Purpose, ambition, and work

With thanks to Naval, Founders Fund, Indie Hackers, Ben Thompson, and Clay Christensen

This post is about purpose, ambition, and work.


One of my favorite thinkers, @naval, has been putting out a lot of content recently via his blog and podcast, each episode is less than ten minutes long and worth your time, but if you’re stuck for time I recommend:

The basic premise of the podcast is to build out an understanding of how to get rich without getting lucky, but I think it’s more useful as a tool to think about purpose and decision-making around your career.

The most important thing is to “pick an industry where you can play long-term games with long-term people. Long-term players make each other rich. Short-term players make themselves rich.”

And rather than following what is popular, you’re better off not being ”too deliberate about assembling specific knowledge. The best way is to follow your obsession, so you go deep enough into it to be the best.”

Lean in to what you’re good at and “build specific knowledge where you are a natural. Everyone is a natural at something.”

Naval also touches on the negatives of a salary, or as he calls it, renting out your time. “You won’t get rich renting out your time, because your inputs are too closely tied to your outputs. You’re not earning while you’re sleeping.”

There are obvious benefits to a salary but those are generally well understood and heavily emphasized by society. So let’s leave it there for now.

He also touches on the need to decouple inputs from outputs, some of his best engineers only work a few hours a day and he’s okay with that because they have an outsized impact in a short amount of time.

He’s measuring output, not input.

“You must have high creativity and leverage to decouple your inputs and outputs.”

But what I personally find most interesting is the idea of the Internet broadening what a career can be.

The Internet has massively broadened the possible space of careers, by allowing you to scale any niche obsession.

Before the Internet there was no way to find all the people in the world who were interested in your obsession. Now you can.

Escape competition through authenticity—when you’re competing with people it’s because you’re copying them.

No one can compete with you on being you. Before the Internet, this was useless advice—now it’s a career.

@benthompson via Stratechery (and the entire existence of Substack, the service I’m writing this on) are great examples of how the Internet has enabled niche content to grow into real, sustainable businesses.

It’s exciting that regardless of what you’re into, chances are there are thousands to ten of thousands of people who are into it, too.


Alongside Naval’s podcast, I’ve been listening to two podcasts that are at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to ambition.

The first is The Anatomy of Next from @foundersfund and explores “every aspect of going to Mars, transforming it into a habitable world, and building a new branch of human civilization. How do we bring a cold, dead planet back to life? Can we build an atmosphere on Mars, thaw the frozen plains, and build an ocean? How do we seed a barren land with life, and make a red Mars green? Then, it’s everything from politics and education to money, music, and architecture. What does it mean to be human on an alien world?”

The second is the Indie Hackers podcast which is filled with episodes with successful founders of bootstrapped businesses. Indie Hackers is a fascinating place filled with people who are anywhere from trying to get their first customers to $100k+ MRR.

While $100k+ MRR is nothing to laugh at, it’s certainly not at the same level of ambition as trying to colonize Mars. And that’s okay.

In fact, I think it might be the way we get to Mars.

What I mean by that is people tend to grow in ambition over time and successes, and it’s great to have content for both audiences.

Just because people are bootstrapping their SaaS product doesn’t mean they won’t be trying to build the next Blue Origin in five years, if all goes well. Just look at Bezos.

Image result for bezos books meme


One of my favorite books is by @claychristensen, Harvard Business School professor and author of the highly influential books The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution.

But while I love those books, I think his (and @jamesallworth and @KarDillon’s) best work is How Will You Measure Your Life?

The book takes what you learn in The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution and turns the focus from business to life.

With the goal of answering three fundamental questions:

  • How can I be sure that I find happiness in my career?

  • How can I find happiness in my relationships?

  • How can I be sure that I live a life of integrity? 

Even if you don’t read the book, it’s worth your time to have a think about these questions.