This is an incredibly inspiring article that I read recently by James Cirtin and I share it here with you to enjoy. I know it looks long, but it is certainly worth the investment of time. Thanks James.
On May 21, I delivered the Wesleyan University Phi Beta Kappa Commencement Address. This post has been adapted and condensed from that speech.
Cooperstown, New York is famous for one thing: the Baseball Hall of Fame. It is the pinnacle of success in the sport and being inducted to The Hall is the dream of every kid playing little league and every major leaguer as well.
But, of course, it is extraordinarily difficult to get in.There are only 312 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. To be inducted, as a hitter, you have to bat an average of .302. That means for every at bat, over the course of a season, you will get a hit 30% of the time. But here’s the thing: The average major leaguer bats .271, which means that for every at bat, they will get a hit 27% of the time. Over the course of a season of 162 games, the difference between being in the middle of the pack and the best of the best is just 18 hits per year, or one more hit every 17 games! The hall of famers studied, practiced, and worked over time to get that smallest of advantages to get just one extra hit every 17 games. And the results are immortality. The key therefore is to find the small but significant ways to achieve incremental improvements in your life.
I’ve come to discover that small things, when applied consistently and over long periods of time, have the ability to change your life. Small things, applied consistently and over long periods of time, also lead to massive success. In addition, they can help you achieve health and happiness. And indeed, they can help you change the world.
Saving and compound interest
Let’s start with a topic that is not particularly polite to talk about. Money. It seems crass to talk about money in this august setting, when we are here to celebrate your intellectual and academic achievements. Money isn’t only delicate to talk about here and now. Even in a job interview, it’s tricky to talk honestly about it, because most employers want to hire people who are driven to be a part of their organization for more noble reasons. And that’s fine. But let’s face it. Money is important, to one degree or another. If you have student loans to repay, if you would like to travel internationally, live in a good home in a nice community with good schools, it’s important. If you want to support causes that you care about, it’s important. And, of course, if you want to make big donations to Wesleyan one day, it’s very important!
Money is also an example where it pays to understand the power of small things. The first small thing is an insight, so obvious, that it can be easy to overlook. That is, if you want to make a lot of money, the single best way to do that, is to go into a field that pays well. To quote New York Times columnist Ben Stein, “Over the years, I have seen it. Smart men and women in finance and corporate law always grow rich, or at least well-to-do. Incredibly smart men and women in short-story writing, or anthropology, or acting rarely do.” This is effective advice, especially if your interests, skills, and values align with those areas of business - like finance, banking, engineering, consulting, or biotech - that generate high profitability and therefore enable organizations in those fields to pay well.
But what if you are drawn to other, more creative or mission-driven work, like short-story writing, anthropology, or acting, not to mention public service, international development, or academia? Here is where the power of small things can come to the rescue again. That is the arithmetic of saving, investing and compounding, over time. And there is no time to waste. If you save just a few percentage points of what you earn every month and invest it, even with single digit returns, over time, that will grow to become a lot of money, thanks to the power of compounding. Let’s say you develop the discipline of saving $300 per month (foregoing restaurants and bars for a while erhaps). That’s 6% of your salary if you’re earning $60,000 a year. And let’s say you invest it at a 5% rate of return. Over 25 years this will grow to become $175,000. Nice. But if you can find a way to invest at a 10% return and wait just another 10 years, then that is your easiest and most surefire way to become a millionaire. That $300 a month becomes $1,028,000.So money is an area where there is life-changing power of small things. Let’s take a look at another. Fitness.
About 18 months ago I was in Istanbul, Turkey, for the November Board meeting of my firm, Spencer Stuart. Our job is to recruit leaders to many of the most important organizations in the world, which, by the way, is how I’ve done so much research around careers and success. Over the past 22 years, I’ve recruited over 600 executives and board directors, including the CEOs of such companies as Twitter, Intel, Yahoo, Hulu, New York Times Company, and MetLife, as well as not-for-profit CEOs to such organizations as Sesame Workshop, PBS, NPR, New York Public Library, The MIT Media Lab, and Radio Free Europe. In Istanbul, we were hosted by the head of our business in Turkey, a great guy named Kaan Okurer, of course, a Wesleyan alum, class of 1997. Well, upon seeing Kaan at the opening dinner, I was struck by how great he looked. He was clearly ripped and in incredible shape, noticeably fitter than the last time I had seen him. “Kaan, you look amazing, what have you been doing?” I asked him. “You won’t believe it if I tell you,” he replied. I implored him and he finally told me about his new regime. “I walk wherever and whenever I can,” he said, “but the real secret is a remarkable app I found and have been following religiously. It’s called, ‘The 7 Minute Workout.’”
He was right, I was incredulous. The 7 Minute Workout? Come on. I grew up in the era of “No pain, no gain;” of running 40+ miles a week to train for a marathon; the more the better. How could something that takes only 7 minutes possibly be worth anything? Well the answer, once again, is the power of small things.