Sunday, October 03, 2010


A while ago I read a typical Wall Street Billionaire's profile. The article like any other biographical work, misses the finer details and focuses merely on the material achievements of the person. But that wasn't what intrigued me. It wasn't the first billionaire bio I was reading. All the billionaires who I had read about have been babies of opportunity, as I would like to call them. They saw the same world that we all see, but observed opportunities. Now out of all those who observed the opportunities, only a few billionaires had the "balls" to do something about it.

It got me to think, where do I get these pair of balls to act on an opportunity when everyone around me is telling me that 'I'm being an idiot'?

But like all things worth acquiring, there is an equal amount of luck and skill involved in getting them. One widespread idea which can be seen floating around almost everywhere like oxygen, is lifestyle. In better words, 'looking like your bank statement'. I have seen so many people, including me, fall prey to this idea. Its a networth obsession. Nothing seems to be enough if measured strictly by the size of our current bank statement. The author Joseph Heller made a remarkable statement when compared to his billionaire friend. He said, that 'I have something which he can never have, the knowledge that I have enough'.

Back to balls, I think the idea of having the balls and audacity to do something about an opportunity comes not just from the detachment from the networth effect, but also from the idea that its irrelevant in the long run. Why so? Its probably because of greed and fear again. Greed to have more and fear of losing it all. That greed works miraculously in our favor when we are pursuing that opportunity. The Hunger to do it better than the rest, hunger to learn, hunger to test our limits, hunger to test the boundaries of everything. This greed pushes us far ahead than the rest. This is not just about the money, by the way. I have seen so many folks working in NGO's driven to such an extent to their cause, that they would actually get deluded from the reality of the world around them and indulge in idealism. Idealism is good, only if you can live to talk about it. 

How long does this hunger last? Is it part of our character to be hungry for something all the time? I think every person is hungry for something - love, attention, respect, power, money, envy of others, knowledge, social welfare, fairness, equity, and all the other things that drive people. This can very easily transform into greed if it is made an important benchmark for wellbeing - darn dopamine. This hunger might be sufficient to identify opportunities, identify ways to get ahead of others. 

So what stops most people to go after what they are hungry for? - Well one hypothesis can be that we don't necessarily know what we are really, consciously hungry for. Or the other side of the assumption is - Balls. 

I think fear sets in a lot sooner than hunger, probably even before hunger/greed. Since there is a fear of not doing well for ourselves, not being able to achieve what we wish to achieve, it might also drive the greed to achieve it. From the profile I mentioned in the beginning and all the other biopics of these billionaires (by wealth only), all of them show remarkable similarity in one form of behavior. They aren't afraid of going to zero. The person in the interview, David Tepper (hedge fund billionaire) says when asked about  his abnormal confidence to achieve what he does, "I was never afraid to go back and work in the steel mills." Not being afraid of losing a lifestyle. I always wonder what would make a normal person take that kind of a risk? I still don't know, maybe hunger for more is the answer, but only maybe.

Probably this is what is known as balls, the ability to detach from a social benchmark of well being and being focused on what you can and want to do. Disagreeing with the rest of the world and defining my own boundaries, probably is a better way to look at the idea of having balls to do something. Otherwise why would there be any progress? No food will be made without being hungry enough to eat it. This biological response to hunger for food is so easy to understand, then why is it usually difficult to understand the psychological hunger for something/anything? 

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