Retirement

There is one market which I think has the potential to grow significantly over the next few years: retirement. At present, many people believe that you should work until you reach the age of 65 or 70, and then spend the rest of your days “relaxing” because you have earned it based on the amount of work you have done in the past. However, I have trouble comprehending the concept of retirement.

It doesn’t make sense that we believe that we should work during a certain period of our life, and then just stop working and accomplish nothing else. I am not sure where the original notion of retirement came from — and how it became so embedded into our culture — but I am not sure why anyone would think that after a certain year, they should not work again. Indeed, they may have accomplished great things in their life and do indeed deserve a break, but that does not mean that they should retire in the traditional sense and stop working. Saving X dollars and then living a life without work sounds very boring. Indeed, I am still a young person and have not experienced retirement, but I am not sure that I would ever want to stop working because I reached a certain age.

Many people with whom I have spoken in the past — namely family members — are counting down the years to retirement. Upon further analysis, this signals that they are not happy with what they are doing right now: if they were, they wouldn’t be so excited to stop working. I am not sure why people justify their not working in a good job by saying that they will be able to retire and do whatever they want in a few decades. The thing is that our culture believes that retirement is your reward for hard work, and that it represents the best time in your life. You have worked hard for a few decades, and now you deserve the ability to relax. Some people don’t get this privilege — they need to work after they would like to retire — but for those that do, I don’t think retirement should be about relaxing on a beach and letting your remaining days pass by.

As we get older, our capacity to do more ambitious things is reduced. In retirement planning, for example, investment advisors say that the closer you are to retirement, the more conservative your portfolio should be — you don’t want to go all-in in tech stocks and risk losing your money. However, if you are younger, you can afford to take that risk because you have longer to earn back your money. (although you should have a diversified portfolio anyway). I am not going to debate modern portfolio theory here, but suffice to say that we take less risks when we get older. This makes sense, because if we take a big risk when we are close to retirement that fails, we may end up losing a significant amount of our retirement savings. Even though most people are not in the position to do something incredibly ambitious at an older age, that does not mean that it can’t happen.

I think that we should change our definition of “retirement”. Right now, we view retirement as the period where we no longer have to work because we have already given society most of what we can, and we want to relax in our final years. However, I think that retirement should be the point where you are in a good financial position, and are doing work that you enjoy doing. What does that mean though? Work that you enjoy doing is the work that you find value in doing, and would do for free if nobody were to pay you. This implies that we should not stop working after we hit “retirement age”, but rather we should find something that we enjoy doing, and keep working on it. Doing nothing is boring; doing something is interesting; having an impact on the world feels amazing.

What should I do after retirement? Rather than spending all of your time relaxing, retirement should be a period of consistent personal growth. After all, you have the rest of your life ahead of you, and so spending a little time on self-improvement is worth it. In sum, retirement is a great opportunity to build new habits, and cultivate new routines to help you become a better person. I think that after retirement we should also continue to acquire new knowledge. Retirement should be a period of reading, learning about new topics, going to watch lectures at a local college, or doing something that allows you to improve your skills. Constantly learning new things keeps us engaged in our society, and for those who want to retire, it should be no different.

Retirement is also a great opportunity to be creative and pursue projects that you would perhaps not have considered previously. Perhaps you decide to start painting, or write a book. Even if you are not good at these things to start with, you will have enough time in retirement to refine your skills, and create something great. If you want to create a great painting, you will first end up painting 50 good and 50 bad paintings. In retirement, you have the freedom to be more creative, and use your mind to continue to contribute to society. Indeed, you may not be employed in a traditional job, but that does not mean you cannot have an impact on the lives of others. You could write a memoir about your life and publish it. Even if only a few dozen people buy it, you have still accomplished a major goal — documenting your life, and writing a book — and so your time has been well-spent.

Anyway, back to the retirement market. I feel that in the future, the retirement market will grow significantly as people explore new opportunities to better use their time in retirement. Recently, I watched a news video wherein a local college was offering Baby Boomers the chance to attend a course for only a few dollars. The college was interested in helping these people acquire more knowledge, and allow other students to benefit from the differing perspectives of those who have already retired. This provided the retired people a great opportunity to expand their knowledge and continue to work toward meaningful goals. Perhaps more colleges will do this, or private market bootcamps will start to offer courses to retired people as well for a reduced amount. We are already starting to see “returnships” which aim to help older people break into new industries. Education is only one part of the market though.

If society moves from the view that retirement is about relaxing to thinking that retirement is a great opportunity to be creative, a number of other opportunities emerge. Perhaps a job board for part-time retired people, or a platform where retired people can help out in teaching local classes at a community college in their field of expertise, could emerge. Perhaps there will be more online communities that start to give retired people the ability to share their experiences and stay accountable to their goals (this will be more effective as technological literacy increases due to the fact that generations who started to grew up with technology around them get older). These are only a few of many opportunities that I can think of in the market.

Retired people — like everyone else — want to have a sense of purpose. They have access to a large amount of spare time that they can use to pursue a large number of creative projects that would allow them to have an impact on society, even if it is just a small impact. In the future, I think that those who have retired will start to see their newfound time as an opportunity for personal growth — to refine their knowledge and develop new skills — rather than an opportunity to relax. I don’t think I will ever “retire” in the traditional sense of the word; I will continue to use my time to do something meaningful. Retirement doesn’t have to mean that you stop working. Benjamin Franklin, for example, was elected to the Continental Congress at the age of 69, and edited and signed the Declaration of Independence. Ben Franklin was retired from publishing at this point, but he still strived to make a difference.

Retirement doesn’t mean that you should stop; if anything, do more. Learn. Build. Create. Use your time meaningfully.

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Defining Your Principles

Yesterday I wrote a Tweet which asked what important lessons schools do not teach that people should still learn. There was no correct answer to this question, but the amount of responses I received on this Tweet reminded me of just how many things traditional education misses in their curricula. The commonality among a lot of the responses to this Tweet was the importance of defining values, being ethical, or working from first principles in some form. Although I did not mention values in my initial Tweet, I believe that defining one’s values — or principles — should be taught at the earliest possible stage in schools.

Right now, students are taught the basics of values in classrooms. They are taught about the importance of being honest, being helpful, and generally being nice to other people. However, there is a greater opportunity which lies in this topic that schools should explore in more depth: teaching students how to develop their own principles. Indeed, being kind, helpful, and honest are important, but there is a lot more that should be taught in this area. After all, in society, people want to work with other people who share the same principles as them. Most founders want to work with people who value integrity because they themselves hold the characteristic, and believe it is a necessary component for success.

Having a defined set of principles makes it easy for us to think from the ground up, and to develop our own opinions on a particular subject. If we held closely the principle that traditional education was not in our best interests, then that should serve as the logical basis for our developing a reasoned argument to support our stance. If, however, we were not to define this as a principle, it would be easier for other people to sway us in the other direction and discourage us from pursuing the path we think is best, in favor of the path they think is best for us. Values and principles are important among people who are going to subvert the norm — the non-conformists — as having an internal compass can help them stay on track, even when the world thinks they are wrong.

