The Invisible Skill
Choosing What to Do vs. Doing It
It wasn’t until 2021 that I realized no human being on Earth has superpowers. At the time of this realization I was either 30 years old or 31 years old. A second realization: no human being in recorded history has had superpowers. The implications of this realization are enormous. Every remarkable human achievement since the dawn of time has been accomplished by an ordinary person like you or me. This is simultaneously stupidly obvious and groundbreaking.
As much as social media and reality TV pull back the curtain on celebrity, the fundamental premise of the celebrity culture in which we live is that famous people (or historical figures) are somehow not like us. And unfortunately, most people buy this enormous lie because it operates on a subconscious level tied to an even more insidious directive: In more than just a few ways, the fundamental premise of our culture is: stay in your lane.
“Stay in your lane” is actually not bad advice. It is ubiquitous in finance. (Note: I have been given this advice many times in my career and, most of the time, with the benefit of hindsight, I have had the ability to see things that were going on outside my lane - perhaps invisible to me at the time - that made staying in it the right decision. Veering from one’s lane can be disastrous when you stray into oncoming traffic...) In any case, I intuitively grasped the benefit of this lesson early on in my career and watched a whole cohort of my contemporaries drop like flies or bounce around aimlessly as a result of having too much faith in their uninformed opinions.
Regardless, however, of whether staying in one’s lane represents good advice in the early innings, it’s pretty much a nonstarter for inspiring you to greatness. This is relevant because the question we all face when we look in the mirror every morning is how to achieve our potential. How to make the best use of our time on Earth. Not everybody faces it because not everyone wants to come face-to-face with their own potential. It’s hard to not be the person you want to be. It gets harder as the gap widens.
As I rose toward the top of my field, I had the opportunity to go courtside to watch the best of the best do their thing. My field is finance but I think the learnings are interdisciplinary and applicable everywhere. There is magic in watching the sausage get made. So that’s how it’s made, you think to yourself. The most eye opening moments in life are the ones that challenge your model of reality. You are only as good as your model of reality is accurate.
Spend enough time in the hopper with the world’s most successful people and you’ll realize the following truth, rarely discussed. People who achieve their potential are not better at doing, they are better at deciding what to do.
Everybody has 16 hours in a day, give or take a few hours to account for variability in sleep schedules and circadian rhythms. The only real superpower is prioritization. The most powerful skill in the world is time management. To master strategically allocating your own time is to master everything. I think about the fact that Jeff Bezos once worked at McDonald’s. The difference between him and the other guy? At some point he decided to stop working there. It simply wasn’t the best use of his time. Prioritization.
I once worked at a really crappy workplace with an ostensibly bright guy. I remember the visceral shock I felt when I learned, 8 years later, that he was somehow still working there, having watched a lifetime of opportunities pass him by. Maybe not so bright after all. Prioritization.
The most important thing you can do for your life is to figure out the most important thing you can do for your life and then do it. It’s tautological but IYKYK. Do it today. Then. Revisit the question. Is the answer the same as it was yesterday? Are you confident in your decision? Are you sure? How sure? You should never be sure. Another truism: thinking you’re right is the first step to being massively wrong.
For me, the most important thing is getting my thoughts about the world on paper, digitized, distributed. Hence this newsletter. A big thanks goes out to the few people who have encouraged me to record some of these insights or musings. You all know who you are. I spend most of my life now thinking about how to live it. The plan is to centralize distribution for any useful insights I find along the way.