Talent vs interest (Ricky Weekly #67)

This is where I share 3 things every week with my friends and anyone else interested.

A picture from my life:

This is from a couple weeks ago. I think it’s funny David and I own the exact same rotation of shirts from Uniqlo and end up matching all the time.

A thing on my mind:

IRL invites are back, but I'm reminded how unexcited I am about them. I was talking to my friend Stu about it. We both used to be quite sociable, but with age we've gotten more introverted and it sucks because we both remember what it was like to be sociable.

Thinking about it some more, I remember being sociable mostly in college, and only the early parts of college. As soon as David and I figured out that we wanted to work on a startup, it's been heads down for us ever since. So really, this part of my identity was only central for 2-3 years of my life. Crazy how it left a big impression. Probably because I derived a lot of confidence and built some of my strongest relationships from that period. When I took time off from startups in 2019, I organized founder dating events and felt sociable for the first time in a while. Today, the amazing community in Flow Club allows me to be little social everyday co-working with people from around the world without taking away from my focus.

Over the years, friends have brought up that I'd make a great politician because being good with people is like the closest thing I have to a natural talent, but I have no interest in that at all. I have thought to myself, "man, startups are so hard maybe life would be easier if I picked a path more suitable to my talents." That’s why I tried out comedy during my time off, and I was right. Being funny on stage was much easier for me than others, but I wasn’t interested enough to work on it. All I wanted to do was get back to startups, and all the sacrifices feel exactly right. I can’t wait to go to work everyday and I've felt that way for most of my career, so hopefully that’s a huge advantage.

In Paul Graham's latest essay "How to Work Hard," he talks about how to square talent with interest:

The more ambitious types of work will usually be harder, but although you should not be in denial about this, neither should you treat difficulty as an infallible guide in deciding what to do. If you discover some ambitious type of work that's a bargain in the sense of being easier for you than other people, either because of the abilities you happen to have, or because of some new way you've found to approach it, or simply because you're more excited about it, by all means work on that. Some of the best work is done by people who find an easy way to do something hard.

As well as learning the shape of real work, you need to figure out which kind you're suited for. And that doesn't just mean figuring out which kind your natural abilities match the best; it doesn't mean that if you're 7 feet tall, you have to play basketball. What you're suited for depends not just on your talents but perhaps even more on your interests. A deep interest in a topic makes people work harder than any amount of discipline can.

A piece of content I recommend:

My recommendation this week is in three parts, the theme is how people become who they are. All three stories mirror my life very closely.

Min Jin Lee - Asian Enough podcast (~15:55 mark)

Interviewer: Was there a moment you went from that shy kid who hardly spoke and had few friends to being who you are now?

Min Jin Lee: I love the idea of the watershed moment, but I don’t have one. What I did have was an incredible wish to be more normal. I started to take a lot of speaking classes and gradually through taking all these speaking classes and trying out for the debate team, I started to feel a little bit less anxious, a little less depressed, a little less afraid.

Barack Obama - Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard podcast (~12:20 mark)

I go to Occidental College in LA, for the first two years, I just kind of partied. I ended up making a bunch of close friends, but a lot of it is just kinetic energy and hoping nobody notices that I don’t know what I’m doing or who I am or why I’m there.

I realized that I got to go inward and really figure out what I’m doing. This thing I’m doing with my friends, that only goes so far. I tell my daughter, everyone grows at their own pace. Some people want to keep partying for a while. We’ve all had those awkward moments where I’m like, ‘Oh I think I should do some homework here’ and they’re like, ‘man you’re changing, you’re boring!’ So I transferred to Columbia partly because I realized I’ve got to do this work and it’s harder with people who have seen me in this [previous] mode, and then for two years I just lived like a monk.

How to Work Hard - Paul Graham

Several people I've talked to remember getting serious about work around this age. When I asked Patrick Collison when he started to find idleness distasteful, he said

I think around age 13 or 14. I have a clear memory from around then of sitting in the sitting room, staring outside, and wondering why I was wasting my summer holiday.


As always, you can find out what I’m thinking in more real-time on Twitter and my essays are on my website. My primary focus (and where I focus) is on Flow Club.