Proof Getting Ahead Is About Production, Not Skill

Proof Getting Ahead Is About Production, Not Skill

Getting ahead is about production, not skill. This article will prove to you why people with no special skills or talent can find success as well.

Back in 2017, a tall Ukrainian fella by the name of Alex came to visit my open house for rent. My five, 20-something-year old tenants had just turned over, thank god, and I was praying to find a stable family to rent to.

Alex immediately said he needed more space for his kids, hence why he was looking. I was hopeful!

We got to talking about the tech world in San Francisco and he mentioned he had started a company called Grammarly in 2009 with a couple of friends. Given I was a writer, I was immediately intrigued by his startup that has now raised $90 million and is worth ~$1 billion.

Unfortunately, writing did not create a strong enough connection between us. He decided to pass. I think he needed a larger house with a bigger backyard.

Proof Getting Ahead Is About Production, Not Skill

In 2017, my dad started using Grammarly to help edit my work. Every time he received a draft post, he'd pop it into Grammarly to see what would come out.

I should do more of the editing myself, but the process bums me out. Also, I *think* he enjoys the ability to contribute to his son's progress. I also like getting a second opinion to shed light on any of my blindspots.

Recently, my dad forwarded me an e-mail from Grammarly that showed this badge: Word Wizard. Whoo-hoo! Grammarly has attempted to gamify writing to encourage people to write more and to use its products.

Word Wizard

The email shows my results in three main categories: Productivity, Mastery, and Vocabulary. Pay particular attention to the Mastery score.

Productivity Over Expertise In Getting Ahead

As you can see, my Productivity is 99% higher than all Grammarly users, but my Mastery is only 26% more accurate than all Grammarly users.

It's a nice way of saying MY ENGRISH SUCKS!

And the funny irony is that I'm being told my English sucks by three Ukranian program developers! If Alex was my tenant today, I'd raise his rent by the legal maximum for insulting me. Just kidding. Maybe.

Below are my Top 3 mistakes that occur over and over again because I've been too lazy to learn from my mistakes. This is what happens when you outsource things.

Top 3 Grammar Mistakes

Mistake #1: Missing comma in compound sentence.

Incorrect: We washed the dog and then we cleaned up the mess that he made. (There should be a comma after the word “dog,” which I often miss)

Incorrect: We washed the dog, and then cleaned up his mess. (I will sometimes add a comma after dog when I shouldn't. Tricky!)

Mistake #2: Split Infinitive

To split an infinitive is to put a word or words between the infinitive marker – the word to – and the root verb that follows it. One of the most famous examples is the Star Trek phrase “to boldly go.” Here, the infinitive “to go” is split by the adverb “boldly,” which is wrong.

But I LOVE splitting infinitives! I find it adds more color to my writing. But wrong is wrong accordingly to Grammarly.

Mistake #3: Missing article. Articles are words that define a noun as specific or unspecific.

For example: After the long day, the cup of tea tasted particularly good.

Instead of using the word the I will sometimes use the word a e.g. After a long day, the cup of tea tasted particularly good. This sentence sounds fine to me, but what do I know.

I'm constantly confusing the usage of the and a in a sentence.

The Bright Side To Being A Terrible Writer

Although my English sucks, there are some positives to being a terrible writer.

1) You grow a thick skin.

I don't care that I have bad grammar and will be ridiculed by some native English speakers. As a result, I'm regularly pressing publish. I'm OK with good enough, not great.

I have friends who are great writers and amazing artists who take forever to show their work because they are too afraid of ridicule. They must have everything perfect before shipping.

I say, who the hell cares?! Make some edits after you've shipped your good enough.

2) It's more fun to improve.

One of the great things about being terrible is that there is plenty of upside to improve. I loved being a 20 handicap golfer because the room for improvement down to a 10 handicap was so fun.

Hitting the green from 200 yards away with a 4-iron 20% of the time felt amazing! But once I got to a 10 handicap, I found it incredibly frustrating to get better, so I eventually stopped playing.

Given my English is so bad, I've got plenty of upside to one day get to F. Scott Fitzgerald's level. Getting ahead is so much more fun when there's lots of potential.

3) People don't expect as much from you.

One of the great things about being born overseas and being Asian in Virginia was that nobody expected me to speak or write English fluently.

