Sunday Wisdom No. 60
“Do your best and forget about the rest,” is good advice. It prevents you from the anxiety of getting good results, but that’s only half of the solution.
Hi, I’m Abhishek. Each week I introduce you to multidisciplinary wisdom—in the form of original essays, bite-sized lessons, commentaries, and more—that give you an unfair advantage over others. If you love Sunday Wisdom, you can buy me a coffee or share this newsletter.
Welcome to Issue 60!
As a kid, we had 1.5–2 hrs of daily load shedding in the city where I grew up. Electricity was cut-off everyday so as to meet the overall demand of the state.
There was a massive power outage in Mumbai last week—no electricity for ~12 hours. 4G had stopped as well. I spent the morning reading books, but the evening was magical. It reminded me of my childhood days when we used to sit by a candle or kerosene lamp and chat about the day with the elders. I was too young to take part in the conversations, so I did most of the listening.
Last week my partner and I did the same. We sat beside a candle. I recounted few incidents from my school and college days, while she shared some horror stories (which were apparently true).
By the time power came back it was 9pm, and it got me thinking. We all need some load shedding in our lives—at least once a week we should turn off our laptops, our phones, and the lights. Light a candle, sit beside it, and talk about anything and everything with our loved ones.
What are your thoughts?
Why You Should Not Do Your Best
In this week’s essay I talk about The 85% Rule.
We are often advised to give our 100%. People often go overboard and suggest that we give our 110% since 100% is so passé. For one, it’s nonsensical. On top of that, this terrorises us with the pressure of giving our best along with the pressure of getting the best results.
Between these two strong forces, it’s impossible to do our best work. The correct approach is to perform below our peak capacity.
This is extremely counterintuitive and therefore many choose to ignore it, but this is precisely how Olympic athletes perform at their best.
Performing at ~85% capacity is the secret to do your best work without exhausting yourself out. It’s the rare skill that gives you the unfair advantage of staying calm and relaxed during the crazy times when others are busy clenching their fists and scrunching their faces.
Decision Making According to Tolstoy
According to Tolstoy, there are two forces that influence our decisions. The first, free will, is what resides within us. This is what drives us to act as per our wishes.
You say: I am not free. But I have lifted my hand and let it fall. Everyone understands that this illogical reply is an irrefutable demonstration of freedom.
The other force is necessity—which is external. Necessity strips us of our choices, and compels us to conform to the demands of external circumstances.
A sinking man who clutches at another and drowns him; or a hungry mother exhausted by feeding her baby, who steals some food; or a man trained to discipline who on duty, at the word of command, kills a defenceless man—seem less guilty, that is less free and more subject to the law of necessity, to one who knows the circumstances in which these people were placed, and more free to one who does not know that the man was himself drowning, that the mother was hungry, that the soldier was in the ranks, and so on.
But none of these forces exist in absolute form.
A person is never absolutely free to decide anything, and never completely bogged down by external circumstances. It’s a spectrum. Every decision of a person’s life exists within that spectrum.
If we consider a man alone, apart from his relation to everything around him, each action of his seems to us free. But if we see his relation to anything around him, if we see his connection with anything whatever—with a man who speaks to him, a book he reads, the work on which he is engaged, even with the air he breathes or the light that falls on the things about him—we see that each of these circumstances has an influence on him and controls at least some side of his activity. And the more we perceive of these influences the more our conception of his freedom diminishes and the more our conception of the necessity that weighs on him increases.
The concept of an action without any element of freedom, solely due to the law of inevitability, is just as impossible as the conception of our complete freedom of action. Link
Negative Social Proof
Going with the herd is natural. Social proof is based on consensus or accepted wisdom. But accepted wisdom doesn’t give you an unfair advantage.
“Most of Union Square Ventures’ big wins have been in companies where we were the first institutional VC to talk to the company, or where we had way more conviction about the opportunity than other investors at the time of our investment,” writes Fred Wilson.
To have an unfair advantage, you to have to bet on things that are rejected by the consensus—invisible gems.
I like to tell the story of when I met Brian Armstrong, the founder of our portfolio company Coinbase in the summer of 2012. Paul Graham had asked me to do office hours at Y Combinator and so I came to their offices and spent four hours meeting sixteen companies in back to back 15 minute pitches. At the end of the four hours, I walked out of the conference room and Paul was waiting for me. He asked “which ones did you like best?” and I replied “I like Coinbase. I think Brian Armstrong is on to something big.” He was surprised and said, “You are the first VC to say that.” And I said, “Then it’s going to be huge. Please make sure we get the call when they want to raise.”
Invisible gems cannot be easily identified. You might get it wrong once in a while. As long as you are not betting everything, you are good. Thinking in bets before betting would be a good strategy. Link
Don’t Buy Things You Don’t Need
Don’t pay for something you’ll end up using only 5% of the time.
If you won’t use the spare bedroom 95% of the time, buy a smaller house. If the car would sit in your garage 95% of the time, don’t buy one. If you won’t go to the gym 95% of the time, no matter what deal you get, it’s not worth it.
This is perhaps the best investment advice to avoid a lot of bad spending. Bad spending is the number one reason for low savings.
If it sounds so obvious why do people still buy stuff they don’t use?
Convenience is one reason. Ego is the other. It’s convenient to plan a long drive in the middle of the night if you have car. Having a car also sends a social signal that you’ve made it. It’s also a relief that you are not insane not to buy a car since everybody around you has one.
A false sense of value is also at play. We’re taught that more is better. Also, “just in case” we need somebody visits on a weekend, it would be good to have a spare bedroom. Well, just in case I need to instantly visit my sister who lives in another country, I would like to have a personal jet as well.
Don’t buy what you don’t need with the money you don’t have. Link
👋 That’s All!
One last thing. Reading this post won’t help, unless you swallow, chew, and digest these ideas. I urge you to become a demanding reader—one who questions the author, seeks answers, and doesn’t shy away from sharing differing opinions.