Advice for an 11-Year-Old: Build Your Skills

Angel investor Jason Calacanis was asked by an 11-year-old what skills to focus on in order to succeed in life. Pause for a moment and imagine how you’d answer that question. Coming from a guy who started the Silicon Alley Reporter in the 1990s, sold his company (Weblogs) to AOL in 2005, and made early investments in Uber, Facebook, Twitter and others, let’s just say he’s got a track record of displaying wisdom. His advice to an 11-year-old applies to all of us, no matter our age.

Calacanis told the young man that skills are all that matter. We live in an incredibly competitive world, where our competition – especially from overseas – is willing to work twice as hard for half as much money. The only way to differentiate ourselves is to have the greatest skill of all: the ability to acquire new skills. He doesn’t argue for mastery, but just that we should figure out how to obtain 80-90% proficiency. Most people would rather just watch television or do anything else rather than work to learn a new skill, and if this 11-year-old is willing to be fearless and move quickly to acquire more skills, the will find the success he seeks.

There are clear overlaps from Calacanis’ advice into modern finance. The idea of someone working twice as hard for the half of the cost smacks of the recent pains plaguing active management and robo-advice. The “new” skills to acquire are often just updated versions of the old, but meaningful nonetheless. In order to offer active strategies, understanding the sources of return (ex. factors), tax advantages, and how to avoid common behavioral foibles become just as important as making an impassioned Peter Lynch / Warren Buffett pitch. On the planning side, the value of the human touch on top of understanding how to utilize computer-based analytical capabilities continues to be the best option for complex needs.

In order to succeed, all of us will have to learn new skills. As Calacanis wrote in his book, Angel, we have to accept change as an integral part of growth. Just as he transitioned from traditional journalism, to blogs, to helping other companies evolve as he learned to, we must expect that whatever we are doing today will change multiple times. Even if we’re not quite 11 anymore, we should take the advice. Turn the TV off, there’s work to do.