When I arrived in Virginia for high school, white folks would constantly be surprised that I didn't have an accent. They were like, “Wow, you speak good English!” I felt like my journalism and AP English teachers also gave me more leeway. I got an A in both classes despite still being confused by infinitives, articles, and the use of me and I.

Even my mom regularly tells me how surprised she is that I turned out to be a writer as an adult. As a kid, I never showed any interest in writing. Nor was I an avid reader like my sister.

Related: Are You Smart Enough To Act Dumb Enough To Get Ahead?

4) I appreciate my heritage.

Although my mastery of the English language is poor, at least I know some Mandarin to make up for my deficiency. Drop me off in Taipei or Beijing and I'm good to go! I still dream in Mandarin 20% of the time too.

It's fun to be familiar with an entirely different language and culture spoken by over one billion people.

5) More appreciation of variety on Financial Samurai.

I could attempt to write really rigid financial content with perfect grammar, but that would be very boring. Further, my output would go way down as I'd spend too much time focusing on the minutiae.

With my crappy writing skills, I can more easily play around with words to craft interesting stories that incorporate personal financial lessons. Ironically, my poor writing is more easy to understand since it has a conversational style to it.

For example, without my poor grammar I never would have come up with the article, You Can't Frugal Your Way To Early Retirement, which became a very popular article. The grammar police kept saying I couldn’t use the word “frugal” as a verb. But I didn’t care!

Getting ahead requires experimentation.

Focus On Production If You Want To Get Ahead

No matter how hard I try, there will always be at least two grammatical errors in every post I publish, including this one. Oh well. I won't let imperfection stop me from trying to get a point across, and neither should you.

You can always correct or learn from your mistakes. But you can never correct or learn from your mistakes if you never make any.

Don't be afraid of the criticism. Getting ahead means embracing mistakes and errors. For those of you who are imperfect, but continue to try, I salute you!

Not a day goes by where I'm not happy I started Financial Samurai in 2009. Having my own website has given me the freedom of expression, which is priceless even if my grammar truly is terrible.

Readers, have you ever felt like a lack of mastery prevented you from producing? How did you overcome your deficiency or fear to get ahead? Will the people hustling during the holidays get farther than those who don't?

Updated 4Q2020: I spent the next one year working on my Mastery, and I'm pleased to say that Grammarly has consistently been rewarding me an 80+ versus only a 26% back in 2019. Getting ahead takes work!

Invest In Entrepreneurs As Well

Taking a leap of faith to become an entrepreneur is hard. Instead, you may want to keep your day job and invest in private growth businesses. This way, you get to have brilliant entrepreneurs work for you. Or you can do both! I certainly am.

Companies are staying private for longer, as a result, more gains are accruing to private company investors. Finding the next Google or Apple before going public can be a life-changing investment. 

Check out the Innovation Fund, which invests in the following five sectors:

  • Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
  • Modern Data Infrastructure
  • Development Operations (DevOps)
  • Financial Technology (FinTech)
  • Real Estate & Property Technology (PropTech)

Roughly 35% of the Innovation Fund is invested in artificial intelligence, which I'm extremely bullish about. In 20 years, I don't want my kids wondering why I didn't invest in AI or work in AI!

The investment minimum is also only $10 while most venture capital funds have a $250,000+ minimum. You can see what the Innovation Fund is holding before deciding to invest and how much. 


The Secret To Your Success: 10 Years Of Unwavering Commitment

Your Wealth Is Mostly Due To Luck: Be Thankful

For A Better Life, Be The Top 1% In Something, Anything

Proof Getting Ahead Is About Production is a Financial Samurai original post.

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28 thoughts on “Proof Getting Ahead Is About Production, Not Skill”

  1. Hi Sam, very fun read and something I can relate to a lot.

    I use grammarly too, and get similar scores when I’m writing a lot. Like you though my accuracy is often off according to the tool, but I put a lot of this down to “pouring” words onto the page. I can only really get started and write when I don’t worry about my spelling and grammar.

    I then just try and clean it up at the end -Although I still leave plenty of grammatically incorrect stuff in there if I think it sounds more natural.

    I think. I could benefit from editing less though and this would probably let me get more content out quicker…

  2. Artem Milinchuk

    Fun fact, Alex is our first angel investor in (farmland investing) and my good friend since 2008. Sam, now you have to write about us! :)

    1. Anthony Tolbert

      These farmland investment vehicles are pretty sad. Lots of unintended consequences. Taking the returns out of the local communities, spiking land prices and rents, contributes to farm bankruptcies. The free market is a beautiful thing, but this is one aspect I’ll be staying out of.