Having your own values reduces your dependency on politics, gossip, and society — three unreliable sources of information — to help you develop your own thoughts on a particular subject. Politics is divisive; gossip is incomplete and biased; society will always only give you half of the story, or less. Principles help us think from the ground up, using our first principles, rather than forcing us to depend on the opinions of others to validate our views. Principles help us develop a clearer view of the world based on our deeply-rooted beliefs about the world — the things that other people may not see, but make up our identity — and ultimately helps us stay on track toward our goals. If we are dependent on politics and society to help us achieve our goals, then we will always be doing what someone else thinks we are doing, rather than what we believe we should be doing.

With that in mind, I believe one of — if not the most — important principles that people should develop is a sense of integrity. Although this is taught in schools in some form, many people would not be able to define the word integrity at a young age, and students lack real-world experience about how they should practice integrity. Having a sense of integrity ensures that we will always guard our beliefs, even if someone else disputes them. Those who instill the value of integrity are less likely to compromise or give up when times get tough, because their internal compass does not agree with that notion. One way to tell if someone has integrity is by analyzing their interactions with other people in their life. Do they treat the waiter or waitress in a nice way, or are they mean and hostile? Do they treat their friends like family, or do they only develop relationships to advance their own best interests? People who hold integrity as a value are generally long-term thinkers, because they have a firm — almost irrational — belief in the work they are doing. This does not mean they are arrogant — indeed, most people with integrity are often open to hearing new perspectives — but rather than they don’t believe that the opinions of others should dictate the nature of their work.

Integrity is one of the most difficult values to cultivate, yet it is immensely valuable in one’s career. Warren Buffett, for example, has held on to certain companies for longer than some other people have said he should, because he believed in the work those companies were doing. Buffett was not interested in gaining a few additional percentage points for his portfolio — he valued being principled and ethical over short-term gains. Those with integrity will often find it easier to find great people to work with, because people with integrity naturally group together. They want to work with other people who are not willing to compromise on their values at the expense of others. This effect is particularly apparent among startup founders, who have an irrational — almost egomaniacal — belief that the work they are doing is important. People want to work with those who are willing to defend their own principles — in the long-run, they are better business partners.

Conversely, if you work with someone who has low integrity, then they will find it very difficult to contribute meaningfully to a project — no matter how smart or interesting they are — when they come under scrutiny from an external party. Also, those with low integrity typically value short-term gains over long-term wealth — because they don’t value the principle of long-term thinking — and so are often willing to cash in at the earliest possible stage, even if they are doing meaningful work that could have a larger impact on society in the future. In sum, you should always work with people who have cultivated the value of integrity.

Defining your principles gives you a guide as to how you should act in any given situation. If you value family, then perhaps you will say no to the extra hours your business is offering because you want to spend more time with them. If you value your time, then perhaps you will work to get yourself assigned to a more meaningful project within your job that would allow you to have a greater impact on the business, and society as a whole. If you don’t define your values, then you have to think about how to act in each situation, which not only consumes more mental energy, but also makes you appear more inconsistent among those who spend more time with you.

One principle that I value is being honest and direct. I value working with people who communicate clearly and are value the truth above all else. I value honest because those who are honest are able to provide me with better, and more actionable feedback about my work. The people who are willing to tell me when I done a great job and tell me when I need to improve are the people I want to work with. People who are honest have a belief that the best thing for someone else is knowing the whole truth, which allows them to make more informed decisions about their life and their work. I find that the ability to be direct and honest — especially in tough situations — is a rarity, but that only makes it even more refreshing when I encounter someone who does indeed possess the value of honesty.

The best way to define your principles is to think about the type of person you want to be, rather than the goal you want to achieve in the future. If you want to become a reader, then you should define that as a value. If you value reading, then you are more likely to carve out time in your day to read a few pages. If you want to be a nicer person, then you should cultivate helpfulness as a value. Each day, try to do something uniquely helpful for someone else, and work your way toward making that value part of your identity. Every decision you make is a vote for the type of person you want to be. Developing a set of internal principles will help you navigate the important decisions in your life and ensure that the final decision you make is in line with the person you want to be. Internal principles also assist you in being ethical in all of your actions, which will allow you to cultivate better connections with your friends and family, and attract more people who want to work with you.

Another way to develop your own principles is to surround yourself with people who hold that principle closely. Working in close proximity to principled people can help you gain a firmer understanding of how to implement a certain value in your life. Further, these principled people will only want to work with people who value principles as much as they do, and so you have an additional source of motivation and accountability that will help you stay on track.

Define your principles. Use those principles to make better decisions about your life. Work with ethical people.

  • Reason yourself
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Learning From Failure

One of the key factors that has helped Silicon Valley become so successful is its culture around failure. In SV, failure is considered practice for success, rather than an excuse to give up. Indeed, in other places around the world, starting a business and failing would give many people a reason to never pursue entrepreneurship again. There are a few external factors that would influence this decision, which I shall cover further in this essay, but suffice to say that failure is not generally accepted in society. Failure is, to most people, a bad thing.

One of the main reasons I think failure has become so engrained in our culture as a bad thing is due to the way in which we teach people at school. Schools always optimize for success. Students get awards for getting high grades, and are made to feel amazing every time they win at something — an exam, a race, a test, or something else. Schools want students to succeed as much as possible, and so change their classes so that every student can feel successful in a meaningful way. Schools do not look kindly upon failure — and indeed, the consequences for failure are much greater than in most other parts of life.

If you fail an exam, then you may be held back a year, unable to progress in that subject area, or be subjected to something similar to help you get back on track. Being held back a year is one of the worst possible feelings for a student — they have to learn the same stuff all over again for a year, when only a few months may suffice — and so most students work as hard as possible to not be in that position. Schools tell people that in order to be successful, you need to get good test results, then go to a good college, then go on to pursuing a fruitful career in that field. It makes sense that schools teach people that success is a good thing — failing feels pretty bad — but it is also dangerous that they value attaining success in every situation over handling and learning from failure.

There are a few impacts of this aversion to teaching failure in schools on people. Firstly, because schools optimize for success, children generally feel like they are behind everyone else when they fail. If a child feels like they are behind everyone else in the school, then it will have a significant mental impact on them — they have been taught that failure is a bad thing. Also, because schools optimize for success, then when students fail, everyone else in the class sees the individual differently. If someone is unable to meet the standards that other people in their class have attained, they risk social exclusion, or otherwise being seen differently by others. If we teach people that failure is a bad thing from a young age, they will constantly hold this opinion of the world.

And so the effect continues. People remember the feeling of failing an important test when they were in high school, and that gives them a reason not to pursue ambitious ideas in the future. Schools are based on conformity, and so ambition is not nurtured — students are taught that conformity is a quicker path to success than acting on your ambition. Conformity is outside of the purview of this essay, but it is important to note that learning failure is a bad thing makes us less likely to take risks. Further, because schools don’t teach students about risk management — especially in terms of career and opportunity risk — then often times we lack the information we need to put failure into context. There are some risks where, if we take them, we risk losing only what we have invested, but stand to gain an outsized return for our efforts if we succeed. Starting a startup is a great example of this. If students become scared of failure, it is going to be very difficult for them to comprehend these types of risks as they mature, and they will be less likely to pursue more ambitious ideas that would allow them to gain a lot, but also would risk them losing a little — something we have been taught is a bad thing.

