People often ask me what I know about math. Surely, a guy who makes autonomous day trading algorithms is highly skilled with numbers? Alas, I always disappoint. Because honestly, I’m not a numbers guy. I learned my multiplication tables when I was 15. My stomach churns at the slightest hint of algebra. And the calculus I did in high school? Forget it. I mean, a certain strong quality of mine made me good at it. But it was never natural.
“So if you’re not good at math, what are you good at?” My answer to this next question also disappoints. “Nothing much,” I reply. I’ve pondered this a lot: What am I good at? Most of the things I do are mediocre skills. I was never excellent at coding, writing, or even design, which is the fabric of my soul. To truly call something talent requires a step above. I think talent involves effortlessness. Ease. Insouciance. You have to be good at something without trying very hard. And I have to try hard at everything. Very hard. So I guess I don’t have much talent.
But let’s consider this for a minute: Would you want to be good at things without trying very hard? I personally don’t think so. My dad is a surgeon in a renowned private hospital, so we grew up around some talented, wealthy people. My friends in my fancy private school spoke multiple languages, travelled three times a year, and had plenty of resources to explore their interests. Some were great athletes. Some were razor sharp. Some were excellent artists. But you know what happened to them? They got comfortable. So they dropped out of the race.
You don’t build a meaningful life from a place of comfort. Because comfort doesn’t teach you the skills you need. Things like fighting for what you believe in. Facing opponents you know will defeat you. Getting punched in the face multiple times, and still coming back. You only learn these things when life is a struggle. Which is why I’m wary of talent.
Talent breeds complacency. Any time you don’t have to try very hard to do something, you should be worried. Because guess what? You won’t end up being very good at it. Doesn’t matter how good you are at something, most of the value lies behind a wall of brutal, back-breaking work. You can’t escape from it forever. And if you don’t need to exert effort to be decently good? That doesn’t teach you how to fight for improvement. And ultimately, fighting is the most important skill you can have when you’re trying to get good and stay good.
So I don’t worry about talent, anymore. I don’t look for it. I don’t think about it. I don’t care about it. All I pay attention to is this: How much am I doing, and how much could I be doing? The objective is simple: Increase both. Do that for long enough, and you’re bound to get somewhere.