Why Not Just Try Harder To Get Ahead? The Effort vs. Talent Debate

enjoying-sunshineAnybody who knows me realizes I’ve got very little talent in practically everything I do. Complex math was confusing so I stopped at Trigonometry sophomore year in high school. Who needs math, I told myself as a teenager who knew he could never become an engineer. My tennis serve is mediocre because I’m not particularly strong or tall. 205 lbs was the max I could ever bench and it’s been all downhill from there. Even after owning an acoustic guitar for over 10 years, I still can’t fingerpick quick enough to play Just Breathe, one the most beautiful songs by Eddie Vedder.

Even writing an article is often hard despite writing consistently online since 2009. My post on the recommended net worth by age and work experience took over 10 hours to write for example. Who the hell dedicates 10 hours of their life to write an article when I could be sipping a Moscow Mule on a beach in Bora Bora after an adventurous dive? An untalented writer who has to constantly double check his math and make sure there aren’t too many grammatical errors, that’s who.

Despite my deficiencies, I’ve managed to survive and lead a happy life. Serves are carefully placed while lullabies are simply sung. I argue that genetics plays a big part in happiness because when I was a poor college student studying abroad on $300 a month I was ecstatic. When I was getting Django Unchained on Wall Street, I was excited to be in the thick of the action. Now that I’ve retired, the happiness meter has stayed elevated as it should.

But what about effort? How much does effort play a part in getting ahead vs. talent? Every time the wheels start slipping, I ask myself, Why not try harder? Let’s discuss.

EFFORT > TALENT FOR SUCCESS

Make Time To Think Differently

Mexican fisherman and his catchThe stock markets surged to new highs on May 3, 2013 in large part because the Labor Department said the economy added 165,000 jobs in April, 15,000 more than consensus expectations. 15,000 is a rounding error in a nation of millions, but we’ll take it if we can see billions more wealth created!

Just think about this situation for a little bit. Is it not a little bit ironic that more jobs creates more stock market wealth, but once you have lots of stock market wealth you no longer have to work? I’m reminded about the parable of the Mexican fisherman who gets ridiculed by an executive with a fancy MBA for why the fisherman doesn’t want more than his catch. The whole point about investing our money is so that our money will one day work so hard for us that we don’t have to.

FORGET ABOUT THE SAME

Finding The Motivation To Stay In Shape: A Conversation With Big Wave Surfer Laird Hamilton

Laird Hamilton posing for me, FS, Oahu, 2013It’s hard to stay in shape as we get older. We move around less, our family demands more of our time, and our jobs stress us out to the point where we eat too much comfort food.

I’m about 10 pounds heavier that I was during college. I always tell myself it’s due to more muscle, but I know it’s a lie because I hardly ever lift weights anymore. When you no longer need to be in incredible shape because you’ve found someone who likes you just the way you are, why bother? All I do is play tennis and do the occasional push-ups and sit-ups now.

Motivation is something I’m perpetually looking for because my motivation meter never seems to stay full. I sometimes feel the paradox of freedom where America allows for a relatively correlated path to attaining what we want. If I want to get six pack abs, I’ll cut out the sweets and do 500 sit-ups every day for three months in a row. If I want to make more money, I’ll work harder at executing new ideas. I really don’t think there’s very much that’s inhibiting our progress other than ourselves.

MAHALO LAIRD

How To Stop Haters From Hating You

Lucky Penny by Untemplater.comThe Boston attacks are a stark reminder of how much hatred there still is for America. Sadness has turned to anger as the country pulls together to understand why and move forward. It’s been more than a decade since 9/11 and yet I still think about what happened all the time after being on the top floor of WTC 2 for a conference just months before.

There are an estimated 7 billion people on Earth today. If only 0.1% of the population hates us, that’s still 7 million people who might very well be ready for war. We are a rich country full of opportunity, yet not everybody can have our same opportunity. The more successful we become, the more risk we face. The more we act as the world police, the larger resentment grows.

Whenever I meet someone in person, I do my best to downplay anything I’ve done that might seem successful. It helps that I’ve removed myself from corporate America and no longer have the desire to compete for money or status. I’m acutely aware of the widening gap between the haves and the have nots thanks to an unlevel playing field. The undercurrent of anger flows strongly through society, ready to drown anybody who is perceived to have more. Hate is part of the reason why I recommend everyone align themselves with the middle class. Blend in so that nobody can target you.

When I believe in something strongly, I will tell you so. If you demonstrate kindness, I will try to show more kindness. If you attack my honor, I won’t hesitate to defend it by confronting you and kicking your ass. What’s the point of studying martial arts for so long anyway? I do enjoy the occasional conflict if there is an intellectual debate. It’s when things start getting personal where I draw the line.

When you have what someone wants but can’t have, you’ll undoubtedly encounter some sort of conflict. One quick check at the background of your haters will reveal they have the most insecurities about themselves. Maybe they are lonely or work a deadend job they can’t escape. Constantly comparing ourselves to others is a sure fire way to zap happiness from our souls.

STRATEGIES FOR LESSENING THE HATE

Don’t Forget To Dream

Dreaming Of A Ferris WheelPersonal finance is wonderful because it allows us the opportunity to dream of possibilities. When I was a freshman battling for a spot on the varsity team, I fantasized about being a professional tennis player signing balls after sliding on the red clay of Roland Garros. Every time I attend a tournament now, I feel like a kid again.

As a poor college student, I dreamed of making big bucks on Wall Street every time I passed the overly diligent business school students huddled around a TV showing CNBC. I imagined whipping around hundred million dollar positions on the prop desk as traders on the other side wondered what the hell I was up to. After a profitable day’s work, it would be off to Peter Luger’s Steak House in a black car with some clients, some friends and a corporate card of course.

After a couple years of marathon workdays in New York City, I dreamed of being free to set my own schedule. My health was fading and I didn’t know how much longer I could last getting in before sunrise and leaving after sunset. As a poker fan, I always imagined winning the WSOP multi-million dollar first prize. Some would hand in their resignation the next day while giving their boss the bird. I would continue working because work becomes incredibly more fun when you don’t need the money. Besides, I’m the WSOP champ, baby!

Now that I’ve retired from the corporate world, I continue to dream about all the possibilities. A dream within a dream if you will as I never imagined the ability to break free so soon. Why not run different financial scenarios and imagine what type of opportunities might arise in 25 years?

A reader commented in the 2013 Goals post how surprised they were to find “Live Free” as a goal. Paradoxically, it’s hard to live free when you’ve got to make all your own choices. But, I’d rather have choices than have no choice at all.

I dream of progress. I dream of adventure. The best part of dreaming? Anybody can do it because it’s free.

What do you dream about?