Setbacks and failure in life are an opportunity to become a better person. Another problem with not teaching people about failure in schools is that when life does strike us with a terrible blow, we will be unable to handle it optimally. The truth is that life sometimes doesn’t go our way — we fail, we lose, we miss out on an opportunity. Schools teach that failure is a bad thing, and so when many people suffer a setback, they use it as an excuse to change course. This is the wrong way of thinking. Instead, schools should teach that every problem in life is an opportunity to grow — to become a better person. Indeed, we can learn more from our mistakes and setbacks than we can from being successful all of the time — we know what not to do in the future. If we spend all of our time wallowing in self-pity, then doing something different just because we failed once, then we will never be able to stick around long enough to realize the fruits of our labor.

Upon further reflection, schools are not the only people who are guilty of imposing this view of failure onto society: parents perpetuate this view as well. Parents want their children to succeed — this is a natural feeling — and so they always push their children into playing games where they can win. This often means that they end up playing the wrong games, because they focus on choosing the path where they can lose the least, rather than the path that allows them to become a better person. Indeed, playing a different game is an effective way of living a purposeful life, but the different game you play should be based on passion, not on evading failure. Most of the time, the game we choose is the one where we will fail the least, but this is different than someone else telling us to pursue a different path because they think that it will be better for us. Parents want to shield their children from failure as much as possible because failure feels bad; parents don’t want their children to feel bad. And so parents teach children to pursue safe paths — those where the prospects of living a meaningful life are significantly lessened because our innate sense of ambition and curiosity is not nurtured.

Another source of our current view that failure is wrong may also be from the way we teach and understand history — both inside and outside the context of the classroom. If we reflect on how we have learned about history, we often learn more about the successes of great people than all of the failures that came before their success. Have you ever heard of Traf-O-Data? Traf-O-Data was a partnership between Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Paul Gilbert that aimed to read raw data from roadway traffic counters and create reports for traffic engineers. If Gates had given up after this venture ultimately failed, we would not have Microsoft, the pioneer of many different technological innovations that have changed the world. Often times, biographies don’t teach enough about the failures of successful people. I feel like this is a massive opportunity that has been missed. If we were more aware of the numerous failures of successful people before they became successful — especially in terms of the content we read, such as biographies — then we would most likely be more accepting of failure.

I believe that we all have a right to be wrong. Being taught from a young age that failure is a bad thing is the quickest way to stop someone from being ambitious. Schools don’t like ambition for the most part, because ambitious students can expose the cracks in their system; after all, schools are based on teaching people in cohorts over offering individualized paths, a structure that was chosen because it is easier to manage. If society teaches young people that failure is a bad thing, then many people who have the potential to make a difference will be unable to realize their full potential, because they are scared of failing.

Silicon Valley has generated so much economic value because when someone fails, everyone else recognizes that failure is a step on the journey to success, and they are supported. People in SV don’t see failure as a bad thing, they see it as an opportunity for growth. This is contrary to the traditional view of failure, where if you fail, people see it as an excuse to quit and do something that is easier and has lessened odds of failing. This SV culture of accepting failure has resulted in passionate people continuing to work on what they enjoy doing, even if they have failed in the past. This has resulted in more people becoming successful, because they know that failure is not the end — it is just a step on the road to success.

What we have realized, historically speaking, is that most people in SV have not reached a strong level of success on their first try. Most people who have started successful companies would have likely explored dozens of ideas — perhaps just at the idea stage — before actually committing to a single path. Indeed, many people who have started successful companies have also started companies that have failed in the past. SV is so successful because if a founder fails, other people are willing to offer them support and help them realize that they now have a unique opportunity for personal growth. If SV founders were to quit after failing once, SV would not be the startup hub of the world. To use an example outside of SV,

If we let other people tell us what we should and should not be doing, then we are never going to learn about being wrong. Failure feels bad; it is natural. But rather than seeing it as a reason to give up, we should instead see it as an opportunity for personal growth. Schools, parents, and society often — wrongfully, might I add — says that when you fail, you should immediately stop doing what you are doing, and change courses. Society believes that moving on is the best way to get back on track. However, I think that interpretation of failure — the one taught in schools — leads us to lose out on a lot of the value that failure provides. When we fail, we are able to reflect on what we have done wrong, which gives us a set of lessons about what not to do in the future. Indeed, the most effective lessons we are taught in life are not shared by teachers, but rather by our minds when reflecting on our past failures.

How can I become an excellent writer? Write every day, even if your articles are really bad. How can I become a successful startup founder? Keep working hard every day, and even if you fail, you should keep trying. This heuristic applies to every aspect of life. Failure is a path to success, but only if we spend time learning from our mistakes, and reflecting on how we can mitigate the risk of making those same risks over again. The commonality between most successful people is that they have never given up when they have failed; failure was a temporary setback, not a permanent condemnation of their ambition.

Failure is good. Successful people become successful by continuously trying; not all of their past work was great.

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Purpose

There is one fundamental question that my thoughts have naturally gravitated toward recently: “What do you want to do with your life?”. I have not been analyzing this question solely from my perspective — as in, what I want to do with my life — but rather looking at it from a higher level, and thinking about how other people should be expected to answer that question. I have recently come to realization about how to effectively answer this question — you can not answer it effectively. Indeed, this is a bad question to ask.

The danger of this question lies in its deceptive simplicity, or rather, that people think it is a good and easy way to start a conversation. People think that it is a very easy question to ask. After all, most people who are asking the question are doing so from a position of having everything figured out — or at least, so they say. And so this has become a conversation starter. A very common question by people — parents, friends, extended family, professors — is “what do you want to do with your life?” because it comes to mind quickly, and it is assumed that people have an idea of what they want to do. In truth, it is very difficult for people to actually tell others what they want to do with their life. Everyone sees this as a simple question because it comes to mind easily, but, it is actually one of the most difficult questions to answer. This is evident by my aforementioned conclusion — you cannot answer this question effectively.

I have recently pursued a path of “finding myself”. On this path, I have learned a lot about who I am as a person, and who I think I want to be in the future. I initially started by asking myself what I wanted to do with my life, but now, benefiting from the power of hindsight, I realize that I was asking the wrong question. By asking myself what I wanted to do with my life, every decision became a life decision. Whether I should pursue a certain project, write a paper, et cetera, all became life decisions, and I always felt as if everything I done was incredibly important. This meant that I was left with little room to innovate and be my true self, because I was always concerned with the pressure of answering the question “Is writing this paper really what I want to do?”. You can’t find yourself by asking what you want to do with your life, because if you do, everything becomes a life decision, and you start to realize you have less freedom to experiment, to explore, and to learn more about yourself.

Perhaps the worst I have ever felt in my life — and I don’t often remark on my negative thoughts — was a few weeks ago when someone had made a comment about my work, and I asked myself whether what I was doing was really what I wanted to be doing. I thought that I had lost my sense of purpose because I no longer had an internal voice telling me that I was doing a great job and that everything would work out in the end. Upon further analysis and reflection, my reaction to what they said was because I am playing a long-term game, and they were more concerned about my short-term progress. Suffice to say that the feeling that I didn’t know what my purpose was felt horrible, especially considering the fact I had spent the previous few months trying to find my purpose. I tried to get back on track by asking myself what I wanted to do with my life, but it turned out that was an ineffective way of doing things — self-fulfillment can only be obtained by looking into the past and reflecting on your life, rather than something that should be set as a goal.

