Creative Capital and Compound Interest

When I got out of college I took a job at Facebook as a software engineer and mostly hated it (except for the part where I made way more money than any 23 year old has a right to). Privilege acknowledgements notwithstanding, this is a story that isn’t actually that unusual if you spend enough time on software forums like hackernews and reddit. A nontrivial amount of young people in tech (and possibly other industries!) wish they were doing something more creatively or intellectually fulfilling, whether that is social science research, experimental art, screenwriting, ceramics, whathaveyou. At least I was. But I got tempted by the astronomical signing bonus, starting salary, stock options, and the general allure of making a ton of cash as a young person right out of college, and I suspect many of my disenchanted peers fell prey to similar initial motivations.

The temptation wasn’t material greed per se, but more security. One corner of the internet I discovered quickly was the financial independence subreddit, which is full of people who meticulously save and invest money with the goal of eventually having enough to retire early and do whatever they want. A popular argument is that compound interest in the modern US stock market is so powerful and reliable that it is optimal to save as much as you can early, because that money will be worth twice, four times, eight times as much by the time one reaches retirement age. By the same logic, making more early on is also exponentially useful, and thus a decently large portion of the subreddit holds jobs they don’t love (or actively hate), holding out for one day getting to do what they actually want to do once they’ve saved up enough money for it.

I spent a couple years checking my 401(k) several times per week and projecting out different savings timelines before I said fuck it, quit, and went to art school.

Existential suffering aside, I think it’s important to realize that financial capital is not necessarily the most important type of capital you could be accumulating in your early career years. Creative capital is real too, and it also obeys the same laws of compound interest, even if it’s harder to see it. The more you learn and create, the more you can learn and create, and so on. If your actual end goal is to do something interesting with your time (and actually be good at it), it’s far from obvious that the correct path is to not do it so you can make money to do it later.


Sign up for the mailing list