Working Hard Isn’t As Important As Knowing What to Work On

Most of us have been taught the importance of hard work – through our teachers, parents, mentors, and bosses. Hard work of course can lead to success and achievement.

But if you’re going to work hard, you have to know that you’re working on the right thing.

After all, is it really success if you have achieved something you weren’t interested in to begin with?

If you want to get rich you have to know what to do, who to do it with, and when to do it. Working hard matters, but hard work alone isn’t going to get you anywhere. You could work hard at being a laborer or as a cleaner but you’re not going to get rich.

On the other hand, you may find some people working in certain industries or in certain roles who are very rich, but don’t work hard. They tend to get paid for their judgement and decision-making rather than their physical output.

Before you get your head down and start working without thinking about it, think long-term. Am I doing the right job in the right industry? Not just to get rich, but does it interest me? Does it fulfill me? Do I like who I work with? Can I see myself here in the long-term?

The Three Biggest Decisions of Your Life

Entrepreneur and angel investor Naval Ravikant advises that young people should be spending more time making the big decisions: where you live, who you’re with, and what you do.

These three things will pretty much determine the quality and trajectory of our lives. Sometimes we find ourselves going with the flow, entering relationships that we aren’t 100% sure of, spending a lot of time doing a job but spending so little time deciding which job would be best for us. And usually the place we decide to live in will determine who we meet and which jobs are mostly available too.

Once we decide these three things we can be much more intentional with our lives instead of being taken whichever way the wind is blowing.

Variety is the Spice of Life: Why Time Seems to Be Passing By Quicker As We Age

According to Chip & Dan Heath in their book The Power of Moments, most people think that time passes quicker once we get past the age of 30. If this is true, why? The Heaths claim that it’s because the ages of 15-30 contain a lot of life milestones – we finish school, learn to drive a car, study for a degree, get our first job, enter our first romantic relationship, travel the world, get married, have children etc. After the age of 30, there are far fewer big milestones, and that can make it seem like time is flying by.

So how can we try to counteract this? The Heaths suggest that we should add a little variety by creating defining moments in our lives – memories that can can create by doing something novel. This could be a combination of moments of elevation, insight, pride, or connection. A moment of elevation is one that rises above the everyday; a moment of insight rewires our understanding of ourselves or the world; a moment of pride will capture us at our best; and a moment of connection is social.

As much as routines are designed to increase productivity, it allows time to fly by unnoticed. Adding the extra spice to life through variety will allow us to remember more prominent moments through our lives. So what kind of things can you do to add variety? Going to your favorite travel destination can provide a moment of elevation; doing a 10-day meditation course may provide you with moments of insight; entering an obstacle course race with a team of friends can create pride and connection.

If you think about it, life is made up of moments. So create photo-worthy moments, try new things, and lean into uncertainty. As the authors of the book Surprise put it, “We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they’re not.”

Three Steps to Take Before Starting Investing

As most people know, investing is a smart thing to do. While you go out to work for the day, you’re happy knowing that over time, your money is working for you too.

Especially with uncertainty over the future of state pensions, investing is a subject that is becoming more important for financial security and freedom going into retirement ages. According to Andrew Craig in his book How to Own the World, anyone under the age of 50 should assume that the government will be in so much debt by the time you retire, that they will no longer be able to offer you a state pension.

But before you jump in with two feet, what are a few things you should make sure of before you start your investment journey?

Pay Off Any Non-Student/Mortgage Loan Debt

There’s no point investing until you have paid off any debt that isn’t from your student loan or mortgage. The reason being is that some types of debt such as credit card debt have high rates of interest. This means that even if you are making a solid 10% return on your investments, you will be paying 20%+ interest rates on your debt – basically placing yourself on the wrong side of compound interest.

Build An Emergency Fund

The last thing you want to do is have to sell your investments because you lost your job or an unexpected expense came up, so before you start investing make sure you have a comfortable amount of cash in a savings account as a security blanket. Selling off your investments can increase your investment fees, but it also encourages you create a habit of doing it in the future too, which can lower your investment returns for years to come. Six months to a year’s worth of expenses should be ample in an emergency fund.

Create An Investment Plan

It’s not wise to just wing it when it comes to investing. Figure out which investment vehicles you want to put your hard-earned money into, and decide what your psychological risk tolerance is. The key is to create a plan and have the discipline to stick to it. Decide the frequency and the amount you will be investing, and how diversified you want to be – whether to buy stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate, precious metals or even cryptocurrency. A lot of new investors will dabble in certain investments, and withdraw their money as soon as any losses appear. The investor that has a solid plan will be able to ride out any market uncertainties because they have already rehearsed beforehand what they would do in that situation.

