Above a certain amount of assets, wealth is extremely relative.
The goods that most people consume have fairly fixed prices. Some go up 1-10% per year. Some go down 1-10% per year. The prices of the goods and the basket of those goods are fairly predictable.
For most people, wealth is absolute. It is not really about keeping up with the Joneses … it is about keeping your head above water and doing everything possible for your family to have a normal life.
But once your assets cross a certain threshold, almost all your spending is relative to the Joneses. The amount of absolute wealth no longer matters — what matters is the amount of wealth relative to your peers.
Most goods that cater to the wealthy (high-end real estate, charitable giving naming rights, art, buying 10% of a YC company, etc.) are extremely relative. And most really wealthy people are trying to protect their status — their biggest worry is a new class of people getting richer than them fast.
For the super wealthy, the easiest way for them to protect their wealth is to raise taxes. The higher the taxes, the easier it is for wealthy people to maintain their status and to stop pesky outsiders from usurping them.
Being nice in the short-term can be the meanest thing you can do to someone in the long term.
Everyone loves the “nice person,” but few understand that being nice in the short term is NOT always in the best long-term interest of the person you’re interacting with.
Sure, it feels good to be nice. Every parent wants to see their child smile over a bowl of ice cream… but you’d never let your kids eat ice cream all the time. It’s terrible for them and would seriously damage their health over the long term.
And yet, many people use the “nice” label personally and professionally as an excuse to lie to you (doing the same kind of damage you’d be doing to your kid with endless ice cream). What they don’t realize is that short-term nice is long-term harmful.
Now, this is not a reason for you to be a jerk or intentionally mean. It’s just that if nice people were more willing to truly care about the interest of the person they are dealing with, they’d actually do more to help them in the long term.
There is a whole world telling us that we need more education today. They say the jobs today require more education. But they don’t. Jobs today may require more credentials, but they do not require more education.
A college degree is actually worth LESS, not MORE than it was in the past in terms of what you learn and its importance. And you don’t actually need a college degree for most jobs that say you do.
Do you really need to go to college to do most jobs that require a college degree? Absolutely not. You can be a banker, high-tech sales person, teacher, administration, army officer, and more without a college degree.
One needs a lot more formal education to be a plumber or electrician than to do business development at a tech company.
And it is not just four-year college degrees that are declining in value. A Master’s degree is even less needed than it was in the past. And an MBA (Master’s in Business Administration), while a powerful credential, rarely beats the learning one can do on their own or on the job.
All my life I’ve been searching for heroes. Heroes are hard to find.
You find someone, look up to them, and then discover they are flawed. They are more than human. It is heartbreaking.
When I was in junior high school, my heroes were Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. I imagine I was like a lot of other 13-year-olds — lots of people revere these two incredible people. I started obsessing about both Gandhi and MLK Jr. and read a lot about them … going to the library (yes, this was pre-Internet) and reading more and more books and articles about them.
But the more I read other biographies, the more I realized that everyone is flawed.
No one is good all the time.
Every person has a bit of bad in them. Everyone makes very big mistakes. In fact, the more good you do, the bigger mistakes you will make.
Who are your heroes? Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Florence Nightingale, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, JRR Tolkien, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, James Madison, Warren Buffett, Alexander Hamilton, Milton Friedman, Jane Austen? All of these people were incredibly flawed too.
As you go through history, you see more flawed people. The Old Testament is full of flawed people. Moses was flawed. All the Greek Gods were incredibly flawed (even Zeus) — many were even more petty than the average human. Even the G-d in the Old Testament is flawed, frequently acting in a vindictive and non-compassionate way … certainly not in a way one would expect a divine and all-powerful being to act.
The only two non-flawed people I could find were Jesus and his mother, Mary. But it is not fair to compare yourself to divine beings … we can learn from them but us mortals can never become them.
Many fictional characters are too simplistic. Luke, Leia, and Yoda were all truly good and never had any evil or bad in them. But they were so one-dimensional. It is little wonder that Han Solo turns out to be the most enduring character from the original Star Wars Trilogy — he was a con artist, thief, liar, and philanderer who movie-goers fell in love with anyway.
A Hero Portfolio
Putting all one’s eggs in one hero can lead to real disappointment. If you have one idol, they can easily fall off their pedestal. Having a portfolio of heroes allows one to pick and choose the good qualities from all while acknowledging but hopefully not following their flaws.
Since then, I have found that I can have many heroes (including MLK Jr and Gandhi) — acknowledging their strengths and their flaws.
