It is an auspicious time to write about greed as it has been in almost poetic cadence in the markets every 10 or so years. Borrowing the idea of “long-term greed” from Goldman Sachs’ Gus Levy and applying it to my personal development and life is what I am most excited about.
I am on a pursuit to learn skills I never consciously picked up in school but find them to be of universal and transformative value – like the ability to focus, to read critically, to show up with my best self as a habit and not an inspiration, to fit in and stand out, to make rational decisions; or simply to make a memorable cocktail as a party trick. I think that, for me, it’s just the desire to get incrementally better every day, with compounding that will kick in and over a long enough time.
When successful people from diverse fields offer the same advice, I listen. Often they have a different vocabulary around an idea, but when you internalise it, you realise they’re talking about one core idea: this recurring theme of lifelong learning, multidisciplinary learning and the connection of dots and analogies is as much historical wisdom as it is pop psychology and investigative research.
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“I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and, boy, does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you,” said Charlie Munger.
“The purpose of all education is to spare people time and error. It’s a tool whereby society attempts to teach reliably, within a few years, what it took the very brightest and most determined of our ancestors’ centuries of painful effort to work out,” shared Alain de Botton.
And Adam Grant advised, “The mark of a lifelong learner is recognising that you can learn something from everyone you meet. Knowledge is best sought from experts. Wisdom can come from anywhere.”
My passion for learning the necessary, the random and the weird surpasses most imaginations. (Alas, I still can’t ride a bicycle.) As a young lass, even before I was tall enough for the roller coasters, I used to have an ‘elevator pitch’ for myself to get picked for teams: “I am not the smartest, I am not the fastest, but I learn like a monkey”. It doesn’t always work, but it reinforces my belief that being a ‘learning animal’ is and will be my superpower. I would figure out just what is outside my reach and comfort zone, build skills, be energised by how my new skills compound with new connections and unexpected upgraded performance.
The longer the timeline, the more the various skills, tools and mental models set into play a different plane of new connections and unexpected value. If the payback of long-term greed is undisputed, the challenge is how do we pursue long-term greed in a right-now world?
Life is too short to figure out everything yourself and in your own time. Finding field experts to master anything faster is the way to shortcut Disney’s rendition of the Hero’s Arc. Continuous and relentless compounding of the learnings from field- tested experts is my answer.
Very painful journeys and hard-won battles are inspiring narratives but in an age where learning from the relevant domain experts has become more accessible than ever, TED Talks and MasterClasses are just the tips of the icebergs. These battles should no longer be yours to bear alone. The Hero’s Arc will always be there. Its mantle will persist as a singular challenge for all of us. However, augmented with long-term greed for the knowledge of others, it becomes less of a test of wills and morphs instead into a lifetime journey of learning and conscious self-improvement.
Jaelle Ang is The Great Room co-founder and CEO and a member of The Peak Circle, a community for changemakers and thought leaders.
(Related: Finding the purpose for your existence)