The thing that I realized after this all happened was that I had already found my purpose, I was just not conscious of it. My writing about Income Share Agreements and education — although it may not seem interesting to many people — is my purpose. I find value in doing research in the space because I am able to explore something completely new, and learn something new every day. I am uniquely positioned to realize substantial growth in the future because my research is being recognized in a high-growth industry that has very little professional research available. When I am writing, I feel a sense of purpose. I feel that my writing can have a direct impact on someone else’s thought patterns. Indeed, I do not confer advice, but rather knowledge and wisdom. The thought that someone may benefit from reading about my perspective on a certain matter in the ISA space gives me the motivation I need to continue. I have the power to change minds, and to impact societal change on a high level through my writing, even if one article will not change everything.

When I started with my research, I did not see it as a viable career path. I didn’t realize that Income Share Agreements or life capital had became my passion — they were just a hobby for me. At the time, I was too busy focusing on answering the question what I wanted to do with my life, and so I decided to manifest what I thought would be fulfilling. In actuality, however, it was the work that I was already doing that gave me a sense of purpose. It was only when someone remarked on the eloquence and potential impact of my work that I realized it could be a viable career.

That leads me to conclude the following: purpose is to be found from a position of reflection. I realized that I had found my purpose because I could look back and say to myself “I really enjoyed writing this article”. When people come to me and say they have read my work and enjoyed my perspective, it reminds me that what I am doing right now is what I want to do in the future — inspire thoughts in other people’s minds. It is only through reflection that we can discover whether or not what we have done is what we want to do. Introspection helps us gain a firmer understanding of our selves, and gives us the opportunity to analyze our past work, and figure out what we found fulfilling and purposeful.

This emphasizes the importance of living in the moment. We spend too much time looking forward to the future that we never embrace what is going on now — what actually affects our thoughts and feeling today. If you go on a pursuit to discover what you want to do with your life, you will realize that you are always looking into the future, rather than now. The thing about the future is that it never comes — there is, and will only ever be, now. If you spend all of your time looking for a sense of purpose and trying to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, then you will not be able to fully appreciate the value you derive from the work you are already doing. You will always be on a path to doing something else, and you will ultimately overlook what makes you your own person.

When you start to focus on what matters most to you right now — in the moment — then you will realize what your true purpose actually is. Purpose cannot be found by looking into the future, but rather analyzing your life today, and figuring out what you can do to become your best self. It is about making good decisions in the moment about who you want to be, and taking pleasure in every action that you take. Analyzing your life in the moment will allow you to discover the passions and qualities in your life that you previously ignored because you thought they were not your true passion, or that they are not a viable career path. Ultimately, if you are passionate enough about something, it should become a career path. Spending your entire life asking yourself what you want to do with your life implies that what you are doing right now isn’t worth anything — you are always looking for something new. Realizing that what you are doing right now is already a step in the right direction is the motivator you need to discover your full potential.

This is just my personal journey — indeed, I expect most other people will have their own thoughts on this subject. That being said, I cannot help but state the importance of living in the moment, and reflecting on the past and thinking about what made you happy then. When I look back over the last month, I see myself writing, talking about my work with others, and helping others with their work. I derive great value and purpose from that. Steve Jobs famously asked himself the question “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today.”. This question forces the reader to consider the exact value that their tasks for the next day were to provide, and the opportunity to think about what tasks they can eliminate from their day that provide them with little value.

I cannot answer the question “What do you want to do with your life?” because I am focused on what is going on right now, and working toward making this moment great. Indeed, I do have a set of personal goals and do frequently plan things in advance — this is a critical part of being a human. However, I am more focused on what is going on in the moment, and reflecting on what I need to do to grow as a person, and feel a sense of fulfillment every day — not just some day in the distant future. Perhaps in ten years I will be doing something completely different — who knows. But all I care about is that right now, I feel fulfilled.

Don’t ask yourself the question “What do I want do with my life?”. Reflect on your last month and think about what has made you feel happy and purposeful, however small. Stay in the moment.

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Playing the Long-Term Game

Most people are playing short-term games — they are more interested in immediate feedback than compounding effects. The prospects of a quick reward for their work — a bonus, new title, recognition, et cetera — are more important to them than what they may stand to gain if they play a long-term game, where those returns are in the distant future. I have heard a lot of people use the term “luck” in Silicon Valley to describe how they got to where they are today. I don’t believe this was luck, but rather the results of conscious decisions they have made in the past to adopt a long-term mindset. Indeed, serendipity may be a factor in success, but most of those serendipitous interactions were a by-product of something that someone has done in the past, that has compounded over time.

The short-term game is easier to play, hence why most people pursue the path. Most people would rather have a bonus now than a significantly higher salary in the distant future. The absence of a strong feedback loop in long-term decisions means that most people are reluctant to make these decisions — they don’t know if what they are doing is right for a long time. The lack of a feedback loop also makes it more difficult to stick to long-term decisions, because if one does not see measurable progress in your work, then they have an excuse to quit what they are doing and move back to the short-term game. Successful people are willing to sacrifice the prospects for an immediate gain, in exchange for the ability to realize an outsized gain in the future. Because most people choose the short-term path, they stand to gain more by taking the risk associated with playing the long game. If you are doing what everyone else is doing, then you should expect the same results that they realize.

Those who are playing the short-term game have a mindset focused on immediate — or closely imminent — rewards, rather than those which could be realized in the distant future. Short-term people are willing to put off the ability to earn a massive return in the future, in exchange for realizing a small return now. This type of thinking is encoded into our genetics. The earliest humans used to eat all the food they found as soon as they found it, because they were hungry and were interested more in survival. We now have access to better resources — and food, to refer back to the previous example — and so playing the long-term game is more viable, but is still difficult because human nature does not support the long-term game.

The short-term game is appealing to most people because they get an immediate reward. If someone does a great job on something and earns a promotion shortly after, they will be happy. The danger is that they may then start to work less because they are in a better position where they are not being monitored so closely, or their incentive to work hard has disappeared because they have reached their goal.

They were playing the short-term game. They wanted the position and got it, but the individual likely would have been able to realize a better return if their goal had been to work hard every day, rather than earn a promotion — they would be focused more on the process than the output. The short-term game is attractive, which is why most people play it over the long-term game. Why should you go to the gym when you can go grab a coffee and eat a muffin instead? Why should you spend more time with your family now when you can play video games and spend time with them another day? Why should you learn about something boring when you can learn about the life of a famous person and impress other people? Why should you read a research report when you can just read the conclusion and pretend you read the whole thing?

Short-term people are about taking shortcuts to realize a quick reward. Once that reward has been achieved, the individual will most onto the next thing, and the next thing, and the loop will continue. Long-term people adopt a different mindset. They recognize the fact that the longer you play a certain game, the more rewards you stand to yield. Playing the long-game may require immediate sacrifices, but will allow you to come out on top and will become easier to play over time as you enter into a routine and adopt a strong mindset focused on the long-term. For example, a long-term person would say that going to the gym is better than grabbing a coffee because going to the gym will allow them to become healthier. As they keep going to the gym, it will become easier for them to get into the mindset of going to the gym, and it will quickly become part of their identity. Their small effort to go to the gym will compound over time, and long-term thinkers are more interested in this compounding effect than immediate gratification.

