Be curious about the broad nature of things but spend the vast majority of your time on cultivating a deep, fundamental understanding of a few topics of great interest.
Growing up, I was never a good student. It’s a funny dichotomy, because I wouldn’t consider myself a bad learner, but I was definitely a bad student. In fact, I believe that I was a better learner than nearly everyone around me as I was growing up and going through the motions of the education system.
I grew up in a nice neighborhood and had access to one of the best schools in my state. The high school that I went to got many awards and won many championships — athletic and intellectual. While I had access to this, I never really appreciated it. I know that someone else could’ve taken my place at the school and gotten a great education and would have appreciated it far more than I did.
Instead of paying attention in school and focusing on getting good grades like everyone else, I played my own game. I deployed the Pareto principle — My goal was to spend the least amount of time on school work and still get the majority of the results that everyone else was getting. I realized that nobody was really learning anything at all. They were simply memorizing and regurgitating what the teachers spewed out in class each day.
I found my niche. I was able to easily skate by on the bare minimum. I hardly ever did homework as I realized that it was only a small % (usually 10-15%) of your overall grade. I also realized that the major tests, mid-term and finals made up more than 60% of your overall grade.
So instead of wasting time on things like homework, I would simply get high grades on the tests, which would always keep me between a D and a C average. This drove my teachers and parents absolutely insane, but it made my life a lot easier.
It gave me the free time to explore areas of interest. To build a high degree of curiosity and learn things that actually mattered to me. While everyone else was hating their schoolwork and wasting the majority of their time on it, I was exploring things that would build the foundations of who I am today.
One area that I got heavily interested in was investing. I first learned about trading stocks and quickly gravitated towards binary options. I found the high-paced and high-risk environment of options perfectly suited to my personality.
I still remember having my laptop in high school and getting in trouble for using it to trade during class. I would spend most of my time learning, trading, observing and ultimately turning a profit during my high school years as a binary options trader. My primary focus was on buying cheap puts and calls in the SPY that were slightly out of the money.
I would wait for a downturn or a big uptick in the market and that would be my opportunity. Before market close, I would buy either a put or a call and then wait for the next morning. Typically, my positions would be closed that very next morning in the money or I might have to wait a few days for it to work out.
I had a high hit rate and a very low rate of losing money. When my contracts weren’t going favorably, I would typically hold on to them until they were worthless. It was an all-or-nothing strategy. For some reason, it worked for me and I did pretty well with it. I kept things simple and I kept my head down and did a lot of research.
During this time, I also picked up other curiosities. All of them were encouraged by the backbone habit I developed of reading books. Now we have one of the most odd things that my parents/teachers could’ve expected. I started reading books for fun. Not the books that were assigned in school, but books that I assigned to myself.
In fact, I would regularly forgo doing the assigned schoolwork in favor of waking up at 5 in the morning and reading whatever book stoked my curiosity that day. I would be so tired when I went to school, that I would easily do my trading and zone out of class until 3 PM rolled around.
I was curious about about the broad nature of things — often reading books about science, art, communication, life hacking, etc. One of my favorite books to this day is called Sapiens, which I read as I was exiting high school and going on to my first year of college (which I subsequently dropped out of — a story for another day).
While I had this broad curiosity, I understood something that I felt nobody around me ever did — my broad curiosity was balanced by a fundamental desire to understand certain areas of interest in a very deep manner. Investing is one of the prime examples of this. I came to realize that everything I learned broadly by reading these seemingly unrelated books could be tied into investing and used to deepen my knowledge of the game. Various techniques, tricks and tools that I picked up from reading this broad range of books have served me well in becoming a better investor.
I credit my childhood learning not to school nor my teachers, but to the books I read and of course, the internet.. which acted as the ultimate library of knowledge. I realized from a young age that the dawn of the internet meant that school would continually lose its value in my eyes. Nowadays, anyone with a smart phone, an internet connection and a deep sense of curiosity can easily learn any skill they desire.