28 May 2017

The amount of value we assign to our time could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we value our time at $1000, then it is actually possible to achieve a payoff in the future, which when prorated for number our hours spent working towards it and adjusted for inflation and so on, will amount to $1000 for that very next hour.

If I had a low value on my time, I would be more likely to waste it. I could be watching TV excessively, beyond the point of relaxation, I could be getting stuck in traffic or doing errands in slow and inefficient way.

But if I knew, that spending this time working on a project, or developing a skill, or starting a business would pay off large in the future, and I could trace this back to this hour now, and attribute a thousand dollars to it, I would be much less likely to waste it. What if I can attribute even more. Then, suddenly, it doesn’t make sense to take to do wasteful activities, but to spend the time on the activity that would pay off.

Lets imagine for a minute that I realize I have the raw talent to become a big painter. Lets assume it would take me ten years and ten thousand hours over these ten years, to become really good. This is about twenty hours per week for ten years - not too bad. Lets also assume, that when I get really good, I will be able to earn ten million dollars, inflation adjusted, for the paintings I’ve made and sold. This averages about a thousand dollar per each hour spent!

Lets also realize that these are not wild assumptions! They are perfectly reasonable for a lot of people, except that they would need to replace painting with some other way to make ten million dollars. There are ways. One can start a business, or find a way to produce a service to others at scale. Or they can get distinguished artist and earn a lot from their art.

The financing is trickier. The payout of this endeavor is likely to come after some time in the future. But meanwhile, the person needs to support the effort both in terms of money and in terms of emotions.

The money part is obvious. If a person strive to be an artist, they need to buy enough canvas, paint, brushes and other supplies so you can practice effectively. They need also somehow to cover the basic living expenses. It will cost a lot less than the eventual payoff will bring, but it needs to be covered in the present moment. This could be covered by savings, job on the side, or by selling the art as they go. Or any combination of these, adjusted according to the situation.

The emotional part is hard. What if I have the talent to be painter, but I am not excited about painting and art, and would rather do something else? Can I still go through the ten years and develop into a top earning artist? If I’m not excited about it, then I would find it harder to devote the time, even if I have the money to support myself through that. And even if I eventually develop excitement and passion for art, in the present moment I will be unhappy to work on it.

If I had a passion for painting, I would be more resourceful and find ways to paint and develop and will be willing to spend more time on it. Then, even if I find the money part hard, I would not be discouraged, because I would be getting immediate emotional payoff.

That emotional payoff is a necessary fuel in the feedback loop, which will propel the talent to success. Without it, that talent just won’t get developed. And rightfully so! Developing a talent that I am not excited about would not necessarily benefit me. It might benefit the society. But if I am unhappy doing it, why do it? I myself am one part of society. If something else makes me happier, my goal would be to maximize that, no matter if it brings any profit at all. It might still make sense to develop another talent, to the point of providing enough money to sustain life.

The emotional payoff though… is all in the head. It is perfectly subjective. Yes, there is some body-based hedonism involved, but that only goes so far. Much of the emotional payoff is acquired taste. And we can trick ourself to perceive the future emotional payoff, even if it doesn’t pan out, and motivate ourself in the present moment.

Just like there are many techniques to finance the money, there are techniques to finance the emotional motivation. I don’t want to go in the details yet, but I’d like to take a moment and appreciate that it is possible and realistic to assign a high value on our time.

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