Source: The Prestige Trap by Wes De Silvestro

Is this why so many people want to join ‘prestigious’ places to work like big tech or consulting? To keep doors open?

For lack of a better explanation, a big part of it feels like the go-to cop-out for individuals unsure of their larger life direction. Or maybe just lacking general conviction/self-confidence in themselves.

Prestige, as Paul Graham defines it, is just fossilized inspiration. It’s what was once new and successful and thus became prestigious. “If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious.”

A lot of people mistake prestige for excellence. The assumption is that prestige entails excellence but the reality is the opposite: prestige follows excellence

Ivy League

“For the majority of Ivy Leaguers, the most impressive thing they’ve accomplished is achieving admission to their university. When you’re deemed successful because you went to Harvard rather than celebrated for what got you there in the first place, you learn to game the system and just focus on the credentials the next time around.”

This ‘credentials’ grind within these prestigious institutions is very reminiscient of Goodhart’s Law. They saw that their process of scrambling and playing ‘the game’ for college admissions got them prestige so they continue to optimize for that rather than success.

Some of the lowest hanging fruit remains unpicked because few smart people are willing to venture down the road not taken.