Recognizing When It’s Over

As I’ve written before, I’m generally early on a lot of different things from nomadic travel to online gambling. Being early to things is valuable, but it is also equally valuable to realize when something is over and to leave early. This skill is actually easier than finding new things because it involves just evaluating existing phenomena rather than searching for them.

One good example is college. I dropped out almost twenty years ago and believed then that it was going to be worth it for fewer and fewer people. These days the number of people for whom school represents a terrible value is larger than ever. Without major changes, that number will continue to increase (keep in mind that it is obviously still a great value for some people, so I’m not trying to say it’s wrong for everyone).

Another example is San Francisco. I used to love that city to death and wonder why everyone wasn’t scrambling to figure out how to live there. Four years ago I felt like it was past its prime and cut my ties (except for with my amazing friends there). I saw a survey recently that showed that most people in San Francisco don’t want to live there anymore.

I think a lot about the interplay between perception, reality, and trajectory. Las Vegas has a very bad perception (all partying and glitz), and excellent reality (highest quality of life per dollar in any US city), and a promising trajectory. San Francisco has an excellent perception, a pretty rough reality, and a frightening trajectory.

Of course, these things are all subjective. Some people have amazing realities in San Francisco and maybe their experience there or at least their prediction of their experience there is improving. If you have a gambling addiction, your reality in Vegas would probably be awful. Still, we can look at general trends.

Whenever outsiders’ perceptions of something does not match reality, this should raise a major flag. It may as well be the definition of something being undervalued or overvalued.

Our common perception of school is that it leads to a good career and a good future. People still believe that, or at least feel that it is “safe”. But we have a near-crisis of student debt and people are having more and more trouble finding jobs that can service that debt and create a good future. Meanwhile tuition keeps rising at such a rate that if one were to just invest the cost of tuition in the market, that benefit would eclipse the wage gap between college grads and high school grads, which is largely based on correlation rather than causation anyway.

San Francisco is seen as an idyllic place to live with a slightly counter-culture vibe. People who come there are shocked to see human feces and heroin needles on the streets of even very nice neighborhoods. Wealth disparity has grown to a truly crippling level, creating a monoculture of tech, and even friends making great six-figure salaries find it oppressively expensive.

When perception is much better than reality, the odds of that particular situation being on the cusp of being over is very high.

It takes some bravery to act against public perception. People thought I was crazy to leave San Francisco for Vegas. Dropping out of school was seen as a very risky thing for me to do.

Now a lot of friends in San Francisco have left or want to leave, and a dozen of them bought condos in my Vegas neighborhood. I doubt anyone would say that I would have been better off staying in school, even with the significantly lower tuition fees of that time.

When you can shed things that are over, you can get an early mover advantage on the next thing. When you stick around, you’re sometimes the one left holding the bag. Think about situations in your life where perception doesn’t match reality, and make the hard choice to leave things behind whose time has past.


Photo is of San Francisco. Still a beautiful city, especially if you zoom out a bit.

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