Short-term people are fine with going to grab a coffee over going to the gym because they will not realize any significant negative effects by drinking the coffee. They will not become very unhealthy, and they will not become addicted to caffeine in the moment. The problem is that short-term people keep making these in-the-moment decisions until their effects reach a point where they cannot be ignored. The adverse is also true. Short-term thinkers believe that doing something good like going to the gym for one day will not help them, which they use as an excuse to justify not going at all. They don’t focus on the compound interest effect; they are only interested in the immediate gratification that would come from relaxing or going to grab a coffee, over going to the gym.

Going to the gym for one day will not make you healthy. Eating an apple over a chocolate bar will not make you healthy either. Reading a few pages of a book will not make you smart. Spending an extra ten minutes with a new friend will not make you best friends. Long-term people realize that over time, the benefits of these things will compound. Going to the gym for a month will make them more healthy, and put them on track to becoming as healthy as they desire. Reading a few pages of a book for a month will make them smarter, and put them on track to reaching their goal. Long-term people focus on the weeks, months, and years ahead, and realize that the benefits of compound interest stack up. The accumulation of all of the benefits to be realized by doing one specific thing provides them with the motivation they need to continue.

Playing the long-game, as aforementioned, requires you to make a small sacrifice in the name of becoming a better person. Rather than spending $5 on a coffee, you would put that money into your retirement fund to provide you with more financial security in the future. Rather than playing video games, you would go spend an extra ten minutes with your family so you can develop a closer relationship with them. Rather than watching television, you would go to the gym so that you can become healthier over the long-term. These compromises are not attractive, but they are an integral part of playing the long-term game.

The benefits of the long-term game are clear. Saving for the future is a good thing; being healthier is a good thing. Long-term players realize that small decisions in the moment are actually very significant in their life; short-term players do not recognize this fact. If you want to play a long-term game, then you should realize that every decision that may seem minor in the moment, will compound over time. Would you rather feel great after eating a chocolate bar now, or feel excellent when you are very healthy in a few months?

It can be difficult to transition over from the short-term game to the long-term game. It is important to note that we can make a decision at any time over our actions. If we want to become healthier, the first step is going to the gym for one day. Then you should try to go the next day, and the next day. You should adjust your mindset to focus on who you can be in the future and how great you will feel in the future, rather than the fact that you will realize small returns on the day that you went to the gym. Successful people realize that making short-term compromises positions them to realize massive returns in the future.

The concept of compound interest applies in almost every area of our life. Investing a few extra minutes into a relationship will not immediately strengthen the relationship, but over a period of a year, you will become significantly closer with that individual. Going to the gym for a day will not make you as healthy as you want to be on that day, but over the period of a year, you will likely be in the position that you aimed to reach. If you want to play the long-term game, focus not on what is going on right now, but who you want to be in the future. Realize the fact that successful people were willing to get up and work, instead of spending their time watching an hour of Netflix. Think about who you want to be, and think about the small steps you can take today to become that person.

Small actions compound over time; don’t eat a slice of cake, go to the gym. Play the long term game.

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Internally Driven

I have recently wrote that being yourself is a major competitive advantage — nobody can compete with you in being you. Upon further reflection, it should be noted that in order to be one’s self, they need to be internally driven. When someone close to me is unsure about my work, it can occasionally throw me off course, and this is the enemy of authenticity. In my essay, I touched on the importance of grading yourself using your internal scorecard — the values and principles you have cultivated that you want to practice at all times. More broadly, however, it is important to consider the prospects of being internally driven. This topic deserves it’s own essay because it doesn’t just apply to authenticity, it applies to every aspect of our life, especially ambition and careers.

The majority of people we encounter on a day-to-day basis are externally driven. They do work because they seek status in their social groups — they want a prestigious job title, a large home, the ability to name-drop a well-known person. These people are not so interested in yielding high-quality work, but rather conforming to the norms other people have imposed so that they have a better chance of immediate success. Seeking status is a short-term game. Most people looking for a promotion will work hard, but are driven not by the prospects of being able to do better work in the future, but rather the status that the position would bring. They are driven by the validation that post gives, not the personal value it will provide in their life.

There are a few major reasons why I think people default to being externally driven. The first, as mentioned in my essay on authenticity, is that it is easier to follow the crowd than to go on your own path. If you go with the crowd and you are wrong, then at least there will be a few other people that are wrong as well, which will comfort you. Further, the crowd represents the collective wisdom of all of its members, and so it can be very difficult for you to develop the mental strength you need to go against the opinion that so many other people hold. The problem here though is that the crowd is often wrong, and so your following the crowd for security is not a good long-term strategy. We care too much about whether other people think we are doing the right thing; we should care about whether we think we are doing the right thing.

I think that people like to be externally driven because it makes their progress easier to measure. If you are driven by your salary, your job title, or something similar, it can be very easy to measure your progress. “This year I was appointed Head of Sales” is easier to evaluate than progress that people who are internally driven are making. This is because, as aforementioned, people who are internally driven are usually playing a long-term game. We seek validation in most of our endeavors, and so following the crowd makes it easy for us to get an immediate source of validation, which assists us in measuring our progress over time. Job titles and the approval of others in our work is easier to track than our internal will. That being said, these goals are not likely going to add a significant amount of benefit to your life in the long-term. If you follow the crowd on one decision, do you think they will all remember your input in a year? Conversely, if you don’t follow the crowd on one decision, do you think they will remember your input in a year?

Many successful people have attained their level of success because they have not been afraid to look wrong in the short-term, but know that they may be able to look right in the long-term. They don’t give in to external calls for them to stop their work because other people don’t believe in their work; they are driven by their passion for meeting a certain goal. Smart people often default to being internally driven because they are focused on inspiring a certain change in the world or accomplishing something that will provide a lot of people with value, and they understand that it can take some time for that to happen.

Being internally driven is more optimal for a variety of reasons. Firstly, if you are internally driven, then you will be pursuing a social change or aim to change someone’s way of thinking, rather than immediate wealth. You are not looking to get a higher salary or a new job title in the short-term, you are looking to change the norm in the long-term. Generally, people who are internally driven are more attached to their core principles than those who are externally driven — they understand that holding onto their values will be a critical component of their success. Naval has framed this very well by saying that being ethical is being greedy over the long-term. People who are internally driven get access to a significant amount of upside, and they are able to access that upside by not compromising their values in pursuit of an immediate status boost.

Being internally driven can also keep you going when you have already achieved a certain goal. Let’s say that you aimed to start a successful blog. If you are internally driven, then you will care more about maintaining the blog and guiding it to future success. If you are externally driven, then you will likely care more about finding ways to get additional status out of the blog — finding sponsors so you can make money, doing more interviews, even if your target audience would derive little benefit from them, et cetera. Internally driven people know that even when you reach a goal, there is always room for personal growth. Externally driven people will always go to the next goal and seek more social status along the way. These people will often give up quicker when something fails as well, which limits their ability to access all of the potential upside their work would create. Being internally driven will help you reach higher levels of success after you reach your initial goals.

It is really important to understand a person’s motivation before you work with them. I always try to figure out what motivates people to do the work they are interested in, because it gives me a greater insight into their thought patterns and vision of the world. I am less interested in working with someone who is looking for a great project to help them get a promotion, than someone who has an ambitious goal for the future that could be wrong, but they are driven internally to accomplish that goal. It is indeed difficult to determine one’s motivations, but you can usually tell by the way they approach certain tasks.