Having a hero portfolio also allows one to have people you know as heroes. My wife and brother are two of my heroes. Many of my best friends are my heroes. I can even be my own hero on the days when I live up to my ideal. Yes, we are all flawed (even in very serious ways) … but we can choose to admire someone for their strengths.
Historically, a tall, good-looking extrovert has had a better chance of success in their career than a short, stocky introvert. But post Covid-19, that’s all going to change.
In a world where more interactions are via video, rather than in-person, past successful character traits will be less impactful. The paradigm will shift. Your internet connection speed and camera quality will matter more than your physical attributes.
Here are some historical success-contributing traits that won’t matter nearly as much post-COVID as they did before:
Take Tony Robbins, for example. He is 6′ 7″. There’s no question that his tall stature has contributed to his mega-success as a motivational speaker and life coach. He towers over his guests at his conferences, and his deep, booming voice commands respect and admiration.
But in a world dominated by video calls and digital conferences, your height will matter much less than it has in the past. No one can tell how tall you are on a video call. Everyone is sitting down and generally at the eye-level of their computer’s camera. Height will no longer translate.
This change matters, especially when it comes to job interviews. Your average company’s interview process is not perfect—height and physicality matter in an in-person interview just as much a candidate’s experience and qualifications. But height won’t translate as well during a video call. The competitive advantage of being tall will disappear.
Imagine seeing Tony Robbins for the first time via video. His physical stature would not be nearly as impressive as it is in person.
In the future, tall people will have less of an advantage than they did in the past. One of the big winners will be women (since women, on average, are shorter than men).
There are a lot of articles out there about self-improvement during the quarantine. These can be a bit exhausting to read. You’re probably not focused on growth if you have kids at home and are just trying to manage your life and job under the new COVID-19 world order.
But, there’s still value in attempting to take up some positive habits during this bizarre time. Even if they are just in the back of your mind, they could impact your behavior.
So, here are a few ideas if you are interested in personal and professional growth during the lockdown:
1. Watch less news.
TV news is worse for you than cigarettes. It is designed to get people riled up and elicit extreme emotions to keep you glued to the channel. It is not designed to help to deliver or inform the news. It is all noise and no signal.
All daily news is bad.
The U.S. networks that deliver daily news are all bad. CNN, FOX, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, CNBC, ABC … and even things like the Daily Show … are terrible for you. Eliminate it all. These programs are designed to get you frustrated, angry, and emotional. Just like smartphones, they are created by brilliant people to keep you addicted to the network 24/7.
If you watch 10 hours of TV news, you will learn almost nothing. It might mildly entertain you … but you can watch a great TV show (like Breaking Bad) for entertainment.
Many people say they want to be a 10xer, but very few people know how to become one.
This post outlines how you can become a 10xer in your own organization and how you can identify other star employees in any business.
What is a 10xer?
A 10xer is someone who brings 10 times the value to their company as compared to their peers.
They impact the business almost immediately. The organization is improved in a matter of weeks, and their peers notice very quickly that they’ve found someone special.
Here are the 4 things you can do to become a 10xer:
1. See opportunities where others only see threats.
The ability to understand and analyze threats to a business is important. This is especially true if it’s a large, established multi-billion dollar business that needs to focus on protecting its downside.
Companies have entire teams focused on identifying and neutralizing potential threats. Sometimes this is necessary, but oftentimes it’s not. Many threats are not as severe as they initially seem. And if a business spends all its focus on threats, it will no longer innovate and no longer grow.
If you want to be a 10xer, you need to be the one discovering massive opportunities for growth. And the younger the business, the more time should be spent on growth vs. threats.
This is hard because the threats are real. They are important. They could really hurt the company. And the big threats should definitely be tackled head-on. But not every threat needs to be addressed. And even those that do need to be addressed don’t need to be addressed fully.
It takes experience to discern which threats are important to mitigate and which threats are less severe. Employees with large company experience are often in “threat-mode” more than they should be. This gives you a potential advantage.
Smart employees at start-ups often spend over 80% of their time on threats and less than 10% on opportunities. But the 10xers spend over 50% on opportunities.
That’s how you can start to become a 10xer; spend more time on finding opportunities than you do identifying threats.
Much of mainstream wellness advice revolves around creating a “balanced life.” There are phrases like “work-life balance,” “balanced diet”, and “balance of power.” All of these are considered positive culturally and worth striving for.
When it comes to balance in your own life, though, this advice can lead one astray. A life worth living is making choices — which means each person is going to weigh things differently. “Balance” implies that you need at least a decent amount of everything … but the reality is that you need to clearly make choices on important things that you are going to skimp on.