Which Lessons Do We Have to Learn the Hard Way?

In Herman Hesse’s 1922 novel Siddhartha, the troubled protagonist Siddhartha asks his friend how he can protect his son from the excess pleasure and power that he lost himself in during his life, and how he could possibly stop his son from repeating his own mistakes.

His friend replies: “Do you actually believe that you committed your foolish acts in order to spare your son from committing them, too? How could you possibly protect your son from Samsara [the material world]? How could you? Through prayers, lessons and admonition? My friend, have you entirely forgotten that story about Siddhartha, a Brahmin’s [the highest caste in Hinduism] son, that contains so many lessons and which you once told me here on this very spot? Who kept Siddhartha the Samana [a type of wandering ascetic] safe from Samsara, sin, greed, and foolishness? Were his father’s religious devotion, his teacher’s warnings, his own knowledge, or his seeking able to keep him safe? Which father or teacher was able to protect him from living his life for himself, soiling himself with life, burdening himself with guilt, drinking the bitter drink for himself, or finding this path for himself? Do you think, my friend, that anyone is spared from this path? That, perhaps, your little son will be spared because you love him and want to keep him from suffering, pain, and disappointment? But even if you would die ten times for him, you would not be able to take even the slightest part of his destiny upon yourself.”

The moral here is, that in general, future generations will repeat the same mistakes as past generations, no matter how hard we try to teach others of our own mistakes. Siddhartha’s friend highlights that not even his own father, who brought him up in a rich and nurturing environment, could stop him from wanting to leave home to become a nomad, and later an addicted, greedy merchant – Siddhartha still followed his instinct and went on the journey that led him now to the point of thinking about how best to raise his own son.

Sometimes we have to learn the hard way for a lesson to actually sink in. Finding out that stove-tops are in fact hot to touch, or knives are in fact sharp. Or in later life, that status, power, lust, and greed may not be the most valuable things to chase. We have been taught these lessons already, but sometimes we have to experience it for ourselves for us to fully accept them.

The Hidden Flaw With Following Your Passion

People always tell us to follow our passion. But Chip & Dan Heath, the authors of The Power of Moments, highlights that passion is individualistic. They argue that although passion can energize us, it can also isolate us if the passion isn’t shared with others. The Heaths argue that purpose, on the other hand, can knit groups together as it is something that people can share.

If I followed my passion, I would just be playing Football Manager for 12 hours a day, winning 15 consecutive league titles with Manchester United, until the last of the current squad members finally leaves the club (it’s Hannibal Mejbri by the way).

Or if I followed a different passion, I would be practicing snooker all day in a journey to making my first century break and becoming as good as I can possibly be. Or I could try the same in golf maybe…

The main point is that I have spent 12 hours a day on Football Manager for about three straight weeks on multiple occasions, and I have practiced snooker for hours on end to be try to be as good as I can possibly be. The problem is, no-one cares as much as you do about it. There is no sense of contribution or purpose to being really good at a video game (unless you’re so good that people watch you play), and even if you are the talk of the town because you made the highest break in the snooker league that season (humble brag), it felt like something was missing.

The problem wasn’t in the activities I was subscribing to, it was the way I was doing it – it was individualistic. Playing video games with friends can be a good way to spend quality time together, and playing snooker for the simplicity of playing instead of competing can be a meaningful form of recreation. Instead I was optimizing for performance – I was physically isolating myself to limit distractions while playing Football Manager, and I was constantly worried about losing at snooker that I was untalkative with my teammates.

The key is to find purpose in your passions, to cultivate a sense of community and to build relationships through your passion instead of becoming isolated by them.

Skin in the Game: The Fundamental Question To Ask Yourself Before You Take Advice

The world seems to always give us advice. Friends tell us which Netflix shows to watch, families tell us what job to take, self-help books tell us how to spend our mornings. We get given so much advice that we have to somehow figure out which advice is worth taking.

The main question to ask yourself is: “Does the person advising me have skin in the game?” That is, what kind of losses are exposed to the advisor if this goes wrong? If your friend is telling you to buy bitcoin, you should find out how much money they would lose if bitcoin lost its value – if the answer is zero, you should run in the other direction.