It is very difficult to become internally driven, but it is worth it. In order to be internally driven, it is important to focus not on the outcome of your work, but rather the journey you are taking. My goal for this blog is not to reach a certain amount of followers — I write because I want to better articulate my thoughts and share them with the world. I understand that writing consistently over the long-term may help me become successful because writing compounds. But I am not interested in people sharing every article I write, because ultimately it is the process of writing that I enjoy more than the prospects of an article going viral.

It is difficult to think about the journey more than the immediate status boosts you could get if you become externally driven. Internalize the fact that sacrificing short-term gains is part of the journey to long-term success — successful people know that winning one game is not important, but winning the sum of all games is. If you are invested in the journey, it is easier to respond to those who do not believe in your path, because you know that the only way you can stop is if you compromise your values. These values are part of you, and so you will be less likely to give into external pressure when you are pursuing an ambitious idea.

Disregard those who don’t see the world the way you do — if you see the world differently, you are already ahead of the game. Think in the long-term. Don’t seek immediate status boosts. Be internally driven.

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Authenticity

Humans are naturally driven to follow the crowds. We believe in doing what everyone else is doing because it gives us a feeling of acceptance — we are similar to everyone else. Humans naturally do not want to take big risks, because doing so could cause them to lose that acceptance. Therefore, we are unable to reach our full potential because we are always chasing what other people are doing. Although following the crowds can be good in some situations — it has been a critical part of our evolution — it becomes dangerous when we start to compromise our own values that we have internalized, just so that we can be like everyone else. We seek the admiration of our peers, but compromising our values to do so is not worth it.

The problem is that the masses are never right, especially in areas such as startups and finance. If all of the articles saying that the oil sector is a great investment opportunity were indeed accurate, everyone would be rich. This information would be publicly available, and so there is nothing stopping anyone from following the advice of the article which says that oil is a great investment opportunity, and then earning money. Everyone in entrepreneurship and finance is looking to develop an unfair advantage over everyone else, and often this lies in the ability to be one’s self. If you act based on your values in investing, you may lose out on a few opportunities, but ultimately you will prevail. Acting on your values means that you don’t care about what the crowd is doing, but rather what you think is right. This is especially important in starting a company — if you pay too much attention to what everyone else is doing, then it will be very difficult for your company to stay relevant.

Naval is famous for saying that you can “escape competition through authenticity”. If everyone is following a certain path, then the only ways that you can really get ahead are to either be better than everyone else, or to pursue a different path. For example, let’s say that you were going to attend Wharton Business School to study business management. Most people that pursue this path are likely expecting to get a job in business development, consulting, or operations in the future, and so they optimize their lives around that specific goal. Unless you are better than everyone else — which is often an illusion — then it is very difficult for you to set yourself apart from them. You all attended Wharton, and you all have the same experience. When we are competing, we often end up pursuing paths driven by status — to get a diploma, to be seen as great by our network — which end up making us just like everyone else. Pursuing status is an inefficient use of our time for a few reasons. The most notable, however, is that we end up competing for what other people want and what other people think we should want, rather than what we actually want.

If you want to get ahead, then you need to play a different game. There is one element of playing a different game which is often overlooked, yet is very important to understand: being authentic. No-one can compete with you being yourself. If you are authentic and act like yourself in all situations, then nobody will be able to get ahead — they are not you. Who could be the next Elon Musk? Who could be the next Jeff Bezos? There will be nobody who is similar to these people, because they prioritized authenticity — they cared more about being themselves than being just like everyone else. Entrepreneurs are inherently authentic, because in order to succeed, they have to go against societal norms and pursue a non-traditional path. If an entrepreneur isn’t unique, then they will struggle to hire or raise capital, because people want to work for and invest in visionaries and people who act authentic, rather than those who give in to popular opinion so that they are accepted.

Warren Buffett also has a few great thoughts on authenticity. One of the most important characteristics that Buffett has is that he is principled, and works on his own “inner scorecard”. He is not willing to compromise his values in order to advance his personal wealth, or achieve a certain goal. Buffet famously stated “Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover?”. If we consider this in more depth, we realize that doing whatever you can to seek validation from others is often to the detriment of our values, and ultimately makes us feel less authentic. To use another example, it shouldn’t matter if everyone thinks you are an excellent entrepreneur. It should matter that you think you are an excellent entrepreneur. Often times founders look for validation and end up coming up short, because at the earliest stages of a company, you have to be willing to risk social disapproval and go with your instincts in order to succeed.

The aim of life — if such a thing were to exist — should not be to accumulate a significant amount of capital, but rather to live a fulfilling life. After all, we only have one chance to live our life, and so we should optimize for being ourselves. We should spend our time working hard on the things we love doing, and that means that we need to stop working on everything that other people think we should work on. College is a great example here. If I were to not want to pursue college but let my parents convince me to do so, even though I knew it was not the right path, then I would have compromised one of the values on my inner scorecard — integrity. Although in the moment it may seem great because my parents are now proud and have stopped trying to convince me to go to college, how would I feel within a few years? It is very likely that I would regret pursuing college because someone else told me to, when I knew at the time that it was not the path that would allow me to thrive.

How does one go about cultivating their inner scorecard? There is no specific guide to doing this. Rather, your inner scorecard consists of all of the values that you want to practice in your life. If you don’t believe in the ability of college to accelerate your career, then you should not allow others to push you into going to college. If you don’t believe in selling off investments in favor of higher-earning ones — Buffet has famously held onto his investments for the long-term, even if better investment opportunities were available — then you should not allow others to push you into doing this. Everyone else may sell off their less profitable investments in favor of a short-term return, but those that don’t are acting on their beliefs, and are likely to be right in the long-term.

Being yourself is a competitive advantage. Buffett cared more about wealth — being happy, having a good life, et cetera — than money. In the investing case, working from your inner scorecard has allowed you to act more ethically, even if it has caused you to realize a lesser return. The thing to consider is that there is more to life than money — our values define us. If we act with integrity in all situations — even those where money is on the table — we will be able to stand out from the crowd because most people would pursue wealth over practicing their internal values. Money, fame, public acceptance, et cetera are only one component of life — the most important part is how satisfied we feel with our life, our work, and our impact on others.

The one value that I try to cultivate every day is being myself. For example, rather than learning a certain skill because other people in my network have that skill, I instead look to my inner scorecard and consider whether I will derive any value from learning that skill. The rise of social media has caused a lot of us to adopt inauthentic identities — we want to be like a venture capitalist or founder who has received a lot of publicity. Consider this: how did they get there? Most successful people got to where they are today by being themselves, and never compromising their values when it could indeed allow them to become more successful. Most of my work consists of the things which I am really good at, because I am passionate about those areas. I don’t try to do things that I know I am not good at, but rather double down on my defining characteristics.

Consider what makes you unique, and invest more time and energy into exploring that area in more depth. I am good at writing, conducting research, thinking independently, and have a passion for Income Share Agreements. I am not competing to be the best person in venture capital or entrepreneurship — two areas that are not relevant to my goals. I am competing to be the best person in the ISA market, where I have a unique advantage — my passion and prior research. It may be difficult for you to be the best banker or investor in the world, but there will be at least one area where you can become the best in the world, if you are always authentic and act based on your principles. Interestingly, if you be yourself, other people who also value authenticity will naturally gravitate toward you. Being yourself is difficult, and so many people in society value those who take the time to cultivate the value.

No-one can compete with you being you. The masses are never right. Don’t compromise your values to seek validation in the short-term — work from your inner scorecard and work over the long-term.

