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The Life-Changing Power of Small Things

Source | LinkedIn : By James Citrin

On May 21, I delivered the Wesleyan University Phi Beta Kappa Commencement Address. This post has been adapted and condensed from that speech.

Cooperstown, New York is famous for one thing: the Baseball Hall of Fame. It is the pinnacle of success in the sport and being inducted to The Hall is the dream of every kid playing little league and every major leaguer as well.

But, of course, it is extraordinarily difficult to get in.

There are only 312 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. To be inducted, as a hitter, you have to bat an average of .302. That means for every at bat, over the course of a season, you will get a hit 30% of the time. But here’s the thing: Theaverage major leaguer bats .271, which means that for every at bat, they will get a hit 27% of the time. Over the course of a season of 162 games, the difference between being in the middle of the pack and the best of the best is just 18 hits per year, or one more hit every 17 games! The hall of famers studied, practiced, and worked over time to get that smallest of advantages to get just one extra hit every 17 games. And the results are immortality.

The key lesson of the Baseball Hall of Fame is to find the small but significant ways to achieve incremental improvements and apply them consistently over time.

I’ve come to discover that small things, when applied consistently and over long periods of time, have the ability to change your life. Small things, applied consistently and over long periods of time, also lead to massive success. In addition, they can help you achieve health and happiness. And indeed, they can help you change the world.

Here are some concrete ways to do just that.

Saving and compound interest

Let’s start with a topic that is not particularly polite to talk about. Money. It seems crass to talk about money in this august setting, when we are here to celebrate your intellectual and academic achievements. Money isn’t only delicate to talk about here and now. Even in a job interview, it’s tricky to talk honestly about it, because most employers want to hire people who are driven to be a part of their organization for more noble reasons. And that’s fine. But let’s face it. Money is important, to one degree or another. If you have student loans to repay, if you would like to travel internationally, live in a good home in a nice community with good schools, it’s important. If you want to support causes that you care about, it’s important. And, of course, if you want to make big donations to Wesleyan one day, it’s very important!

Money is also an example where it pays to understand the power of small things. The first small thing is an insight, so obvious, that it can be easy to overlook. That is, if you want to make a lot of money, the single best way to do that, is to go into a field that pays well. To quote New York Times columnist Ben Stein, “Over the years, I have seen it. Smart men and women in finance and corporate law always grow rich, or at least well-to-do. Incredibly smart men and women in short-story writing, or anthropology, or acting rarely do.” This is effective advice, especially if your interests, skills, and values align with those areas of business – like finance, banking, engineering, consulting, or biotech – that generate high profitability and therefore enable organizations in those fields to pay well.

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