This is precisely what happened on Wall Street, where fund managers got bonuses for wins but paid no penalty if they lost. In turn, they ended up taking high risks with other people’s money, knowing that they had no skin in the game and that taxpayers could rescue any bad decisions.

In contrast, Warren Buffett owns about 16% of the multi-billion dollar fund he manages, so if the fund loses, he loses in a big way.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of Skin in the Game, suggests we should take note of people who stick up for a truth that makes them unpopular, or people who act in a way that risks ostracism. He writes simply, “Avoid taking advice from someone who gives advice for a living, unless there is a penalty for their advice.”

Want to know another stance on advice-taking? Click here.

In Today’s Information Age, Execution Is Key

Back in our parent’s generation knowledge was power. In the 1970s only 8% of young adults were going into higher education, while nowadays the figure is closer to 50%. On top of that, the rest of the world are becoming more educated, with more access to resources. The rise of the Internet means we are now in an information age where knowledge is abundant. If you don’t know a simple fact, Google will tell you.

So if knowledge is no longer as powerful, what has replaced it? Execution. The abundance of information in the environment nowadays means that individuals can pretty much choose any vocation that they wish to. The problem for young people now is choosing something to do, and following through on it.

Those who have the courage to execute reap the rewards in comparison to those who are continually seeking knowledge only. A lot of insight can actually come during the experience too, and this type of insight is more impactful if you’re out there in the arena of life instead of simply studying theory.

Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk consistently advises millennials to “stop thinking and just do.” Your young adult life is supposed to be about trying new things, figuring out what you like and don’t like, what you’re good or not good at, and having the advantage of time to course-correct. The way to achieve more in the modern day? Think less, do more.

Chasing Daylight: Eugene O’Kelly’s Three Months to Live

In May 2005, Eugene O’Kelly was diagnosed with late-stage brain cancer, and given three months to live. Within two weeks, he quit his job as CEO of accounting giant KPMG and scrapped all the plans he had made with his wife and two daughters.

One night at the dinner table, O’Kelly drew a map of his relationships, and grouped them into five circles. His aim was to “beautifully resolve” his relationships, starting with the outer circles and working his way inwards.

In his outer circle he contacted them by phone or email, highlighting favorite memories and appreciation for the other person. He decided to meet his third and fourth circles in person – he would meet them for an exquisite meal, or in a beautiful park for a walk, to share memories and gratitude for what they had done for each other. O’Kelly called these encounters “perfect moments”, and it was his mission to create as many of these as possible in the little time he had left.

By August, he was focusing on his inner circle, and spent his time with his closest friends and family. A couple of weeks later, on September 10, 2005, O’Kelly died.

O’Kelly wrote a memoir, Chasing Daylight, where he began with, “I was blessed. I was told I had three months to live.” And he took it literally – he was told he had three months to live, not to die. O’Kelly “felt like [he] was living a week in a day, a month in a week, a year in a month – meaning he condensed his life by having more perfect moments in three months than he would have done in five or ten years of living his normal life.

So what if we could have more perfect moments too, without the news of a terminal diagnosis to motivate us to do so? In fact, not all of us will be as lucky as Eugene O’Kelly – some of us might not be given any warning at all when our time is up.

The World Treats You the Way You Expect to Be Treated

When I first started off as a door-to-door salesman, I was nervous. My perception was that no-one ever bought anything at their door, and I would have people being rude and telling me to go away, slamming their door in my face.

In my first few weeks and months, this happened just as I expected. But it seemed like the other more experienced salespeople hardly ever had this happen to them. Somewhere along the way, I learned to visualize positive reactions out of the people I was meeting door-to-door. I began to expect a different, more receptive response when I knocked on people’s doors. And, slowly the responses became more positive, and it became rare that I was met with a rude homeowner.

I started to see myself as a good salesman, and then people were treating me in such a way too – they started buying from me. I started expecting them to buy from me too – and more people did.

It’s likely that simply expecting more isn’t the only factor at play here. Obviously, with time my competencies as a salesman improved, and naturally I became less negatively affected by rude remarks, so I was less likely to take things personally if and when they happened. If interactions did go sour, I would have strong boundaries and remove myself from situations I deemed unacceptable.

This concept of being treated the way you expect can translate to general life too. Some people are constantly embroiled in drama and toxic relationships, while others seem to be able to avoid it all. It’s hard to imagine that this happens by chance – it’s more likely that people who attract drama expect and are willing to accept unnecessary conflict instead of having healthy boundaries and picking the right battles to fight.

The world treats you more or less the way you expect to be treated. So start expecting more.