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Advice

Every day we will hear people give advice to others. Sometimes, it starts with “Let me give you some advice…”, and other times it is more informal. Everyone, even those who lack relevant experience, gives advice to other people in some forms. Perhaps it is about how to approach a certain problem that a team is facing. Or perhaps it is about how to live your life. I have been thinking a lot lately about the usefulness of advice, and, upon further reflection, the extent to which advice can assist you is limited.

The main problem with advice is that it is given based on one’s personal experiences, and so that advice may not resonate with other people. Let’s use the advice of getting into a habit of reading, given to a young person. If you were to say to the young person that reading is an immensely important part of your life, then although they may listen, they do not yet realize that fact. If they haven’t read many books themselves, then it will be very difficult for them to internalize and follow the advice. How can one be expected to build a habit out of reading just because an adult says that it changed their life? In this case, the young person does not have the perspective needed in order to fully understand the advice. Indeed, they may take that advice to heart and try reading. The more likely outcome, however, would be for them to completely discard it. The adult is giving that advice based on the mistakes they have made, and their experience with books. The young person doesn’t have this: they have the words of the adult.

That is not to say that advice is a bad thing. Advice is engrained into our society — we all naturally give advice because we want to see other people succeed. I would argue that the best thing you can do is seek out as much advice as possible in your life. The advice of others is the compressed wisdom of their experiences, and so can give you a great insight into how others have overcome a certain issue, or how they have changed their life. Indeed, without perspective, this advice has very little use. However, as you learn more advice, you will be able to synthesize information and develop a greater and broader sense of the advice.

This greater perspective will make it easier for you to create your own opinion, rather than operating on one person’s advice. The benefit of this is that if your decision comes from within — rather than from an adult who has the relevant experience, to use the last example — then you are more likely to follow through: you have made the decision. Using the advice others have given you to make up your own mind is also useful because you can then account for your own perspective. Advice is general, and normally does not account for the specific intricacies of your life — it is just a quote, or an essay, or a speech. Therefore, for many people, the advice will be completely irrelevant. If I were to say “You should attend college because it will allow you to get a higher paying job”, then the people who either don’t believe in college, or don’t care about earning a high salary — they just want to do something meaningful — would not derive any value from the advice (I should note I do not believe in this perspective). Learning new perspectives means you can make an informed decision about your next steps based on other people’s opinions, that accounts for your identity and thoughts. This will also make it easier to follow your advice, because it will integrate better with your life. A quote from someone else will just stay as a quote, but a thought developed by you will become part of your mental patterns. The more advice you listen to, the better final decision you can make by yourself.

Having your own point of view is a competitive advantage. If everyone followed the advice of a certain subset of people, then we would end up with a society filled with people doing things a certain way. Independent thoughts make it easier for you to differentiate yourself in a world where most people try to follow the crowd. The crowd may convey a lot of wisdom, but your own viewpoints will ultimately prevail. I believe that the best advice in your life is that which you have developed based on others’ opinions, and noted down for future reference, rather than a quote you have discovered, or a speech you enjoyed. I regularly reflect on some of the advice I have given myself because it helps me put my life into perspective, and better understand the impact of doing a certain thing on my life. This constant evaluation also helps me get used to relying on my own thoughts to come to a reasoned conclusion, rather than using others’ thoughts to achieve a certain goal. The best advice I have has been to look back to my life one year ago, and think about what I would change that is still going on. I have the benefit of hindsight, and the experience necessary to develop my own opinions about the future direction of my life.

Another problem with advice is that the person who actually gave you that advice will likely not be around to see the impact of that advice. Indeed, they may be around you often, but that does not mean that they are able to measure the effectiveness of the advice they have given you. There is little incentive for them (in most situations) to spend a significant amount of time thinking about the advice to give you — most advice given by others is in-the-moment. That is not to say that their advice is bad, but rather that its usefulness in your life will be limited. Most advice that people give is not thought through very well, and if they were to be around to see you follow it, they would likely change their advice to be more applicable to you.

Understanding the nature of advice also begets one thought: you shouldn’t take advice to heart. You should also not spend all of your time searching for advice, when the best advice comes from within. Advice, as aforementioned, is based on the experiences of someone else, not your personal situation. The example I used about attending college is particularly interesting. Most people’s parents say that their children should attend college because it will give them a better chance at success. For a young person who is more perceptive and has another path planned — starting a company, doing research, moving into a job in tech based on their personal skills, et cetera — then this advice would not resonate with them: they do not have the experience necessary to understand their parents viewpoint like they do. The young person, in this case, should develop their own advice to follow, based on their personal experiences and understanding of the world. This advice will ultimately be easier to follow, resonate more with the individual, and be based on the thoughtful deliberation of the individual.

Don’t take advice to heart, but don’t ignore it either. Use others’ advice to create your own independent thoughts. Advice is merely a maxim, it is not a guide to life.

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Career Plans

Over the last year or so, many people have reached out to me and have asked “What are you going to do after school? Are you going to pursue college? Get a full-time job?” I have had to answer this question many times over, and most of my responses have either been “I am not sure”, or an inarticulate reflection of my passions. The truth is, I don’t have an answer to this question. I am writing this today for those who are in my position — who have not planned out their career — in order to add clarity to the situation, and use my experiences to reflect on how I have planned my careers.

When I say that I don’t have an answer to this question, it may sound bad — I have not considered by future. On the contrary, I have actually considered my future in a lot of depth. Over the last few months I have been reading and writing about self-improvement, and have started to rebalance my work and personal life to ensure that I am both happy and productive as much as possible. This question is not about whether I have considered my future in general: it is about whether I know what I want to do professionally.

It has been difficult for me to tell others that I do not know what I want to do next year, or in the next five years. However, as more people have asked me this question, I have started to become more comfortable with the notion of telling people “I don’t know.” It is fine to say that you don’t know — indeed, not knowing allows you to account for your evolving interests. I would rather be truthful and share my actual thoughts, then manifest a poor career plan for someone else’s edification.

Many people have started to realize that I am not sure what I want to do in the next one or five years, but I have not taken a lot of time to reflect on the main reasons I don’t have a career plan in place (hence my writing this essay). The first thing to understand about not having a career plan is that it is not culturally accepted — most people expect you to have a clear plan for the future. This can be mitigated though by understanding your motives behind not writing a career plan, and explaining them in more depth. There will always be people who seem offended or disappointed that you have no plan, but if you know how to explain your work and principles, then people will become more accepting.

I don’t have a career plan for one main reason: serendipity. A lot of the successful innovations society has realized have been accelerated by luck, hard-work, and serendipity. People have met someone who could change the direction of their company. Or perhaps they ran into a venture investor at a dinner party with their friends which ended up with a term sheet. Career plans don’t account for serendipity — they are your telling the world you want things to go a certain way. Indeed, a lot of my professional developments have been caused by serendipity. I didn’t plan to become publicly traded a year ago — I just listened to a podcast episode about someone who had. I didn’t plan to become an independent researcher — I just started to write some brief research and major industry members started to take notice.

