I’m sometimes grumpier when I stay at a nice hotel. I have certain expectations about the service that’s going to be provided. I get impatient if I have to crawl around looking for a power outlet if the shower controls are unfathomable if the place considers itself too fancy to put a coffee machine in each room.
This little phenomenon shows how powerfully expectations structure our moods and emotions, none more so than the beautiful emotion of gratitude.
Gratitude happens when some kindness exceeds expectations when it is undeserved. Gratitude is a sort of laughter of the heart that comes about after some surprising kindness.
Most people feel grateful some of the time — after someone saves you from a mistake or brings you food during an illness. But some people seem grateful dispositionally. They seem thankful practically all of the time.
If you think that human nature is good and powerful, then you go around frustrated because the perfect society has not yet been achieved. But if you go through life believing that our reason is not that great, our individual skills are not that impressive, and our goodness is severely mottled, then you’re sort of amazed life has managed to be as sweet as it is. You’re grateful for all the institutions our ancestors gave us, like the Constitution and our customs, which shape us to be better than we’d otherwise be. Appreciation becomes the first political virtue and the need to perfect the gifts of others is the first political task.
After an interview with the great writer Dani Shapiro on my podcast, Design Matters, she and I started to talk about the role of confidence in success.
During the conversation, Dani said that she felt confidence was highly overrated. I was instantly intrigued. Most overly confident people, she said, were really annoying. And the most confident people were usually arrogant. Over-exuding confidence was a sure sign that a person was compensating for some type of internal psychological deficit. Dani argued that courage was more important than confidence. When you are acting from a place of courage, you are saying that no matter how you feel about yourself or your opportunities or the outcome, you are going to take a risk and take a step toward what you want. You are willing to allow yourself to be vulnerable – in showing your art, starting a business that might succeed or fail, having an opinion on something, being in a relationship. You are not waiting for the confidence to mysteriously arrive.
I believe that confidence is achieved through repeated success. Repeated success provides a foundation that exudes confidence. Really smart people don’t have to prove that they are smart; they exude intelligence. It isn’t heavy-handed or showy. You can’t tell someone you are smart or intelligent and expect they will automatically believe you. Authentic confidence is more internal; it isn’t cocky or arrogant. If you have to “tell” people you are confident, chances are you are insecure about its authenticity.
Confidence is achieved through that willingness to continually put yourself in vulnerable situations. Success or failure has nothing to do with it.
The smartest investors of all time went bankrupt 20 years ago this week. They did it during the greatest bull market of all time.
The story of Long Term Capital Management is more fascinating than sad. That investors with more academic smarts than perhaps any group before or since managed to lose everything says a lot about the limits of intelligence. It also highlights Bezos’s point: There are many kinds of smarts. We know – in hindsight – the LTCM team had epic amounts of one kind of smarts but lacked some of the nuanced types that aren’t easily measured. Humility. Imagination. Accepting that the collective motivations of 7 billion people can’t be summarized in Excel.
“Smart” is the ability to solve problems. Solving problems is the ability to get stuff done. And getting stuff done requires way more than math proofs and rote memorization.
Patrick O’Shaughnessy wrote an email to his book club years ago:
Consistent with my growing belief that it is more productive to read around one’s field than in one’s field, there are no investing books on this list.
There are so many smarts in that sentence. Someone with B+ intelligence in several fields likely has a better grasp of how the world works than someone with A+ intelligence in one field but ignorance of that field just being one piece of a complicated puzzle.
Troye Sivan – Animal John Mayer – Waiting On the World to Change The Police – Every Breath You Take Elvis Presley – In the Ghetto Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah Etta James – At Last The Beatles – Let It Be George Harrison – Beware of Darkness ABBA – Eagle The Bangles – Manic Monday
This week’s playlist is available on iTunes and Spotify. I hope you enjoy it.
You are about to release your 27th album and you are currently five decades deep into your career. At this point, you could tour forever on the back of your existing catalog and it would be totally fine. What drives your urge now to write and record new music? Has that urged changed from when you were younger?
Well, I read something really interesting that Paul McCartney said and it really resonated with me. He said that he didn’t feel like he’d written his best songs yet or that he’d played his best shows yet. That’s also how I feel. I think that’s how you need to feel. You should feel that way, always. I know there are people who will hear me say that, at 69 years old, and say “Oh, come on.” Do you really think you’re gonna write better songs than “Welcome to my Nightmare” or “School’s Out” at this point? I get that.
But if you’re an artist and you honestly think you’ve already done your best work, then why would you make another album? Why bother? You make another album in order to say, “I can write a better album,” or “I think I’ve got songs in me that are still better than the other ones.” You try to do a better record. I don’t think Salvador Dalí, even on his deathbed, ever thought, “I’ve done my best work, I’m never gonna paint again.” Bob Dylan probably thinks he hasn’t written his best song yet.