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What's your unique contribution?


Idea Journal Weekly 3

September 18 · Issue #261 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: No one can compete with you on being you. This issue explores three perspectives on being your true self and making your unique contribution.
(~4 min read)

#1. Be hard to compete with
Entrepreneur and investor Sam Altman writes on his blog that most people understand that companies are more valuable if they are hard to compete with.
As Altman puts it, what may be less obvious is that this is also true for individuals: “If what you do can be done by someone else, it eventually will be, and for less money.”
For Altman, the best way to become hard to compete with is to build up your individual leverage. For example, you can do this through relationships, by creating a strong personal brand, or by getting good at the intersection of multiple fields, among other strategies.
Most people do whatever most of the people they hang out with do. But this is usually a mistake: “if you’re doing the same thing everyone else is doing, you will not be hard to compete with.”
#2. “Add to the needed diversity of culture by creating something that reflects your uniqueness.”
Author Robert Greene writes in his book The Laws of Human Nature that each of us has “a higher and a lower self.”
We can feel the higher self when we finish what we start, when we think of others before ourselves, or when instead of merely reacting to events we step back and strategize about the best step forward. 
The lower self is the more primitive part of our nature. We can sense it when, for example, we take everything personally, when we want to escape reality through some addictive pleasure, and when we waste time.
Although we’re most often floating between the two selves, if we look closely, we have to admit that the lower self is the stronger one. As Greene notes, it takes awareness and effort to bring out the higher self: “If nothing impels us to do otherwise, we naturally become indolent, crave quick pleasures, turn inward, and brood over petty matters.”
Greene suggests that the key to making the struggle between the two selves more even is to cultivate what he calls the “inner authority.” The inner authority serves as the voice of our higher self. We can hear it at times, but it’s often faint.
Our job is to increase its volume. 
When we listen, this is what it tells us: 
“You have a responsibility to contribute to the culture and times you live in. Right now, you are living off the fruits of millions of people in the past who have made your life incomparably easier through their struggles and inventions. You have benefitted from an education that embodies the wisdom of thousands of years of experience.”
Greene points out that it’s easy to take this all for granted, but that’s the view of spoiled children. 
Instead, we should recognize that the world needs constant improvement and renewal: “You are not here merely to gratify your impulses and consume what others have made but to make and contribute as well, to serve a higher purpose.”
For Greene, you can serve that higher purpose by embracing what makes you different. The key is to know yourself thoroughly: your tastes and inclinations, the fields that naturally attract you, and then work every day to improve those skills that reflect who you are.
As Greene puts it, not following this course is the real reason you feel depressed at times. Such moments are a call to listen to your inner authority.
#3. Authenticity has value as well as limits
Entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant says on his podcast that the best way to escape competition is through authenticity. 
If you are building and marketing something that is an extension of yourself, then no one can compete with you on being you.
For example, no one is going to create a better version of Calvin and Hobbes than cartoonist Bill Watterson.
Or take Elon Musk.
As Ravikant points out: “If somebody else came along and started launching rockets, I don’t think it would faze Elon one bit. He’s still going to get to Mars. Because that’s his mission, insane as it seems. He’s going to accomplish it.”
In each case, the products and businesses they create are authentic to their desires and means. If you’re successful with this approach, you’ll find that in the long run you’re doing most of your hobbies for a living.
But authenticity has its limits – you don’t want to be so authentic that there’s no longer a market for what you’re creating.
Being the best juggler on a unicycle, for example, when there isn’t market for such an activity, is not a winning strategy.
Quote of the week
“… the original style is not the style which never borrows of any one, but that which no other person is capable of reproducing.”
- Writer and politician Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand in his book Le Genie du Christianisme (The Genius of Christianity)
Idea Journal
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