger can be taught, incentivized, or even encouraged. I think either you have it, or experiences along the way bring it out…if it’s there to begin with. Experiences can be shared, if only they could be taught.

  31. Kristina S says:

    I just have to say- Scott, your opinions and insights are really enlightening. I just feel good when I read what you write and listen to your podcasts – pretty dorky but I want to tell you that you have a fan in me, a decade older than you, an immigrant, a woman who is a self started C-level business owner. You rock. And I started investing whohoo!

  32. Kristina Snyder says:

    I just have to say- Scott, your opinions and insights are really enlightening. I just feel good when I read what you write and listen to your podcasts – pretty dorky but I want to tell you that you have a fan in me, a decade older than you, an immigrant, a woman who is a self started C-level business owner. You rock. And I started investing whohoo!

  33. Steve says:

    “Turns out government aid works. Really well.” Are you kidding me!!! These programs are not sustainable so that 45% cut is only temporary. Not to mention what they do to one’s “hunger.” The work ethic of America is taking a huge hit. Name a business that is not starved for workers (except government) – thanks, in large part, to your government programs.

    The government can not instill hunger and drive, but, boy are they good at sapping it out of you.

    • Harrison says:

      Indeed. Very disappointing to see Scott coming down on the side of giving people fish, instead of teaching them how to fish.

    • RA says:

      If they didn’t have to, no reasonable person would choose to work one or even more low-paying crap jobs that didn’t even keep them and their family adequately taken care of. The actual issue I see behind the labor shortage is the unwillingness by business to pay people a proper living vs bare subsistence wage. Workers finally have an alternative and no surprise they are taking it. If we want people to work for us we should pay them fairly and not rely on race-to-the bottom salary tactics, which prey on the most desperate of workers and keep the thus extracted value for shareholders. Who by the way, have seen their portfolios go up quite significantly over the past year. Myself included.

  34. JFehring says:

    I find the same change/lower of hunger as I age, but I also have the luxury of being economically comfortable.
    The poverty rate chart really caught my attention. Besides the Regan era increase you noted, it seems to also show the other main increases after that tended to occur during Democratic administrations. It would be great to get you view on that.

  35. C Cook says:

    I too was raised with little money. My most prized possession in High School was a pair of REAL Levi’s, bought with money from my ad flyer paper route. I worked hard labor while going to CC. Worked when I transferred to a four year school. Had enough saved to not work my senior year, but that dream died when my dad’s greedy Union decided to strike against their near bankrupt company. My saving kept their house from foreclosure. At school, I interacted with all races, all economic levels. The common thread was a belief that you could improve you lot in America. Friends who grew up in the barrio/ghetto told me the ‘Great Society’ Democratic welfare system is what destroyed their community. Government money went for cigarettes and booze. Fathers spent free money in strip clubs and playing the ponies. The poor people I knew then were in college not because of Uncle Sam’s free stuff, but because their parents set goals for them and saved. While I respect your opinion, it sounds more like white guilt than sound logic. One of the reasons the ‘poor’ are that way is because your Marketing students have become SO good at convincing inner city youth that sports shoes and bling makes them cool. No need to go to college, just buy and increase Nike EPS this quarter.

  36. Cameron Engle says:

    So grateful for this perspective on hunger and drive. Mostly grateful that it’s not about something innate from birth or instilled at a young age. I, too, had neither. To say that I was a mere “blip” on the radar of life until recently would be giving myself too much credit, and potentially upstaging the worms in my garden making my cucumbers grow. But in college I got involved with and was then employed by what I came to realize was a toxic, spiritually abusive campus ministry. I was in it for 15 years. (Regrets? Yeah, been there.) It upended my life. It ruined me, disillusioned me, and disoriented my entire existence. I’m not one to look back at that time and try to find the good. I want that damn place to burn to the ground for what it does to students. But reading this post, I do sense a hunger coming from it. A hunger to give to others what I was robbed of, namely, their agency. After hundreds of applications and not a single interview, because there’s not market for professional hangout-ers with college students, I finally landed something to provide for my growing family. But I was discontent and knew quickly I was in a field not fit for what truly burned within. The hunger grew, increased by rage and maybe some vengeance mixed with altruism (is that even a thing?), and I got into grad school to get the training I need and start the path to the life that is meaningful and profound for me. And my wife digs it, so that helps. Thank you for putting words to what I was feeling when they seemed just out grasp. I guess that’s probably because it’s to grab things with your fists clenched, cocked and ready for destruction.