I’ve met a lot of people in my life. I’ve never met one that was “balanced.” Everyone, absolutely everyone, is weighted in the areas they care more about. That’s natural. That’s good.
Some people weigh their lives towards their kids. They give up their job, their personal dreams, and often their friendships to focus on their kids. These people are not balanced. They are weighted. They have made the decision that the best use of their time is to focus on their kids. That’s their choice.
Other people dedicate their lives to helping others in need. They sacrifice their own family and sometimes their own health for the “greater good.”
Everyone makes sacrifices. Everyone makes choices.
None of these people are balanced because no one is balanced. We all make choices. We all weigh our lives in directions that we think is best. And sometimes we change those weights as we mature. And often we are wrong about the best weights. Balance, while sounding nice, is both impossible and undesirable to achieve.
Balance makes a person mediocre at a lot of things instead of great at only a few.
Culturally, we are pressured to improve in areas of deficiency in the pursuit of an imaginary “balance.” There’s no one out there screaming at us to get better at what we are already good at.
“Self-help” is a $10-billion industry. There are life-coaches, consultants, mentors, business-coaches and the like all helping people improve their personal and professional weaknesses. The reason so many people focus on their weaknesses is that it is much easier for others to point out weaknesses and give some tips on how to improve than to help you get better at your strengths.
Even customary employee performance reviews revolve around identifying areas of weakness in an employee, with the subsequent goal to improve in those areas.
To be one of the best in the world at something, you have to work hard.
While this seems obvious, there are many people who don’t believe it’s true. Many people believe you can become great just working 9 to 5. It’s not clear where this controversy comes from.
It could be a result of the fact that we can’t all agree on how many hours of work really constitute “hard.” Malcolm Gladwell theorizes that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a master at something. But it is not just the hours … it is the obsession that matters.
You cannot be great at something unless you are obsessed with it. You need to be thinking about it all the time. That obsession may consume you and it might not be healthy for you … but that is the difference between the great and the merely good.
Hard work is a prerequisite to changing the world.
People who changed the world were workaholics. Look at Martin Luther King Jr., or Mahatma Gandhi, or Alexander Hamilton. They all put in many hours more than a standard 40-hour week.
The difference though is that their work is an extension of who and what they are.
They worked hard because it did not feel like work. At least not always.
Actually getting 40 hours of work done in a week is rare.
There are very few people who can do world-changing work in a 40-hour week. I’ve never seen one.
There is a caricature of certain successful people as being stupid. I never understood this but it is something that has prevailed in our culture.
It is an odd insult often thrown by the less successful at the more successful. If these successful people were really so stupid, why did they accomplish so much?
We have a tradition of calling our President ‘stupid.’
It goes back a long way. Many of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s enemies (including many in his own party) called him stupid and a lightweight. Of course, we do not think of FDR today as a lightweight … but that was a criticism of him for many years.
In my lifetime, almost every Republican President has been caricatured as being stupid. Gerald Ford was the clumsy bumbler portrayed. Anyone of that era remembers Chevy Chase’s hilarious skits on Saturday Night Live.
But Ford wasn’t a clumsy bumbler. He was actually the opposite — Ford was a world-class athlete. He was voted the most valuable player on the University of Michigan Football team.
Then came Reagan. How could an actor be smart? The zeitgeist was that Reagan was stupid and he was being taken advantage of by other members of his party. It was so assumed that he was a dummy that there is a classic SNL Phil Hartman skit that is a parody of the parody. The skit was so hilarious because no one could actually believe Reagan could take control of anything.
The problem is that you cannot use first principles to determine everything. You don’t have the time to do that. You need to rely on proxies who you believed have figured things out and believe in them (until you eventually figure out that the proxies are wrong, frauds, etc.).
For instance, I have never actually done the full proof that the world is round. I don’t actually know, with 100% certainty, the shape of the earth. I use proxies to help me determine that. It might not be round. There might be a conspiracy. Or we might be living inside a simulation. I’m not 100% sure. But I rely on proxies and make an assumption that the world is round (at least for my purposes).
I don’t know (with certainty) that the moon landing in 1969 was real. Some people believe it was faked. But I use proxies who I respect and therefore adopt the belief that the moon landing was real. I believe this even though I have not taken the 100+ hours to prove it myself.
Therefore, I believe the world is round and also believe the moon landing was real. Am I 100% certain? No. But I live life believing it and know that I will likely never take the time to prove either to myself.