It just dawned on me - there's the "you can do anything, be anything, have anything" crowd - and obviously, that's not literally true. Could anyone play professional golf and win the Masters and perform as first chair violin at a prestigious symphony? Nah, probably not.
But I always think to myself, "I can do anything except the things I can't do yet, and I could learn those and do them if I want to." Most successful people I know think the same way.
Trying to reconcile that, I start thinking: You might need natural talent to win at a zero-sum game, or if you're competing for limited pieces of pie.
But you don't need natural talent for positive sum games. Positive sum games make multiple winners and expand the pie more than what the person eats.
NBA? On the court, it's a zero sum game. Every "W" in the win column comes at the expense of putting an "L" in another team's loss column. There's 5 starters, and if you want to start, you've got to take someone else's spot when they retire or get sent to the bench. Then there's a few more rotation spots, and a few more non-rotation bench spots. And that's pretty much it.
That means that hard work, hustle, struggle, discipline might not be enough to play NBA-level basketball. Because there's only so many spots.
But positive sum games don't require natural talent - by building more, accomplishing more, facilitating more in way that makes it possible for others to build more, accomplish more, and facilitate more - well, then you never run out of spots. To be an NBA player, you're knocking someone else off an NBA team. To get into an NBA rotation, you're taking someone else's minutes. To become an NBA starter, someone else is retiring or getting sent to the bench.
So maybe you can't be an NBA player. Because there's somebody that'll work just as hard as you but also might have been born taller, or put on denser muscle mass, or has a higher vertical jump even after you've trained like crazy on it.
But don't make the mistake that all of life is like this. Anyone could succeed teaching craftsmanship, because people learning more about art, engineering, machinery, and building stuff makes them willing, excited, and able to learn even more about art, engineering, machinery, and building stuff. There's a near infinite role for good craftsmanship and good teachers of craftsmanship in the world. There's a near infinite role for good business. For good science. For good art. It makes other things possible if you do a good enough job of it.
That doesn't make it easy. But if you hustle long and hard enough, you should be able to break through if you're playing a positive sum game.
Question from a reader -
Hi Sebastian, a question. I'd like to know how you came to be so... gracious. I've noticed that not only do you preach for others to spread gratitude, but you really do go over-the-top with it. It's a bit unbelieveable at times. But I have a good friend who is always very glad to see me (and everyone else). We aren't close anymore, but I always feel we are. I get the feeling you're similarly genuine. How did that come to be? Have you always been that way? I've been trying to be more thankful, but I don't want it to come off as meaningless as a forced plastic smile.
Well, first, that email totally made my day. Thank you.
Before I answer, I've got to pose a hypothetical question to you. Trust me, it's relevant:
Do you think it's more virtuous to do $5,000 worth of good for someone and get $0 in return, or to do $10,000 worth of good for someone and get $2,000 in return?
If you ask my top 3 most significant achievements, I will not hesitate to answer:
For three years in college, I cruised along 1.2-1.45. The next semester, my general weighted average fell below the required grade of 1.45.
All of grade school and high school, I've always been officially the "best in math" my batch. Then one summer, I'm thrust into a group of students where I'm the oldest. Also the only one who doesn't know Trigonometry.
I've always been thin. Until I got fat.