Most Achievements Are Simple, But Not Easy

I read this post written by Lionel from Cheerful Egg about a week ago and it struck a massive chord with me.

It actually surprised me that Lionel preps so much for his pitches and presentations because the impression he gave was that “he’s just naturally really good at it”. To think that I thought I was the only one who had to prepare a script word-by-word, rehearse it to a T a few times, before being able to step out with any semblance of confidence.

So I guess for the benefit of everyone, I shall come clean with everything. No more downplaying.

Situation: Mr 15HWW, I really enjoyed your presentation. You must have put lots of effort into it.

15HWW Says: Oh, it’s a topic I was really passionate about. So things just sort of flowed. Glad you enjoyed it.

Reality: You cannot imagine the amount of hours I put into this presentation. I spent days doing research to make sure my statistics and understanding were up to date, hours creating the slides. Not to mention the coordination with the other speakers to make sure the whole presentation flowed. I think I easily spent 20 hours preparing for this 20 minute presentation. Glad you enjoyed it and it makes all the effort worth it.

Situation: Mr 15HWW, you are really having a cushy life as a tutor now, working less than 30 hours a week.

15HWW Says: Thanks. Yes, I do have more free time now and work-life balance has improved alot.

Reality: I spend at least half an hour to an hour every morning visualising and preparing for my lessons in the afternoons and evenings. Things are only easier now because I had already spent hundreds to thousands of hours in the past familiarising myself with curriculum and various teaching techniques. It’s likely I spend as much time working as before but work-life balance has improved because I am happy at work and happy thinking about work.

Situation: Mr 15HWW, you are looking good! The muffin-top is disappearing!

15HWW Says: Oh. I just watched my diet a bit more carefully and worked out a bit more recently. Thanks for the compliment!

Reality: There’s a big change in my lifestyle to lose that 5kg of weight for the past half a year. I work out at least 3-4 times every week. I would run to the market (6-7km) once a week, visit the gym to hang out with weight machines twice a week and a couple of HIIT sessions at home on other days. I eat fruits in the morning, steam a chicken breast/thigh for at least one meal a day and is generally on a low-carb diet these days. Apparently, the above has worked pretty well for me.

Situation: Mr 15HWW, you must be really knowledgeable about personal finance/investing to be able to churn out such high-quality posts for the past 4 years.

15HWW Says: Oh. I take a keen interest in these topics and am always curious to read more about these subjects. I guess all these helps with the writing.

Reality: I have been obsessed with personal finance/investing for more than a decade. I read/think/write on these topics for close to 3 hours every day and I am an “expert” in the sense that I have probably put in >10,000 hours in this. Writing a blog post can be time consuming. Conceiving the idea, fleshing it with ideas, seeding it with some humour here and there and then editing it typically takes 2-3 hours. Not to mention that some draft posts are discarded when they don’t meet the cut.

Situation: Mr 15HWW, seems like there are many financial bloggers making very good returns in this market even when they are not making huge effort to analyse and track. Just look at ……

15HWW Says: Besides being lucky, they are probably quite skillful too.

Reality: Like everybody else, they are probably downplaying the effort they put in. They could be checking in on the market every couple of hours looking for pricing anomalies in their watchlist or always on the lookout to reference their own analysis with brokerage reports. They might even have their own chatgroup with like-minded individuals. Or maybe, just maybe, they are putting in minimal effort these days because they have already put in the 10,000 hours* in the past and are now reaping the rewards of the past effort.

Before you accuse me of being dishonest with my typical responses, let’s add a bonus situation below that played out a few years ago.

Situation: Mr 15HWW, why are you quitting? You seem to be doing well in our organisation and we are surprised by your decision.

15HWW Says: Teaching is a passion I always had and if I don’t try it now, then when?

Reality: I am sick of being in an office doing the same old uninteresting stuff week after week (peddling emails, team meetings to update on project progress, cajoling my subordinates to take fewer MCs etc). I still do a good job because I take pride in my work but enough is enough. I am not sure if becoming a teacher in a school would be ideal but what I do know is that after observing my superiors like you over the past 3 years, the prospect of becoming like you in a decade’s time horrifies me.

Sometimes, people might just be trying to make small talk with you and if you reveal the “reality” in all its true glory, you could put people in a tight spot. Otherwise, like the bonus situation, you would just come across as VERY VERY rude.

So “15HWW Says” is the default and typical reaction unless I can sense that the person is really interested to find out exactly how I did it. In that case, I might let on more and let them realise that most achievements are indeed simple to execute. All of the above is not rocket science.

But easy? I really doubt so.

Moral of the story: People downplay their efforts. Most achievements are simple, but not easy.

*This was never the main purpose of this post but if you want to have a shortcut on the 10,000 hours to achieve some form of mastery, here’s the chance by attending this event. Looking at the panel of speakers, I reckon the few hours spent would probably cut short the learning curve by a few hundred hours easily. 


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7 thoughts on “Most Achievements Are Simple, But Not Easy

  1. Fred

    Yes, simple but not so easy. It takes, like you say ‘10,000 hours’, or decades of perseverance, lots of efforts and guts, and then much luck or divine intervention(blessing) to arrive.

  2. temperament

    Ha! Ha!

    Who don’t know the saying ” Buy Low, Sell High”?

    Er….., which stock man and when is low!?

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi temperament,

      Don’t even need to go down to which stock. Even broad-based ETF people will struggle to practise “buy low, sell high”.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi T,

      I learnt something new today!

      Haven’t heard of this till now but it’s very apt! Thanks!