  3. The Alchemist

    Too funny! Sam, take my word for it: Grammarly sucks. Sure, it might have all the mechanics correct, but it’s not always “right”. And as I’ve often told you, your unique voice is invaluable. That being said…. yeah, your mechanics are decidedly sloppy! :D

    In the current internet world, good writing barely matters (if at all). Much as it may pain highfalutin’ writing snobs like yours truly to admit, the world has evolved, and “clean” writing is no longer very valued.

    The bottom line is that, *IF* one is interested in really beautiful prose, there’s no substitute for a human editor who has a natural talent for grammar, structure, and tone. It’s darn near impossible to learn those things if you don’t have a natural knack for them. What’s more, the world regards them as a luxury; content is King, and personality is Queen. Since you’ve got both of those, you’ll always be golden! Although it’s very much to your credit that you strive for better.

    All of this aside: You know where to find me should you decide you WILL do that next book…. ;)

  4. Thanks for this. I can fully relate. I’m doing my best to blog in English as a non-native English speaker. It’s hard!! So please make some mistakes, it will make me look less bad ;)

  5. So I agree w you generally. Volume over perfection. But I wouldn’t be so ready to sacrifice quality to the extent you seem to suggest. There’s more to good writing than good grammar. Interesting subject matter, interesting perspective, readable likable voice. Those are also elements of good writing, which you do employ.

  6. Hey financial Sam,

    Can you do another post about getting a college education while avoiding massive student debts? CA have a this awesome program.

    In CA, you go city college for 2 years and than transfer to a California state university. The first 2 years at the city college can be credited for your freshman and sophomore years at a CA state.

    It better to paid 100 dollars a class like English 101 or statistics at a city college than 500 a class at a CA state. (Unsure about private colleges in CA).

    You’re throwing away 4000$ down the drain by going to a CA state for a semester when you can save that much by going to a city college. That assuming that the student lives with their parents during first 2 years while they attend city college.

    When a student transfer from city college to a CA state, she is already considered a junior and it less competitive since most university students drops out before their junior year. You can also get a discount on housing if you become a floor leader after living in dorms for a year.

    This is how my friend became vet at 24:

    1. Got approval to take 3 easy liberal arts classes in summer at nearby city college when 16 and 17. She was no honor student. It counted as credits for her college degree.

    2. When to city college for 2 years while living with parents. Also took summer classes. Transfer to a Cal state but took a break by joining AmeriCorps for a year after being accepted and got 5000 scholarship.

    3. Live at the dorm for first year as junior than became floor leader and got a discount on housing. Was less competitive since less students applied as incoming juniors.

    4. Graduated with BS and went to UC Davis as undeclared to get vet degree. Volunteer at animal shelters throughout college. (If you applied as undeclared to UC Davis, you have a higher chance of being accepted since so many students are applying for their medicine programs.) Once you get accepted, you can than take classes in science department.

    5. Once she graduated with a vet degree, she was offered an entry level job as a vet asst at an animal shelter she volunteered. She was 24.

    Cool, huh?

  7. Production isn’t easy to achieve, especially if the skill level is not there.

    I was never an avid reader and did not grow up writing much. Therefore, it was hard for me to produce content for my blog.

    I would spend a lot of time re-wording my initial draft and proof reading my work. It took away time from producing content.

    After thinking about it some more, I’ve decided to forgo spending as much time proof reading and more time producing content.

    I’ve made the decision that it was more important to publish 4 non-perfect posts than to produce 1 grammatically perfect one in the same timespan.

  8. This was such a fun read Sam!! And thanks for sharing those grammar rules. English is my first language and I make all of those mistakes all the time. I agree with you that 100% grammatically correct writing can be so boring and stiff. It’s much more entertaining and enjoyable to read conversational style writing like yours!

    The Economist has some great info but that thing literally puts me to sleep within 3-4 minutes because it is SO dry and stiff for my brain to process lol. I can’t remember how many times I’d re-read the same sentence like 3 times and still be like “what?” Lol

    You are a super talented writer and we love how your personality and humor shines through!!!

