The old cliché hasn’t lost its potency: Money doesn’t buy happiness. But what is the end game for entrepreneurs and startups if unlimited funds and open-ended positioning in life isn’t the fulfilling dream we’re hardwired to believe it is? That’s the dilemma facing Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson, since he sold Mojang to Microsoft for a massive $2.5 billion nearly a year ago.
Taking to Twitter on Saturday, Persson lamented the void of struggle and reward in the eyes of wealth, finding social experience impossible due to imbalance. Hanging out in Ibiza, rubbing elbows with celebrities, able to do anything he can imagine, but the feeling has left a void inside.
The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance.
— Markus Persson (@notch) August 29, 2015
Hanging out in ibiza with a bunch of friends and partying with famous people, able to do whatever I want, and I’ve never felt more isolated.
— Markus Persson (@notch) August 29, 2015
Persson’s sense of personal value, tied in part to the social constructs among the staff of Mojang, has gone haywire. The Mojang crew “all hate me now,” he insists, though one Mojang employee responded that he only hated Persson during the initial shock of him leaving. However, Persson aggressively rejects the notion, saying “nobody reached out and said it was just initial shock. So fuck all of you. Fuck you so hard.” Needless to say, there’s a deep-cut sensitivity to the situation that defies gentle hindsight. The sudden burst of wealth is reportedly romantically isolating as well.
However, as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer illustrates in action, success and a traditional sense of happiness can walk hand in hand. She’s running one of the world’s most highly recognized tech companies with a family at home and twins on the way. Balance is key, she stresses.
“Moving forward, there will be a lot to do for both my family and for Yahoo,” Mayer wrote in her Tumblr page announcement. “Both will require hard work and thoughtful prioritization. However, I’m extremely energized by and dedicated to both my family and Yahoo and will do all that is necessary and more to help both thrive. The future looks extremely bright on both fronts.”
Though Persson’s pessimism seemed to take a turn at the end of his Twitter streak – noting that others in his position have told him such feelings are normal and will pass – his predicament is hardly unique among the ultra-wealthy and celebrity elite. When you work yourself to the bone and your efforts finally pay off, sometimes beyond your wildest dreams, what new horizon will inspire passion and value?
The answer – and even the question itself – applies to nearly all of us more than one might imagine. Ambition drives innovation, industry, competition. But a sense of harmony among life’s core value points is essential to maintain longevity of contentment, fulfillment and well-being. To succeed in a competitive market, we will work ourselves into the ground and set goals beyond the rational. But if we sacrifice our creative trajectory – let alone our family and health – for single-minded financial gain, the very meaning of our existence will have been lost in the waves of professional peaks and valleys to which we assign our own value, even if the gamble pays off monetarily.
Though he’s wary of it now, Persson could do well to follow the example of Elon Musk, who turned the incredible payout from his stake in PayPal to eBay and used it to start businesses that are changing the trajectory of future tech. Musk launched Tesla Motors, which is developing an affordable electric car, and the Mars-bound SpaceX, which aims to make interplanetary travel accessible on a very real timeline.
Musk is using his billions to change the world. While Persson, Mayer and others are by no means obligated to follow in such altruistic footsteps, the importance of a course for betterment within and without cannot be overstated. It’s not enough to get a grip on that elusive brass ring – the key is to use it as a stirrup to reach far more meaningful ground.