"What are some surprising reasons talented young people today might still fail? " originally appeared on Quora--the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Patrick Mathieson, venture investor at Toba Capital, on Quora.

I'm not sure how "surprising" these are, but here are some reasons that talented young people might fail:

  • Debt. See who got rich off the student debt crisis. Debt forces people to make decisions to satisfy their short-term debt burden that may not be in their long-term interest (from an opportunity cost point of view).
  • Picking the wrong times to get super focused. At different points in your career, focus is the optimal strategy, but at other times, it's better to take a broader portfolio approach to how you spend your time. You can waste a lot of time by focusing when it's better to go broad, or staying broad when it's better to focus. An example of the former is slaving away working 80-hour weeks at a company that doesn't value your work and will never provide you with opportunities as a result of that hard work. An example of the latter is prioritizing work-life balance when you have an amazing opportunity right in front of you if you'd only hunker down for six months to complete a huge, high-visibility project.
  • Inability to control your personal burn rate. You might score an awesome, lucrative job, but if your personal expenses skyrocket in proportion to your income, not only will you be trapped in that job (I know a few Googlers who make three times my salary and are petrified of leaving) but you'll never be able to increase your personal runway for when it's time to attack a risky opportunity. See: hedonic treadmill.
  • Dating the wrong person. Having a great boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse is a force multiplier on your career.
  • Issues with alcohol. It's easy for networking events, happy hours, one-on-one drinks after work, etc., to cause your consumption to creep up.
  • Over-reliance on brand-name logos on your résumé. I've seen this a lot with the sort of people whose résumé goes Harvard, Google, Facebook, Uber. You can begin to feel like you're defined by the logos on your résumé, which can make you extremely anxious about jumping onto an opportunity that appears murky or unprestigious. It's important to remember that the ideal time to join a company like Google was before anybody had a clue who they were.
  • Not reading widely, or not spending time with people outside their industry. If all you do is hang out with people inside your own field, the best you can hope to be is the average of all of them. This is part of the reason that "industry" conferences and networking events are so damn boring. Becoming great involves synthesizing information from various fields that were not previously connected. This is also how you avoid becoming bland and undifferentiated.

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Published on: Jul 12, 2016