Last week we featured a piece by Paul Graham, best known for the start-up incubator, Y Combinator. Last week’s piece was advice to founders on building sustainable competitive advantages whilst this one, albeit a bit dated is also advice to founders, on how to deal with ‘haters’ that inevitably come with success and in particular, fame. First, Paul defines a hater as an opposite of a fanboy, both of which have an element of obsession to their characters:
“A fanboy is obsessive and uncritical. Liking you becomes part of their identity, and they create an image of you in their own head that is much better than reality. Everything you do is good, because you do it. If you do something bad, they find a way to see it as good. And their love for you is not, usually, a quiet, private one. They want everyone to know how great you are.

… A hater is obsessive and uncritical. Disliking you becomes part of their identity, and they create an image of you in their own head that is much worse than reality. Everything you do is bad, because you do it. If you do something good, they find a way to see it as bad. And their dislike for you is not, usually, a quiet, private one. They want everyone to know how awful you are.”

Note that one is a simple inversion of the other. Paul then crucially links the hater’s motive to the object’s fame:
“Like fans, haters seem to be an automatic consequence of fame. Anyone sufficiently famous will have them. And like fans, haters are energized by the fame of whoever they hate. They hear a song by some pop singer. They don’t like it much. If the singer were an obscure one, they’d just forget about it. But instead, they keep hearing her name, and this seems to drive some people crazy. Everyone’s always going on about this singer, but she’s no good! She’s a fraud!

That word “fraud” is an important one. It’s the spectral signature of a hater to regard the object of their hatred as a fraud. They can’t deny their fame. Indeed, their fame is if anything exaggerated in the hater’s mind. They notice every mention of the singer’s name, because every mention makes them angrier. In their own minds they exaggerate both the singer’s fame and her lack of talent, and the only way to reconcile those two ideas is to conclude that she has tricked everyone.”

Most importantly, he brings out the fact the fame is largely random and how it gives a sense of unfairness to the hater:
“Haters are generally losers in a very specific sense: although they are occasionally talented, they have never achieved much. And indeed, anyone successful enough to have achieved significant fame would be unlikely to regard another famous person as a fraud on that account, because anyone famous knows how random fame is.

But haters are not always complete losers. They are not always the proverbial guy living in his mom’s basement. Many are, but some have some amount of talent. In fact I suspect that a sense of frustrated talent is what drives some people to become haters. They’re not just saying “It’s unfair that so-and-so is famous,” but “It’s unfair that so-and-so is famous, and not me.””

He concludes with the suggestion to deal with haters as one to simply ignore them, ironically not very different from what you would do with fanboys:
“If you’re like most people who become famous enough to acquire haters, your initial reaction will be one of mystification. Why does this guy seem to have it in for me? Where does his obsessive energy come from, and what makes him so appallingly nasty? What did I do to set him off? Is it something I can fix?

The mistake here is to think of the hater as someone you have a dispute with. When you have a dispute with someone, it’s usually a good idea to try to understand why they’re upset and then fix things if you can. Disputes are distracting. But it’s a false analogy to think of a hater as someone you have a dispute with. It’s an understandable mistake, if you’ve never encountered haters before. But when you realize that you’re dealing with a hater, and what a hater is, it’s clear that it’s a waste of time even to think about them. If you have obsessive fans, do you spend any time wondering what makes them love you so much? No, you just think “some people are kind of crazy,” and that’s the end of it.

Since haters are equivalent to fanboys, that’s the way to deal with them too. There may have been something that set them off. But it’s not something that would have set off a normal person, so there’s no reason to spend any time thinking about it. It’s not you, it’s them.”

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