  37. Marty says:

    This is a story that is not well appreciated. For most of my entire life I have heard about “the war on poverty” with various programs, very few of which worked well. So how are we now winning this war? By putting money in the hands of the poor so they can live happier and more productive lives. The simplest and most direct boost. The pandemic was a loud wakeup call and, as is often the case, it is the reaction to a crisis that gets things done. One other boost to economic security has been the impact of philanthropy directed to local organizations that serve the under-served. I have never seen an outpouring of generosity in my area anything like the last 18 months.

    • C Cook says:

      ‘By putting money in the hands of the poor so they can live happier and more productive lives.’
      Visit Baltimore or east Oakland. The money isn’t going to improving lives, it is being transferred BACK to the rich who market unneeded goods, then recycle PART back in taxes. Tennis shoes, alcohol, drugs, nail sets, 24” wheels for their cars. Who to blame? The rich white kids who are SO good at convincing other to buy the stuff they market. And, those who teach Manipulation/Marketing in fancy Universities.

  38. Howard Stein says:

    This resonates with me, one for your frankness and, two, because you faced the beast that is the delivery room and I did not.
    At sixty-eight and battling to get my genius as a graphic designer into the prime art focus of Kanye West or Bjork, I have often paused to reflect what I’d do if I had kids. I like to think I’d race even faster after my passion but I don’t know. I hate to think I’d have found, and stuck with, the shitty agency job but instead, I’m able to afford to struggle.
    I have only questions and the woefully little I know. So THIS is how life goes?

  39. Ian Wright says:

    While I think you’re correct in your introduction paragraph, I wonder if you are taking into account that all this is being funded with debt that has no realistic chance of being paid. If you think that debt is meaningless, the it certainly makes sense. To do otherwise would be cruel and evil.
    But if debt is real, then the systemic loss of opportunity going forward will undo any good done today and a lot more. I don’t see what choice you have, however.

    • Ian Curtis Ghost says:

      Is debt that will be paid by the billionaires in taxes to the US Government or loss of asset, income and worth to whatever banana republic their Ayn Rand fantasy they beget creates some neo-confederate police state . They just don’t know it yet.

      Why? Because they are killing the golden goose and if you think the chinese commie will be kind to billionaires see Jack Ma and his re-education vacation, same for Putin as his poison darts, Saudi King and their meat chopping machines See the treatment their opposition gets.

      Because as any marketer knows. If my choice is brutal non-democratic authoritarian corporate state (US), police state (Russia), religious state (Saudi Arabia or Iran) or commie state (China). You are odds are overwhelming better in the commie one.

      Only way they are not going to pay in taxes is if they pay it to the wife in divorce and she does a Mackenzie Scott https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2021-mackenzie-scott-donations/

      • Ian Wright says:

        Ooookay. I’ma gonna leave now. Judging by the sparse logic in your reply, you’re most likely a bot. If not, have a nice life now. I did expect a higher level of rationality in Scott’s blog, although quite why, I am no longer sure. Whatever.

  40. Marcelo Bermudez says:

    I’m really glad I have ‘met’ you, Scott. I’m a two-time Section 4 alum and probably skew older than your average student and Prof G podcast listener. We have similar stories. San Fernando Valley native. First to go to college and seeking wealth. Lost a business to an alcoholic business partner who was embezzling funds and then rebuilt my life from the ground up. Right now my wife and I care for both of my elderly parents who have dementia. It is an incredibly difficult obligation. Some days I feel like a terribly mediocre business person with time slipping away, but I know this is what I am supposed to be doing right now. I see the light at the end of the tunnel where get to where I want to be even though the journey has taken longer than expected. I still celebrate along the way.

    Taking your classes and listening to your pods with and without Kara keep me focused and motivated. Thanks.

  41. mark says:

    Scott, i often marvel at how your blogs hit home for me. Not unlike you i had somewhat similar circumstances as a youth, and very much like you i found that my hunger came from need to not have that experience repeated for my family. I am simply one among equals- but no one will ever outwork me or have more GRIT and Determination! …it matters!

  42. Lou says:

    Great writing. Good nuggets.

  43. Dan says:

    Thanks for sharing Scott. I’m passing this on to my kids to read in 5 to 10 years time. Some great nuggets for life which don’t get taught in school.

  44. Laura says:

    Agree with you. Thanks for this.
    So educational.