Superbad Success

A couple of months ago I saw some tweets, supposedly quoting Nassim Taleb (well, one of them was actually retweeted by Taleb; a major source of Taleb quotes is from fanboys retweeted by the man himself). Here they are:

« For I have a single definition of success: you look in the mirror every evening, and wonder if you disappoint the person you were at 18, right before the age when people start getting corrupted by life. Let him or her be the only judge; not your reputation. »


« Success is not being on top of a hierarchy. Success is standing outside all hierarchies. »

Now, the first quote is quite comical in its obvious falsehood and thick romanticism.

As if we were in a sort of primeval innocence when we were stupid teenagers, later to be stained by life itself. And we should set this kid to be the judge of our lives in the postlapsarian state.

To me this is almost the exact definition of failure

Though, different from what is implicit in both quotes, I don’t take complex and subtle concepts that are part of life to have univocal meaning; and this is nothing extraordinary: the dictionary itself agrees with me, i.e., words are not univocal.

And this brings me to my second point: the second quote, imo, has some interest, but still misses the mark.

I suppose I’d say that to be on the top of some hierarchies is success, as well as being completely outside any. As well as achieving excellence in the middle or bottom of a hierarchy.

To see this one needs only to consider the difference between an academic hierarchy and a military or corporative hierarchy.

Anyway, I suppose this conjunction of quotes summarises what Nicholas Nassim Taleb is to me: a person who can have creative, but usually poor, ideas, or that are in need of refinement. The occasional pearl that you find in his thought (like the concept of antifragility or localism) is ever more hard to glimpse through the mountains of hubris and grudges.

(of course, and this is important, I’m comparing him with other thinkers, published authors and so on, not to myself; I’m not even in the hierarchy).