I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. I do not have a full-time job, nor any real urgency to get one. So, I find myself in a fortunate position where I have sole control over how I spend most of my time.
The questions that I’m thinking about lately revolve around how I want to spend my days and what I want to do with my life. I think these questions are worth thinking a lot about. After all, time is the scarcest resource we all have. So what will I do with mine? What will I do with my days, weeks, months, years, and life? Those are the questions that I like to think about.
Fundamentally, I want to live a life well-lived. If I could have a moment to look back just before I die, I’d like to think that I really lived — that I did life right, not according to anyone else’s definition, but according to my own. I’d like to have done some things that felt good and meaningful, and to have enjoyed the ride. That is why I try to do both the things that I want to do and the things I’ll be glad I did.
I want to be happy, sure, but more than that, I want to be great. I want to inch closer and closer to my potential. There’s an unattributed quote that says something like, “the definition of hell is, on your last day on earth, you meet the person you could have been.” I’d like to meet that person and be uncertain as to whether they lived their life any better than I did at all. Maybe that’s heaven.
Recently, a few concepts have been re-occurring in my head fairly relentlessly. I am thinking that is probably because they are really important. The super summarized takeaways from each are as follows:
- Think Big
- Be Unique
- Play All Day
Below is a bit more detail on each including quotes from others and summaries of my interpretations.
One thing about business that people don’t realize: it takes just as much effort to create a small business as it does to create a large one.
Whether you’re Elon Musk or the guy running three Italian restaurants in town, you’re working 80 hours a week; you’re sweating bullets; you’re hiring and firing people; you’re trying to balance the books; it’s highly stressful; and it takes years and years of your life.
In one case, you get companies worth $50-$100 billion and everyone’s adulation. In the other, you might make a little bit of money and you’ve got some nice restaurants. So think big.Naval Ravikant (Source)
I believe that it’s easier to do a hard startup than an easy startup. People want to be part of something exciting and feel that their work matters.
If you are making progress on an important problem, you will have a constant tailwind of people wanting to help you. Let yourself grow more ambitious, and don’t be afraid to work on what you really want to work on.
If everyone else is starting meme companies, and you want to start a gene-editing company, then do that and don’t second guess it.
Follow your curiosity. Things that seem exciting to you will often seem exciting to other people too.Sam Altman (Source)
It’s much easier to work on things that are exciting to you
It might be easier to do big things than small things for this reasonNat Friedman (Source)
Big businesses are not that much harder than small businesses. Big projects tend to be more exciting to work on, which makes them easier for you to work on, and more attractive to others who may be able to help. Considered together, big things may not be harder than small things at all, and the payoff is much greater. So, you might as well think big.
The key thing to develop over time is, what are you going to be incredibly awesome at? There’s a great quote I discovered reading a Pat Riley book 20 years ago where he’s quoting Jerry Garcia from The Grateful Dead. He says “you don’t want to be the best at what you do, you want to be the only one who does what you do.” You want to develop strengths that are unique or world-class over time that become your competitive advantage and you want double down on those as much as possible and find companies and roles that leverage them to your maximum potential.Keith Rabois (Source)
Don’t aim to be the best. Be the only. That’s a very high bar because it requires a tremendous amount of self-knowledge and awareness to get to that point to really understand what it is that you do better than anyone else in the world. And for most of us, it takes all of our lives to figure that out. And we also by the way need family, friends, colleagues, customers, clients, everyone around us to help us understand what it is that we do better than anyone else, because you can’t really get there by yourself. You can’t do “thinkism”. You can’t think your way there. You have to try to live it out and that’s why most people’s remarkable lives are full of detours and dead ends and right turns, because it’s a very high bar, but if you can get there, you don’t need a resume, there’s no competition, and it’s easy for you because you’re doing it. You’re not looking over your shoulder. You’re just right there. So, don’t aim to be the best. Be the only.Kevin Kelly (Source)
If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:
1. Become the best at one specific thing.
2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.
The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.Scott Adams (Source)
You don’t just want to be the best at what you do. You want to be the only one who does what you do. Then you have no competition. You are the best by default. Find and combine your strengths and apply them together in a way that is completely unique. Then go all in on whatever that is. That will be your personal monopoly. Incorporating the previous point, try to make it a big monopoly, but make sure it’s still a monopoly.
Play All Day.
To this day, I don’t enjoy working. I enjoy playing, and figuring out how to connect playing with business. To me, that’s my niche. People talk about my work ethic as a player, but they don’t understand. What appeared to be hard work to others was simply playing for me.”Michael Jordan (Source)
What feels like play to you, but looks like work to others?Naval Ravikant (Source)
The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.Steve Jobs (Source)
Lastly, just play. Find something you love to do and just play all day. Play in a way that looks like work to others. You cannot work hard enough to beat the person who is playing because they can play longer than you can work. They can play all day every day. So you have to play. You have to love what you do. Loving what you do is a great end goal in and of itself, but it is also a means, the only means to doing great work. Relating the previous points, any area in which you play may be an area where you can be great. Combine a few of these areas to find something only you can do, to find your personal monopoly, then make it big.
In closing, let’s consider these three principles in reverse order.
Find what you love to do, what feels like play to you but looks like work to others. Consider which of those things you are strongest at and most likely will be able to develop further. These should be things that you love to do — things that feel like play. If they were not, you would probably not be that strong at them. Once you have a list of those things, consider how you can combine two or a few of them in a way that seems like it could be big, while remaining unique.
Ask yourself, how can you play your way to a massive personal monopoly? How can you become the only one who does what you do? These questions and quotes may help, but the answer is unlikely to be so formulaically findable. Like Kevin Kelly said, it may be the case that, “You can’t think your way there. You have to try to live it out.” Personally, I don’t think I’ve found my thing. In fact, I’m pretty darn sure I haven’t.
I didn’t write this in hopes of doing so, but I do believe that with all this in mind, just for having written it, I will be better prepared to recognize once I’ve found it. Hopefully, that will allow me to go all in on the right thing once it appears. As a bonus, maybe this will help you too.
Think big. Be unique. Play all day.
Think big. Be unique. Play all day.
Think big. Be unique. Play all day.