Writing a career plan locks you into a certain path. Had I have proclaimed “I want to do X”, then all of these great developments likely wouldn’t have happened — I would have ignored them because they were not on my plan. I would have been on a fundamentally different path today if I had ignored the opportunities I have realized over the last year. In addition, career plans do not account for changing desires. One year ago I was pursuing entrepreneurship, and now I am pursuing research. My desires have changed as I have been granted new opportunities, spoken with researchers, and worked hard on writing about ISAs. If I had a career plan, I would have likely spent most of my time trying to stick to it — applying for X college, getting an internship at Y — rather than exploring new opportunities. Career plans may cause you to pursue a path you are not truly interested in, just because you had spent so much time working toward building a certain plan.

Humans are also notoriously bad at predicting the future. To explore serendipity from another angle, you should understand that things will not always go your way. Perhaps you don’t get into X college that you wanted to, or Y research lab was not interested in hiring you — there were likely hundreds of great applicants and they could only choose one. Or maybe your interests have changed and you now no longer want to pursue a certain career. If you have a career plan, you start to hold too much stock in a singular path, and deviating from said path can make you feel as if your entire life has been derailed. This is because career paths are cumulative — if you don’t meet a certain goal, it will likely affect your ability to reach the next goal. I do not have a career plan and therefore if one venture fails, then it will not cause my entire life to go off-track. I will just keep going and pursue another venture or opportunity.

Rather than writing a career plan, I instead think in the moment and plan for the short-term. Most of my research has came from ideas I have had the previous night, which I have then explored in more depth the next morning — often leading to an article, or valuable notes to help advance my understanding of the area I am exploring. I don’t know what I am going to be doing in three months, because planning ahead like that wouldn’t allow me to account for serendipity. I am focused on what good I am going to do today, and perhaps this week or month, rather than what good I will do over my entire life. My circumstances will likely change, I will be given new opportunities, and my interests will evolve as I learn more about new areas. Career plans would lock me into a certain path, which would prevent me from living my life to the fullest extent possible.

I know what I am going to do today. And I have a good idea of what I will be doing tomorrow, and also this week. But I don’t know what I am going to be doing this time next year. My personal style is to focus on the immediate future — which I understand is quite a contrarian opinion — but I have found that it has given me more freedom and allowed me to pursue better opportunities. I have previously tried to plan out my career, but I realized that I was not good at predicting the future, and that my life was changing so quickly that writing a plan provided me with little benefit.

I am not saying that career plans are bad for everyone. Indeed, career plans are least optimal for those pursuing a non-conventional path — starting a company, pursuing independent research, working in a high-growth tech company. However, for those who want to pursue law, accounting, or medicine, perhaps a plan would be good. Industries with ladders have a clear sense of career progression: you get an internship, finish college, move up to a full-time position, become a middle-level manager, and continue your way up. If you think a career plan would help, by all means, write one. If you are pursuing a career in law, for example, you could plan what school you want to attend, how you will work there, and what internship you want to pursue and ultimately accept. However, don’t spend your next few years carving a meticulously crafted plan that does not account for serendipity.

I am most scared of pursuing a path that I am not fully invested in. A career plan would make it more difficult for me to pursue the things that provide me with a lot of value. These are my prime years, and planning them all, in my opinion, will not be a productive use of my time. Perhaps in a few years I will have a plan, although it is unlikely because I prefer to live in the moment and embrace every minute than to get stuck on a career ladder.

In sum, don’t plan your career. Focus on staying in the moment. Think about today and tomorrow. Pursue any great opportunities, irrespective of whether they are on your “plan”.

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A Degree from San Francisco

I do not live in San Francisco, although have dreamed of doing so for a while. One of the most common pieces of advice I hear from people about pursuing my dreams is to move over to San Francisco — the startup capital of the world. Yet there are so many people who complain about the variety of issues the city has — housing, cleanliness, living costs — which appear to make it a very difficult city in which to live. Some people will live in SF for their entire life, but I think that we are going to start to see more people who see SF as an experience and a chapter in their life, rather than their permanent place of residence.

Indeed, the SF Bay Area is unrivaled in terms of the startup community, culture of paying it forward and failing, and the general atmosphere which attracts the world’s greatest innovators in startups and technology. I believe that moving to SF will provide me with a lot of value, both in my career, and in my personal life. SF has a vast amount of opportunities for software engineers, founders, and more to accelerate their career or company, which are unavailable elsewhere in the world. They also offer a variety of different ways in which you can grow on a personal level — namely through the culture and sense of ambition. Most people in tech would agree that SF is the place to be in the world if you want to start a startup, or participate in the ecosystem as an employee at one of these companies.

I read a Tweet a few days ago from Sahil Lavingia, founder of Gumroad, who said that over the long-term, cities like SF will be recognized more as colleges. Rather than seeing SF as the place where you would spend the rest of your life, we will start to see people move to SF for a few years to experience the culture, and then use what they have learned to expand their impact elsewhere. SF is one big class where you can learn how to treat failure, how to be an effective contributor, how to manage ambition and risk, among many other different things — the city is just like a college.

As aforementioned, SF is not without its problems. The rising cost of living is pushing out a large amount of people who are still interested in experiencing the culture, and indeed discourages more people from moving due to their inability to manage projected expenses and living costs. SF has a lot of complicated problems which are outside of the purview of this essay, but suffice to say that these problems greatly impact how we see living in SF. These problems mean that people are less inclined to stay in SF — perhaps they cannot afford to stay, are not interested in the intense startup culture anymore, or something else.

SF is a place where the most ambitious people in the world come together to build great things and make an impact. In SF, there are a variety of opportunities for both acquiring knowledge — in terms of employment, startups, subverting cultural norms in general, et cetera — and for networking. Because all of these great people are in the same city, it is very easy for anyone to expand their network and cultivate a set of connections which can help them in the long-term. However, you don’t need to stay in SF for the rest of your life to continue to realize these benefits. The atmosphere in SF is unlike any other, and the lessons you will learn in terms of company building and personal growth are immensely valuable. Those lessons can continue to be used if you move outside SF. Your network will still continue to serve you even if you leave SF (many SF companies are pursuing long-distance communication ideas as well!). SF will be a four-year or so experience for people to embrace the culture and learn more about what works in startups and technology. Then they will move on to another city which is both more affordable, and also benefits from a different culture which the person could experience.

There will be no new Silicon Valley, I don’t think. Rather, a large amount of cities across the U.S. will become bigger startup hubs, built on the knowledge people learned when living in SF. People will move to SF, then move to smaller cities like Boulder, Salt Lake City, and Austin, which have lower living expenses, but still have a startup community. These places also have a unique culture from which people can benefit. If you spent your life in SF, you would be surrounded by the same cultures. However, moving to another city allows you to use the knowledge you learned about SF culture and embrace the local culture of a new area. Many people are starting to prefer moving to smaller cities after they have reached a certain level of success in SF — there is no need for them to be there anymore.

I still think it is important for people to move to SF and experience the culture, even if it is only for a few months. Although I am yet to move to SF, it has been one of my life goals because of all of the opportunities it presents for both personal and professional growth. However, I do not see myself as someone who would live in SF forever — there are other cultures which you can experience. I think that working in SF tech will have a similar effect that working in New York City finance has on one’s career. If an employer sees you have worked for an NYC-based finance company, your chances of being employed are much greater. You have likely experienced a diverse range of problems and have acquired great insights into finance which could be used to assist another business outside of NYC. The same thing will likely happen with SF: you go there for a few years and start a company or join an existing one, and use that on your resume to level up your game among other candidates in other cities.

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