  9. I don’t pay much attention to grammar when I read things on the Internet. Most of the time I just skim the articles for ideas. These days most people skim so there’s not as much value in perfecting the grammar as increasing production. That being said, I do ask my American partner to correct me whenever he notices something wrong in my English usage. Being able to use the language properly without having to think too hard is a useful skill to have.

  10. I hope your father kept the fact he used grammerly a secret for all this time and took full credit for editing! lol!

  11. Part of me wants to refute the notion that working longer produces more results, but the other part of me agrees. Let’s consider blogging: Our ultimate goal is to scale and reach as many readers as possible, do you agree? No one wants to write to a ghost audience. If that’s true, then would you still believe in writing more yields higher readership (eg 3x per week) or write just enough but promote each piece like it’s a product (eg 1x per week but spend 20% writing and 80% promoting)?

    This is just a question that I contemplate as a new blogger: where do I put my effort that would yield the best outcome? While I agree more production = more results, I’m not sure I agree in working longer. I think working more purposeful yields better results.

    I’ll work partially during holidays but family comes first :) Happy holidays!

    1. It’s true, I and others probably don’t spend enough time promoting. But I just love to write, so write is what I do. Perhaps I should hire a PR person.

      Fortunately, I do get a steady stream of promotional opportunities where reporters/journalists from other organizations ask me for my thoughts. So getting mentioned by them helps.

      Happy Holidays!

  12. Honestly, I find your less than crisp writing softens the edge of the financial industry top 1% salary targets and crazy San Francisco expenses that alienates lot of people. You could come across as a real a-hole talking about that stuff, but the writing makes clear you don’t put yourself above everybody else and are just out there hustling too.

    1. This is good feedback, which is why I’m going back to basics in 2020 and beyond. No more talking about the cost of living where I live or share as many details on target passive income numbers etc.

      It’s much better to talk about average numbers to appeal to more people. My goal is to live in other peoples’ reality and not so much my own. It’s also better to write more generic articles without any opinions, just facts.

      I think it’ll be a great challenge. Thank you for your feedback!

      1. Don’t lose your “voice” though! Wouldn’t want FS to becoming BORING, or sleep inducing a la The Economist. ;)

  13. Something is fishy here… You have me by 1% on the productivity but all other percentiles are the exact same…Alex may need to check the algorithm.

    Keep grinding. Love your work, and have never noticed the poor grammar (probably because I also have poor grammar).

    A lot of redlines in this comment but I’m posting anyway.

    1. Very interesting! There is a possibility that they just give a generic score or there was an error that week. Please send me a link to your writing and I can compare your stuff with my stuff.

      If you are in the 98% for production, I assume u have a blog too?

  14. Financial Freedom Countdown

    Ha. I just realized that I don’t see any issues with your writing. Must be the fact that I am an immigrant who did all my education in a third world country.

    I don’t even use an editor; although I could consider enlisting my mom for help. She is still amused I write a blog and was featured in Forbes. I guess parents who see all your flaws are hard to please.


    You need to work on your gramma. Yet, I read what you write because it is interesting and you have something to say that is important. Correct gramma will enhance this, but the contents is the overriding thing that leads people to read what you wrote; not correct gramma.


  16. Getting ahead is indeed about production, however production is not about working harder or longer. Every single one of my competition worked harder and longer than I did, I was just smarter and more clever and produced more value with less effort and fewer hours worked. Talent obliterates hard work. Nobody pays for effort, they play for results.

  17. Paper Tiger

    There will always be smarter, better educated, harder working people than me in the world but at the end of the day, it comes down to who can execute and achieve their objectives. There are a lot of well educated, well-intentioned people who never actually accomplish the things they create in their minds.

    Results matter more than great ideas. If you can execute then you are probably beating 90% of the people you are competing against, no matter the pursuit. Keep moving, keep fighting, don’t get distracted, never give up and you can’t help but come out ahead in life.

    1. This comment is too true. Ideas are cheap. Execution is everything because execution is reality.

  18. Hi Sam,

    I am an immigrant myself (went to high school here) and have been very shy about writing esp in a public forum. My life long dream has been to write a blog/be a writer, but I hesitate to put my work in front of people due to fear of criticism and judgment. So I chose a career in accounting/finance and 10 years down the road I am not satisfied.

    I have not utilized Grammarly yet, does it really help with editing especially run on sentences, etc?

    I am definitely inspired by your post to write more. Thanks for the article!

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