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Edward Huang
Edward Huang

Posted on • Originally published at on

The Cost of Success

In 2018, Mark Wahlberg shared his unorthodox daily routine to be in an ultra-productivity state. He would wake up at 2:30 AM and pray at 2:45 AM. Then, he has breakfast at 3:15 before working out at 3:40. He finishes his morning routine around 5 AM. He takes multiple snack breaks in his schedule to keep his metabolism high and stay lean. He ends his day at 7 PM when he goes to bed.

Mark Wahlberg posted his insane daily schedule in Instagram

A lot of people were astonished by his meticulous discipline schedule and his caffeine in the morning. In one of his interviews, he mentioned that he's most productive and creative in the early morning hours, and he wants to maintain optimal productivity levels by being consistent with his routine.

Hearing the story of Mark Wahlberg, I am impressed with his discipline in pursuing optimal productivity. However, on the other hand, I am also torn that he cannot enjoy a lot of free time and eat any of the other good food out there to keep his body lean. What is the aim for all this optimal productivity if you are already worth 400 million?

Many ultra-successful people also make sacrifices when chasing their goals as well:

  • Justin Bieber has to sacrifice his childhood to become the best pop star singer in the world.

  • Dwyane "The Rock" Johnson has to work 3-4 hours daily, six days per week, to maintain his physique.

  • Elon Musk works 80-100 hours a week, 365 days, to build the best company in the world.

This example illustrates that sacrifice is always a hidden cost for all glamorous success.

The media has glamorized an overnight success that took multiple years to accomplish. Because get-rich-quick stories are far more compelling to read than slow growth. Thus, we often idolize people who are more successful than us but can't comprehend the price they paid for success.

The Hidden Cost of a High-Paying Job

The hidden cost of success also applies to your software engineer career.

Chasing a high compensation package or higher title also has a hidden cost. For instance, Netflix offers a top-notch compensation package to its software engineer. However, it has a culture of sports teams. You need to perform your best all the time, or else there is a chance that you will be put on the bench. Thus, the cost of being on Netflix is your mental health and peace of mind. You must perform your best to avoid failing the "Keepers test."

Many employees made it through solely working at the right startup, being a part of their IPO journey. Thus, the media painted a rose-tinted glass on software engineers with the startup life as a get-rich-quick-scheme. However, many didn't mention that these software engineers have been underpaid for the past Y years before they saw their results come to fruition. They must give up their work-life balance for an extended time without knowing if there is a light at the end of their hard work. They didn't get as much mentorship at a startup as at a big company.

This is why you must think deeply before deciding to pursue something.

Ask Yourself, "What will my lifestyle be if I go to X?"

If you want to be a director at a prominent tech company, are you willing to be liable for everything that goes wrong in your department and to be online "24/7"?

If you want to work for a prestigious high-frequency trading firm, such as Citadel Securities, would you be willing to work regularly 70+ hour weeks?

If you want to become the best engineer in your team, are you sacrificing your night and weekends to learn new techniques and skills and not burnt out?

Imagining what kind of lifestyle you will adopt if you go for that choice helps the liability of pursuing that choice.

I wanted to become an architect or a vice president as I climbed the corporate ladder. However, after working for several years in tech, I saw the lifestyle of the VP and principal engineer in the company, making me rethink my decisions.

They often are the one that works longer than the rest of the team because they are the one that needs to ensure that everything works. I had seen many times when they were pulled into an incident during a family dinner, where they had to leave the family dinner table and take the call to make any big decisions.

I often am confused about why some software engineers are willing to stay as senior engineers. Doesn't the higher you go, the better the pay is and the more respected you are?

Yes, those are the assets you gain when you become a VP. However, many people think that being a senior engineer is the sweet spot in the tech ladder, where the benefit you gain matches the cost.


Different individuals have different priorities and values; what one person may see as a success may not align with another's definition. Reflecting on your values, goals, and desired lifestyle is crucial before making significant career decisions.

It is important to carefully consider the hidden costs and sacrifices that come with pursuing success in any field. While the media often highlights the glamorous side of success, it often overlooks the personal sacrifices, hard work, and dedication required to achieve those goals.

Ultimately, everyone has different aspirations and definitions of success. Evaluating the lifestyle and sacrifices associated with your chosen path is essential to ensure it aligns with your long-term happiness and well-being. Reflecting on your goals, values, and potential costs can help you make more informed decisions and find a balance that suits you best.

That's it for this week! I hope you have a great rest of the week.

šŸ’” Want more actionable advice about Software engineering?

Iā€™m Edward. I started writing as a Software Engineer at Disney Streaming Service, trying to document my learnings as I step into a Senior role. I write about functional programming, Scala, distributed systems, and careers-development.

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